It's that time of the decade again—the time when we discuss how the New York Knicks should plan to rebuild for their next chapter. And based on their current situation, it looks like the plan will once again feature Carmelo Anthony.
But thanks to their last plan, this one will require patience and some more waiting around.
Amar'e Stoudemire will be making over $21 million this season and over $23 million in 2014-15 (via ShamSports). There isn't cap room to add significant free agents with Stoudemire's, Andrea Bargnani's and Tyson Chandler's contracts all on the books until summer of 2015. And with Stoudemire's (and likely Bargnani's) contract likely untradeable, the only real option is waiting for those contracts to expire.
But not Anthony's. The Knicks have every intention of locking up 'Melo and building around him long-term—again.
They're just going to have to play this one out until they have the room and flexibility to do so, which won't come until 2015-16. Here is a look at whom the Knicks will be potentially committed to after next season:
|Knicks Potential Commitments in 2015-16|
|J.R. Smith||$6,399,750 (player option)|
|Raymond Felton||$3,950,313 (player option)|
|Iman Shumpert||$3,695,169 (qualifying offer)|
|Tim Hardaway Jr.||$1,304,520 (team option)|
|Pablo Prigioni||$1,734,572 (non-guaranteed)|
Outside of Smith's roughly $6 million a year, the Knicks aren't overly committed to anyone. Throw in a max contract for Anthony, and you can still potentially sign two more star free agents.
And that's really the only realistic option the Knicks have at this point if they choose to build around Anthony—to stay competitive for the next year-and-a-half, and then take a dip in the 2015 free-agent pool.
In the meantime, there is one mess they can try to clean up before moving to the next phase of the plan.
Attempt to Trade J.R. Smith
He's just not worth it for another 2.5 years—not after offseason knee surgery, and not when you're trying to attract big-name free agents.
If I'm the Knicks, I'm looking to dump J.R. Smith on any willing taker, regardless of what teams are offering in return. Smith just isn't a guy you want as a major part of your core—not only because of his off-the-court unpredictability, but because of his on-the-floor style of play. It's not a winning brand of ball.
When the Knicks inked Smith this summer, it was because they needed to keep up in the short term. The Indiana Pacers had improved, the Brooklyn Nets added major weapons (we thought), and the Chicago Bulls had gotten back Derrick Rose.
But now it's pretty clear that Smith's presence isn't likely to move the needle anyway for the Knicks. This team isn't a contender with him or without him.
However, what ultimately makes Smith so expendable is the emergence of Tim Hardaway Jr., a guy who offers similar services, only he's been more efficient and professional, and most importantly, he's producing at a cost of roughly one-fifth the price.
|Minutes per game||Points per game||Shots per game||Field-goal percentage||PER|
|Tim Hardaway Jr.||18.8||8.7||6.9||.464||15.43|
|J.R. Smith||$5,565,000||$5,982,375||$6,399,750 (player option)|
|Tim Hardaway Jr.||$1,196,760||$1,250,640||$1,304,520 (team option)|
Never underestimate the value of a player contributing solid rotation minutes on a rookie salary. Winning teams always get production from unexpected places. You have to wonder if the Knicks would have still signed Smith if they knew what they already had in Hardaway.
And though we've said this before, it also looks like Iman Shumpert is starting to come into his own. If the Knicks are able to max out Shump while still getting positive minutes from Hardaway, then Smith's scoring touch loses its appeal as an immediate need, like it was when they signed him this past summer.
Until 2015, it's going to be tough to add any significant pieces through the trade market. Nobody is giving up assets for Stoudemire, Bargnani or Smith. Shumpert couldn't even get the Knicks Kenneth Faried from the Denver Nuggets in an attempt earlier this season.
Chandler will be difficult to trade for equal value as well, given his suitors would likely be buyers (either looking to make the playoffs or win a title) and unwilling to give up any difference-making talent. And a poor team isn't going to trade for Chandler, considering he'll be a free agent in 2015.
The only addition the Knicks could make here is by subtraction—and that's cutting ties with Smith, who isn't a short-term answer or long-term solution.
Stay Patient Until July 2015
It's important the Knicks stay patient and refrain from jeopardizing any of their 2015 flexibility. No silly trades or unnecessary signings.
The Knicks and their fans just have to accept that there isn't a realistic way to fix the roster until 2015. For the next season-and-a-half—this is going to be the team for the most part.
Of course, they could package together Shumpert and/or Hardaway with another future first-round pick, but it's only worth it for a guy who can immediately change the direction of the team. Toronto's Kyle Lowry wasn't that guy, and I doubt there's one out there with game-changing potential.
Again, it's the downside of investing so heavily in just two or three guys. Once you have them, they're tough to move, and they limit you from spending in free agency.
The Knicks went all in with a couple of big names, and it hasn't worked out. And now, they just have to wait until they're eligible to sign a few different big names—names that can hopefully hold up physically and complement Anthony a little better.
Prioritize, Recruit and Sign Free Agents
Here is the list of the more higher-profile (potential) free agents the Knicks will targeting after next season:
|Potential 2015 Free Agents|
|Player||Previous Salary||Next Salary|
|Kevin Love||$15,719,062||$16,744,219 (player option)|
|Roy Hibbert||$14,898,938||$15,514,031 (player option)|
The Knicks have to ultimately rank and prioritize these free agents—who's the best fit with Anthony and whom they should go after first. One move could impact their ability to pull off the next. For example, if the Knicks land Rajon Rondo, it might entice Kevin Love to sign too.
Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Knicks' top target will be Love in 2015, and that they've "already begun devising a strategy to lure him when the time comes."
If you ask me, Rondo and Tony Parker should be right at the top of the priority list with Love. There aren't many winners available at point guard, and the Knicks don't have one on the roster.
But at the end of the day, this plan all revolves around hope and positioning yourself to execute. The Knicks will have to hope they can convince one or two of these stars to sign with them, just like they'll have to hope that Anthony wants to recommit to New York for its next chapter.
"They're one confident bunch," a league executive recently told ESPN's Brian Windhorst."To listen to them, they expect to have Carmelo re-signed and have another star with him in another year. They're so sure about it you'd think they already know what will happen."
If the Knicks can only land one of the top free-agent dogs, then they'll have to fill holes with some of the cheaper options available:
|Middle-Tier Potential Free Agents in 2015|
|Jeremy Lin, PG||$8,374,646|
|Darren Collison, PG||$1,985,500 (player option for 2014-15)|
|Lou Williams, PG/SG||$5,450,000|
|Manu Ginobili, SG||$7,000,000|
|Marcus Thornton, SG||$8,575,000|
|Wesley Matthews, SG||$7,245,640|
|Omer Asik, C||$8,374,646|
|Robin Lopez, C||$6,124,729|
|Marco Belinelli, SG||$2,873,750|
This is it, folks. There are two kinds of franchises out there—the ones that build through the draft and the ones that pay for their rosters. Each strategy has its pros and cons. And the cons of building through trades and free agency have caught up with the Knicks following some bad luck (Stoudemire's knees) and bad choices (letting Jeremy Lin walk, signing Smith to a three-year deal, trading so many first-round picks).
Phase one of the rebuilding process starts this summer, when Anthony is expected to opt out of his current contract and either explore outside opportunities or re-up with the Knicks for a more lucrative long-term deal.
Once New York gets that done, it's just a matter of sitting tight, cleaning up the roster by trying to eliminate unnecessary expenses, and putting together one heck of a sales pitch for the free-agent class of 2015.
If the Knicks plan to build around Anthony, this is really the only option on the table.