5 Moves the NY Knicks Must Make Between Now and Start of Next Season
The New York Knicks can't kid themselves any longer. The team is a complete disaster and a bevy of changes will be needed, in short order, if it hopes to right the ship.
Merely making the playoffs now seems more unlikely with each flat, fruitless performance. The roster is flawed, the coaching philosophy is worse and there's a good chance the franchise player will be wearing another team's colors next November.
It won't be easy to get the Knicks back on track in the immediate future and a revamping process might even involve another down season in 2014-15. However, there are a number of no-brainer maneuvers to be made. There will also be a few tougher calls. Regardless, the status quo won't cut it.
Ahead are the moves that the Knicks must implement if they hope to reroute the franchise back into contention any time soon.
Salvage Something to End the 2013-14 Season
Sad as it may seem, this may be the most unrealistic expectation from New York.
The team that James Dolan expected a championship out of is now barely clinging to playoff hopes. They're multiple games off pace for the East's eighth and final playoff seed and risk missing the postseason for the first time since 2009-10.
A failure to reach the playoffs would be the first such disappointment of Carmelo Anthony's 11-year career. Anthony's teams have qualified for a postseason seed in his 10 prior seasons as an NBA player.
Giving Anthony his first taste of utter failure in his walk year probably wouldn't pan out very well for the Knicks.
Thanks in part to the team's third-worst defense and also to Anthony's lack of a surrounding cast, the Knicks appear set to meddle in mediocrity for the time being. After no deadline deals or coaching switches, the organization seems content with a 21-36 record.
The Knicks have managed to lure a recruited free agent the summer after a 33-win season in 2010 (Amar'e Stoudemire), but in that case, mediocrity was the plan. The team ran out young players and veterans on expiring contracts in order to achieve cap space by the Summer of LeBron.
This time around? New York is a win-now team that isn't doing much winning at all.
Going on some sort of run over the last 25 games could possibly generate a semi-positive buzz heading into the summer, especially if the Knicks somehow manage to slide into the sixth seed. In that case, they'd avoid Indiana and Miami in the first round and have a chance at matching their playoff run from a season ago.
Replace Mike Woodson as Head Coach
Despite winning 54 games last season in his first full run as Knicks head coach, there was a debate to be had after last year's playoffs about Mike Woodson's future with the team.
Now, the only debate worth having is if he'll ever coach another team again.
Miraculously, after nearly 60 games of uninterrupted floundering, Woodson remains coach of the Knicks. He'll almost certainly be shown the door after the season, if not earlier, as James Dolan will give Carmelo Anthony the power to handpick his coach of choice before re-signing.
Woodson has shown complete ignorance of the small-ball, three-point heavy attack that made New York such a force last season. He's instead trotted out bigger, less cohesive lineups whenever possible, and scrapped any semblances of keen coaching in the offensive playbook.
On the other end of the floor, Woodson's defenses over his two full seasons in New York have been even more laughable. He's stubbornly implemented his graduate-level, switching intensive scheme across a Knicks roster that's clearly devoid of the defensive talent necessary to carry out the ideology.
As a result, all opponents need to do in order to throw New York off defensively is merely set a simple pick. Knicks players then lazily back off their assignment, mismatches can be found all over the floor and an easy bucket soon follows.
Last season, according to Synergy, the Knicks ranked 25th against defending the pick-and-roll ball-handler, and 16th against the roll man. This year, they're dead last in defending both.
The coach hasn't shown any regard for Anthony's own well being as he's run the 29-year-old out for a league-leading 39 minutes per game. He'd averaged 36 minutes per game over his career prior to this season.
He's chosen to generally exploit his own young, developing players, as opposed to—this may sound crazy—actually developing them. It appears he's completely ruined 23-year-old Iman Shumpert, once regarded as a player with star potential, by constantly badgering him with postgame remarks and not having him on the floor in situations that call for it. To a lesser extent, this has been the case with Jeremy Tyler and Toure' Murry, as well.
The Knicks can't begin a new era in 2014 and 2015 with Woodson leading the charge. His short tenure has already been filled with too much tumult, too little consistency and not nearly enough competency.
Obtain a 2014 Draft Pick
The Knicks have Andrea Bargnani and Raymond Felton. Last year, they had Marcus Camby. In exchange for those three players' services, the Knicks have traded away every single tradeable draft pick until 2018, with the exception of their 2014 first-rounder—that one's going to either Denver or Orlando.
The team doesn't own a selection in this upcoming draft. They own the rights to their first-rounder in 2015 because league rules bar teams from trading first-rounders in consecutive drafts. This applies to their 2017 first-rounder as well. As a result, the team will be drafting a total of one player between now and the 2016-17 season.
If you're familiar with the current structure of the collective bargaining agreement—which the Knicks apparently are not—you know that inexpensive, cap-friendly players hold more value than ever, and are the prime currency for GMs as the league has done its best to subdue high-spending superteams.
You can see why the Knicks may be in some trouble.
If at all possible, New York will need to keep an eye on the draft day trade market. They missed out on a chance to swap Iman Shumpert for Oklahoma City's first-rounder at the deadline, according to ESPN, and failed to net a second-rounder in exchange for Beno Udrih or Metta World Peace, who have since been waived.
Teams are permitted to send out $3 million in cash considerations per year and the Knicks still have the full amount to offer on draft night for a pick. They could also re-open negotiations for Shumpert or other players, with eyes on a 2014 pick.
Players on rookie-scale contracts are so valuable that teams with as few as New York will have tall hurdles to climb when trying to build a competent roster. Trying to re-enter this year's loaded draft—regardless the pick or round—is worth a move.
Figure out the Point Guard Situation
It's almost like the Knicks wish they had an opportunity to sign a promising, young point guard to a long-term deal in the recent past. If only they could've made a shrewd free-agent signing in the middle of a season, have that player emerge as a bona fide starter, and then re-sign him using Bird rights to man the position for years to come.
Ah, for shame. The Knicks signed Raymond Felton to a four-year deal two summers ago because he must've been their only option. Or something like that. Either way, he's running point for New York these days, and it's usually sad and unpleasant and makes small children cry.
Felton has been so bad this season, that there are only three point guards in the NBA that have posted worse win-shares-per-48, according to Basketball-Reference. And they're all rookies: Michael Carter-Williams, Phil Pressey and Victor Oladipo.
The team attempted to move Felton at this past deadline, but to no avail. It has also been trying to lure the Boston Celtics into sending Rajon Rondo to New York for peanuts, but that hasn't gone according to plan, either.
Regardless, it at least appears that the Knicks are aware that their current production from the point guard spot is not okay, which is a good thing. But it's something that can't go unattended this summer.
Whether it be by trading into the draft, trading a package of assets or by stumbling into unexpected cap space, Steve Mills' front office will need to address the situation by picking up a legitimate starting point guard.
Especially if they plan on moving forward with Carmelo Anthony as the centerpiece—an isolation-heavy scorer who often stagnates offensive sets—ball-movement and prime point-guard play is a must.
Be Firm in Negotiating with Carmelo Anthony
When Carmelo Anthony opts out of his contract this summer and becomes an unrestricted free agent, teams with cap room will be permitted to offer him a maximum of $96 million over four seasons. The Knicks will be allowed to offer their star $129 million over the next five years to stay in New York.
They need to make sure he comes back for less. If Anthony's camp doesn't budge away from the full maximum salary, then it's time to move on from the 'Melo era in Manhattan.
That's not to take anything away from Anthony's career, either. He's been the lone great spot for the Knicks this season and a true pleasure to watch. He's posted career highs in rebounds, three-point shooting and PER. He deserves to be paid in line with the game's biggest stars.
But there's no way the Knicks would be able to construct a championship-caliber roster with Anthony taking up nearly half the salary cap well into his 30s.
Jared Dubin of Bloomberg Sports compiled a list of scenarios in which the Knicks could pair a star with Anthony to best fit the team's needs. None of the mentioned scenarios are feasible if 'Melo is making the full max.
The Knicks plan on making a run at a prime free agent, a year after Anthony potentially re-ups, in 2015. With J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton and others on the books beyond then—with a maxed-out Anthony—the team could theoretically afford one more maximum salary. And nothing else. It'd then need to round out the other half of the roster with minimum-salary players, since they aren't exactly swimming in draft picks.
But maybe 'Melo doesn't back off requests of the full $129 million. Or possibly, as is looking more likely as this season goes on, he ditches the Knicks all together, leaves money on the table—as Dwight Howard did last summer—and finds a more pleasant situation abroad.
If the team comes away empty-handed in the 'Melo sweepstakes, their consolation prize is a heap of cap room—cap room which, despite the Knicks' actions over the last decade, doesn't need to be immediately spent. Being under the cap is a luxury under the new CBA, and it provides several benefits like being able to take on salary in trades.
It would undoubtedly sting in the short-term. It wouldn't be the worst catastrophe New York would have to face, though. That would be a re-run of the team's failed 2010-11 spending spree, taking place here before James Dolan's very eyes.
Who are we kidding, though? The Knicks want 'Melo. Dolan wants 'Melo. And he'll pay any cost to bring him back. Even if it means mortgaging the next five years in favor of hosting a glitzy NBA superstar at the Garden night in and night out.