Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
The 2013-14 season is a lost cause for the New York Knicks, but if they make the right moves, they can give fans reason to hope again this offseason.
Of course, there's little reason to trust this front office, which has shown no ability to make decisions that benefit the basketball team from either an on-court or financial perspective. Sure, Steve Mills wasn't the general manager who compiled the bulk of this bloated cap sheet, but as long as James Dolan looms over it all, the difference is negligible.
But we can still envision a sensible summer game plan for the Knicks without placing too much unrealistic faith in what Dolan and company are willing or competent enough to do.
If Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani take their exorbitant salaries as expected (and Carmelo Anthony turns down his), New York won't have much money to work with, but a little creativity and some uncompromising thinking can take this organization a long way.
Fire Mike Woodson
This has been true for months, it's true now and it will be true after New York's regular season finally comes to a merciful end: The Knicks cannot win with Mike Woodson any longer.
He compiled a 72-34 record as New York's coach through 2012-13, so Woody earned some leeway when the Knicks came out struggling this season.
Then his team kept losing and his players remained incommunicative on offense and completely lost on defense. All the while, Woodson has repeatedly bristled at poor shot selection and sloppy rotations as though they were surprises to him, but the Knicks make the same mistakes every game because the man in charge has made no effort to change things.
The malaise the Knicks are in now won't go away over the summer; institutional reform is necessary. As successful as Woodson once was on New York's sideline, someone else will have to coach the franchise back to that level.
Hire a Coach Who Can Teach
When looking for Woodson's replacement, Dolan and company must keep Tim Hardaway Jr. in mind.
Over at Posting and Toasting, Joe Flynn cited behaviorist B.F. Skinner's work in Reinforcement Theory to help describe how Woody was rattling his young players. By being uniformly harsh on certain players, particularly his prospects, while uniformly lenient on others, the coach fostered indecision in the guys most in need of confidence, stunting their growth despite their great potential.
Eventually, the offensive woes of his veterans forced Woodson to give Hardaway occasion to rain from long range and to exhibit his gracefulness in transition.
Yet the coach has still kept a tighter leash on Hardaway when it comes to assignment lapses and other mental errors, even when those mistakes are widespread throughout the roster. Woodson has shown no knack for educating the rookie, let alone anyone else, on how to correct his mistakes, but the punitive coaching keeps coming.
If the Knicks are going to build a winner over the next few years, Hardaway developing on his rookie contract will be key. They need someone on the sideline who can make sure that happens.
Trade Iman Shumpert
As for New York's other youngster, Iman Shumpert is likely broken as a Knick. If he's going to blossom, it will be elsewhere.
Once capable of being an ace defender, he now gambles too much and loses his mark too often amidst New York's incoherent switching. Offensively, he has lost all sense of purpose with the ball in his hands, hesitant when he receives it and tentative in whatever he settles on doing.
Though the organization shopped him for months, the trade deadline came and went with Shump still looking glum in blue and orange. Zach Lowe of Grantland attributes the Knicks' deadline stasis to their insistence any suitor take Raymond Felton's midsize contract along with Shumpert, a stance born from the team's chronic mismanagement.
First of all, $3.95 million is nothing as the cap continues to increase. If $3.95 million is standing between you and your grand free-agency plans, you’re bad at planning. And if you really need to dump Felton by July 2015, there are a bunch of other ways to get it done without attaching a Felton-size anvil to Shumpert.
Whether or not the organization has learned from this mistake, Lowe points out Felton's recent legal troubles put his future up in the air. So including him in any trade is now out of the question.
This summer, Shump will be unencumbered as a commodity, and it stands to reason he could be an even more popular target then.
After all, whoever received him in February would've been getting a beaten-down player mid-season, with no time to fix his mental approach. In June or July, his new team will have months to do so.
Will that be enough to get New York a first rounder for Shump? Possibly. Either way, depressing as the notion might be, his value as a trade chip may never be better for the Knicks than it will be then, so they have to act accordingly.
Shop Tyson Chandler
Trading Tyson Chandler isn't an imperative, but it's something New York really ought to explore.
Scheduled to make $14.6 million next season, Chandler is actually the Knick expected to be under contract next season whose ability most closely matches his pay; Hardaway also falls into that category, but New York cannot afford to dish an appealing rookie deal.
Stoudemire and Bargnani are overpaid to the point of being basically unmovable, while J.R. Smith is too volatile and produces too little to have any sort of open-market value. Unless someone makes an unexpected tantalizing offer centered around Pablo Prigioni, dealing Chandler is the only way to acquire new talent.
Meanwhile, Chandler is harpooning his own value with conspicuously uninspired play.
The 2012 Defensive Player of the Year has decided he's not interested in his signature role as the Knicks' sentinel protecting the rim. Basically everyone else in New York is disinterested with defense, and now it has spread to Chandler; he doesn't even feign help effort inside, allowing driver after driver to finish their layups unimpeded.
Maybe someone else will think Chandler can be himself again in a non-toxic environment. If that's the case and the Knicks can get an offer including a future first rounder and a useful player or two, New York has to at least consider whether it would be better off getting what's available for him.
Acquire a Starting Point Guard
Be it by trade or using the mini-midlevel exception, the Knicks have got to get someone they feel comfortable starting at point guard—or at least someone they feel comfortable starting over Felton.
Even if he's still playing basketball come the 2013-14 season, Felton has exhausted his welcome as an NBA rotation player.
He moves his feet too slowly and is too spacey on defense to stick with merely decent point guards, while his shot has disappeared and his distribution skills fade in and out from game to game. Under Felton's quarterbacking, the Knicks' ball movement has been mostly haphazard and often nonexistent.
Opponents are no longer concerned when he penetrates, and when he dishes the ball away, he has lacked the awareness and the accuracy to make the right pass on target to kick-start the offense and create an open look.
With so much money tied up already, the Knicks can only improve so much this summer. Yet the $3 million a year they could spend on a mini-midlevel point guard can certainly buy someone better than the $3.8 million point guard they already have.
Find Cheap Veteran Leadership
After this rudderless season, strong, steady voices are necessary in the locker room.
It won't be as easy to get a veteran like Kenyon Martin as it has been, though; no one's expecting New York to contend for a title after this sub-.500 campaign, so the twilight ring chasers will offer their services elsewhere.
That's the circumstance in which Martin first became a Knick, midway through the 2012-13 season. He joined a stable of aged bigs, including Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace, who were stabilizing presences and teachers even when they weren't healthy enough to actually play.
When it comes to both fostering young talents like Hardaway and reconstructing a winning culture in the locker room, New York has to get those kinds of characters to fill out the bench.
The city and the franchise are still draws in and of themselves, so hopefully some guys the Miami Heat and other contenders pass over will be interested in the job.
Re-Sign Carmelo Anthony
At the crux of it all is re-signing Carmelo Anthony, and doing so for less than the maximum salary he could receive from the Knicks.
On Valentine's Day, Melo expressed his affection for the Knicks and said he would take less money in order to help the team, per ESPN New York.
"Without a doubt,'' Anthony said Friday while in New Orleans for All-Star Weekend. "Any opportunity I have to build that up in New York, I'd do it. I told people all the time, always say, 'If it takes me taking a pay cut, I'll be the first one on [Knicks owner] Mr. [James] Dolan's steps saying take my money and let's build something strong over here.'"
Since the All-Star break, the Knicks have lost seven of eight, making the situation in New York look that much bleaker. Now it seems like the only reason he'd stay is for the bigger payday.
Nevertheless, Melo won't take the five-year, $129 million max available to him because winning really is the priority. He knows that if he gets that gigantic check, New York will have fewer resources to surround him with a capable supporting cast—which is what he really lacks right now.
He's scoring as well as ever with no reliable offensive options on the court with him. Sure, the best player has to take some responsibility for his team's shortcomings—Melo certainly isn't extinguishing the tire fire on the defensive end—but in terms of effort, Anthony hasn't let up this season, something that can't be said for many of his teammates.
Melo deserves better in New York, and maybe someday he can still get it. More than anything, however, the Knicks need to keep him; if they go the alternate route and sign-and-trade him somewhere, it's highly unlikely this front office could get anything resembling fair value for him.
And that's just in the short-term. Down the line without Melo, don't expect Dolan and Mills to turn that vacated cap space into a player nearly as good. Yes, Kevin Durant hits the market in 2016, but he's not looking to dive into this wreck.
Somehow, New York needs to convince Melo he can still win here. Otherwise, the future just gets grimmer.