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Realistic 2014 Free-Agency Targets for the NY Knicks

Paul KnepperContributor IIIMay 2, 2014

Realistic 2014 Free-Agency Targets for the NY Knicks

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    Phil Jackson will have to be creative on the free-agent market.
    Phil Jackson will have to be creative on the free-agent market.The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

    New York Knicks president Phil Jackson will search for bargain-priced free agents as he begins rebuilding the franchise this summer. The Knicks do not own a pick in the 2014 draft, have few valuable trade assets and will be over the salary cap, regardless of whether Carmelo Anthony re-signs with the team. 

    Assuming Anthony does re-sign, the Knicks will be above the luxury tax threshold, which is projected to be $77 million, via Marc Stein of ESPN.com, leaving them with only the non-taxpayer exception ($3.287 per year) and veteran-minimum contracts to sign free agents.

    If Anthony leaves, New York could have the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.3) at their disposal. For the purpose of this article, I will assume that Anthony remains with the team. 

    New York would like to avoid multi-year deals in order to maintain financial flexibility for the summer of 2015. That may restrict the team to older players, those who are looking to prove themselves on one-year deals and whoever is left when the market begins to dry up.

    The Knicks' biggest needs are a starting point guard and frontcourt depth. They could also use another perimeter shooter and may be in the market for a small forward, if Anthony signs elsewhere.   

Jermaine O'Neal

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    Jermaine O'Neal is still a quality backup big man.
    Jermaine O'Neal is still a quality backup big man.Associated Press

    Jermaine O'Neal's career was on life support during his two seasons with the Boston Celtics in 2010-11 and 2011-12, but the one-time Indiana Pacers star provided the Golden State Warriors with productive minutes off the bench this season.

    He averaged 7.5 points on 50.4 percent shooting and grabbed 5.5 rebounds per game and has filled in nicely for the injured Andrew Bogut during the Warriors' first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers. Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who coached O’Neal in Boston, said, via Grantland.com, "I thought he was probably one of the, if not the, most important players in Game 1."

    His interior presence would provide a boost for a Knicks team that ranked 27th in rebounds, via ESPN.com, and lacked a reliable backup for Tyson Chandler. O'Neal earned $2 million this season and should be in line for similar money next year. New York may also be able to sign him for one year. 

    The major drawback is his health. He has a history of knee injuries, played just 44 games this year and has appeared in 70 games once in the past 10 years. But the Knicks will not find a better option at that price.

Emeka Okafor

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    Emeka Okafor missed the entire 2013-14 season.
    Emeka Okafor missed the entire 2013-14 season.John Raoux/Associated Press

    Emeka Okafor may be a long shot for the cap-strapped Knicks. The second pick in the 2004 draft is probably seeking a multi-year deal that is worth far greater than the mini mid-level exception. 

    However, it is not clear what the market is for Okafor, who missed the entire season with a herniated disc in his neck. It may be in his best interest to sign a one-year deal, prove he is healthy and seek a bigger payday next summer. That would fit nicely with the Knicks' desire to maintain cap space for 2015.

    He has lost some athleticism over the years, though he used his length to bother defenders and averaged 12.1 boards per 36 minutes for the Washington Wizards in 2012-13. His defense and rebounding would be a welcome addition to the Knicks' front line. He could also be a potential replacement for Chandler, in the event that the Knicks center does not re-sign with the team when his contract expires in 2015. 

Shaun Livingston

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    Shaun Livingston is a solid, if not spectacular, option at point guard.
    Shaun Livingston is a solid, if not spectacular, option at point guard.USA TODAY Sports

    Raymond Felton is no longer a starting-caliber point guard, but he would be very difficult to move, and New York lacks the resources to significantly upgrade at the position. The most likely scenario is for the team to acquire a borderline starter to share the point guard duties. 

    Shaun Livingston of the Brooklyn Nets, one of the feel-good stories of the NBA season, is an intriguing option. After a devastating knee injury rendered him an NBA journeyman, he found a home in Brooklyn, New York, where he cracked the starting lineup and was an integral part of their late-season surge. 

    He has no range on his shot—he has made 10 career three-pointers—and has not fully regained the quickness or athleticism that he possessed prior to the injury. Nevertheless, he is an intelligent floor general whose 6'7" height allows him to see over defenses and defend multiple positions.  

    It will be interesting to see what the market is for Livingston. He is unlikely to receive starter's money, and given his knee history, teams will be reluctant to sign him to a multi-year contract.  

Darren Collison

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    Darren Collison has had a lot to be excited about this season.
    Darren Collison has had a lot to be excited about this season.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Darren Collison rehabilitated his stock with the Los Angeles Clippers after substandard campaigns with the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks. The 26-year-old started 35 games this season for LA, filling in at point guard when Chris Paul was injured and sharing the backcourt at times with CP3. 

    The speedy Collison averaged 15.9 points and 5.2 assists per 36 minutes while shooting 37.6 percent from behind the arc. His turnover percentage dropped dramatically to 14.3 percent, which could have been a result of Paul handling the majority of the ball-handling.

    Yet, Collison's greatest impact is on defense, where he routinely harasses opposing point guards. Per Synergy, he surrendered just 0.71 points per possession to ball-handlers on pick-and-rolls, and opponents shot 38.6 percent against him on isolation plays. 

    Knicks point guards were incapable of keeping opponents out of the paint, particularly against pick-and-rolls. New York's defense allowed the most points per possession to the screener and ball-handler on pick-and-rolls, per Synergy.  

    The Knicks reportedly attempted to trade for Collison in February, according to Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily NewsUnfortunately for New York, he may have played himself out of the team's price range. 

Patty Mills

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    Patty Mills would add a spark to the Knicks offense.
    Patty Mills would add a spark to the Knicks offense.Associated Press/Associated Press

    Gregg Popovich let Patty Mills loose this season after the departure of Gary Neal, and the diminutive guard did not disappoint, averaging double digits in points (10.2) in just 18.9 minutes of action. He is a career 40.6 percent shooter from downtown and compiled a true shooting percentage of 58.8 this season while registering a microscopic 8.2 turnover percentage.

    A player's defensive rating can be somewhat misleading on a team with great defensive numbers, though Mills' rating (98.3) was better than that of fellow San Antonio Spurs guards Manu Ginobili (99.5), Tony Parker (100.8) and Cory Joseph (104.5), and the Spurs' defensive rating was nearly two points better when he was on the court (98.3) instead of the bench (100.1), via NBA.com (subscription required). 

    It is fair to question how his skill set would translate to another team. He is an undersized, shoot-first combo guard who benefits from playing on a second unit that features Ginobili as the primary playmaker. 

    Phil Jackson, who has run the triangle offense with unconventional and shoot-first point guards in the past, could be interested in Mills’ fast-paced game. The guard’s energy and quick release could provide the Knicks with a spark off the bench.    

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