How New York Knicks' Future Can Drastically Improve This Offseason

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2014

New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony, left, J.R. Smith, center, and Amar'e Stoudemire, right, watch their team play during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers Monday, March 10, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Ill-equipped to make any offseason splashes outside of re-signing Carmelo Anthony and finding Mike Woodson's replacement, this summer has not diminished in importance for the New York Knicks.

It's very important. And it has the potential to be good.

Possibly even amazing.

Without lifting a finger, spending a dime or brokering a trade, the Knicks can watch as their future outlook—the one still tainted by their uncertain present—is enlivened by matters they have no power over which could go their way.

Beneficially Boring Summer

Matt York/Associated Press

Optimism lives on in New York, where the Knicks are hoping that Anthony stays and summer 2015 offers all it should. 

The latter is hardly a guarantee. Come to think of it, neither is the former. Melo could leave, forcing the Knicks to drastically shift gears. 

But summer 2015 is bigger than Anthony. Jackson has made that clear on more than one occasion. The Knicks will not panic if their superstar leaves. They will stay the course, which, no matter how many twist and turns it includes, has always ended with 2015 free agency.

"But next year and the year after we think that we’re going to have that opportunity," Jackson said of fishing for superstars, per the New York Daily News' Frank Isola. "Can we get two instead of just one? Yeah, that’s a possibility."

A possibility that first requires the Knicks to have options.

Star free agents need to be available for the Knicks to sign them—preferably plenty of them, since they cannot assume a 100 percent success rate with any and all sales pitches. The volume in which stars are available will be determined this summer. 

Love's and James' futures in New York, if they have them, can be shaped this summer.
Love's and James' futures in New York, if they have them, can be shaped this summer.Gerald Herbert/Associated Press/Associated Press

Two prime targets the Knicks have in their sights are LeBron James and Kevin Love. Marc Berman of the New York Post previously reported that Jackson was looking to enter the Love sweepstakes this summer, but the Knicks lack the requisite assets to make a trade happen.

This is, truthfully, of minimal concern. As Bleacher Report's Ethan Norof astutely observed, Love will reach free agency regardless of where he's traded:

For the Knicks' part, their chances of signing Love increase tenfold if he plays through next season in Minnesota (unlikely) or winds up with a team that isn't a perennial contender (possible).

If he joins the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets, it's difficult to imagine him leaving one year and tens of millions of dollars on the table to join the Knicks or anyone else. Something entirely different can be said when talking about the Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns or Sacramento Kings.

Things are more delicate on the James front. 

Before Jackson arrived, he wasn't on New York's radar. This wasn't 2010. With Jackson aboard, though, Isola has been told that King James will give strong consideration to the Knicks when he hits the open market.

If they have cap space.

The Knicks cannot afford James this summer. Their best shot at entering the mix is tied to his free-agency decision. If he signs a new contract with the Miami Heat, New York must move on. If he simply opts into the last year of his deal, he'll maintain the ability to explore free agency in 2015 or 2016, when the Knicks are projected to have cap space.

Landing James and/or Love remains a long shot. You could even call it a pipe dream. But an uneventful summer for superstars outside New York makes each of those fantastic notions more realistic.

Doing Their Part

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 18: Phil Jackson answers questions during the press conference to introduce him as President of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 18, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Not everything is beyond the Knicks' control this summer. They still have things they can do, decisions they must make.

Near the top of Jackson's to-do list sits the roster and what improvements can be made to it. Ideally, and somewhat oddly, there will be none—almost none.

A source told The Knicks Blog's Adam Zagoria that Jackson informed Raymond Felton he would be traded before next season. This comes as no surprise after the year Felton had, and more notably given the open-book agenda Jackson is promoting.

"I don't think it's any secret that everybody that we have on our roster is up for discussion, if we have other teams call us up,” he said, per ESPN New York's Ian Begley.

Not even two months removed from missing the playoffs, it would seem rather ignorant of the Knicks to reject hypothetical improvements. And yet, to an extent this is exactly what they must do.

Trying to move the longer deals of Felton and J.R. Smith make sense. Those two—who each hold player options for the 2015-16 season—can eat into the Knicks' highly anticipated cap space. But Jackson and friends have to be careful otherwise.

There is no sense taking on long-term salary in exchange for any one of the many expiring contracts they have. Calling Amar'e Stoudemire or Andrea Bargnani "off limits" feels ludicrous, but—provided a lopsided, nearly impossible trade doesn't present itself—that's what has to happen.

Holding onto the contracts of STAT, Tyson Chandler and Bargs is imperative.
Holding onto the contracts of STAT, Tyson Chandler and Bargs is imperative.Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

Cap space is of the utmost importance to the Knicks moving forward. Marginally improving their roster isn't worth the price if it means committing to someone beyond next season.

Re-signing Carmelo Anthony is totally OK, though. The Knicks want him. Jackson hasn't veiled that fact. He's just tried to skillfully manipulate the situation.

Accepting a pay cut is already ingrained in Anthony's head. If he doesn't accept less, be it to stay with the Knicks or play elsewhere, "shocking" will be the word you're looking for. 

Recently, Jackson has dangled another option in front of Anthony: playing out the remainder of his contract.

Plenty of benefits exist there, mostly for the Knicks, as Berman explains:

Whatever the reasons Jackson has for asking Anthony to delay free agency — it will give the franchise a better idea on what kind of pay cut he would need to take — Anthony should listen and take out an insurance policy. It’s not as if interested parties Chicago and Houston, knocked out in Round 1, are banging on the championship door.

If Anthony listens to Jackson on this one, it will be the most significant sign Anthony means what he says, that he cares more about competing for a title than the contract.

However they keep him, they must keep him. Melo is a selling point. Players will want to join him, especially if he continues playing like he did this past season.

Incumbent star power is a sticking point the Knicks didn't have in 2010, when they last chased after the NBA's best dignitaries. Stoudemire was their consolation prize.

Keeping Anthony makes it more likely they won't have to settle this time around. 

The Other Side

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 31: J.R. Smith #8 of the New York Knicks high-fives teammates Carmelo Anthony #7 and Iman Shumpert #21 in a game against the Boston Celtics on March 31, 2013 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly ack
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

This summer was always going to be a pivotal one in New York.

Melo's free agency could change the direction of this team. The coaching search has become unexpectedly complicated. This is Jackson's first opportunity to leave his fingerprints on the franchise he's trying to reinvent.

Lost in all this has been the battles being fought outside of the concrete jungle, many of which stand to impact New York.

These Knicks won't do damage in free agency—Melo or no Melo. There will be no miracle trade, no dizzying move that incredibly alters the immediate trajectory of this team. 

The Knicks don't have to do anything beyond re-sign Melo, other than sit back and watch much of their future play out elsewhere.

Relative inaction, both inside and outside the organization, is for now their greatest building block.

*Salary information via ShamSports.


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