Best Realistic 2014 Free-Agent Fits for New York Knicks to Pursue
Free agency won't be the most exciting time for the New York Knicks, but they can parlay the little flexibility they do have into some useful players.
Per ShamSports, the Knicks have more than $90 million in committed salary for the 2014-15 season. That assumes Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani decide against opting out and Toure' Murry signs for his qualifying offer price.
STAT and Bargs will surely be back, while Murry's status does not affect the matter we're discussing here. Let's assume that the Knicks resolve Melo's future before free agency kicks off in earnest; whether they convince him to stay another year, re-sign him or sign-and-trade him, they wind up paying the luxury tax no matter what.
That means they have only the mini-mid-level exception at their disposal this summer. As Larry Coon's NBA Salary FAQ outlines, that gives them just $3.278 million to spend, plus whatever minimum-salaried guys they're able to nab.
Phil Jackson will have to look at bargain-basement options as he begins his roster transformation. With needs at point guard and on the wing, his options will be slim, but he can go after a few guys to maximize his meager investment.
The Knicks played some atrocious perimeter defense last season, and Mike Woodson's switching didn't deserve all the blame. Personnel played a factor as well.
Raymond Felton and Beno Udrih could not stay in front of anyone. Tim Hardaway Jr. got lost attempting to navigate the simplest screens, while J.R. Smith often wasn't engaged enough to track his man's off-ball movement. Pablo Prigioni's age put a ceiling on how pesky he could be, and Iman Shumpert couldn't lock down every opposing guard by himself.
New York needs an injection of length, quickness and eagerness on the defensive end, and Kent Bazemore can provide all those things.
Like Shumpert, Bazemore harnesses athleticism and aggression to wreak havoc on opposing ball-handlers, cutting off driving lanes and deflecting the ball away to generate turnovers. He can then put his speed to good use on the break and provides some utility as a secondary creator in the half court as well.
In his 23 games as a Los Angeles Laker last season, he averaged 13.1 points, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals while playing 28 minutes per game for a bare-bones squad. That basically amounts to his entire sample size as a rotation player; he saw more in that time with LA than he did in his previous 105 games over two seasons with the Golden State Warriors.
Just 24 years old, Bazemore would command every dollar the Knicks have available, but he could prove to be a bargain if he continues to develop.
We already know the Knicks have some level of interest in Jordan Hamilton.
At the 2014 trade deadline, Ian Begley of ESPN New York reported discussions with the Denver Nuggets about a Hamilton-Udrih swap. Denver opted to send Hamilton to the Houston Rockets, and the Knicks instead picked up Earl Clark in a failed attempt to add energy and length at small forward.
Now Hamilton is on the market, and the Knicks have the same need.
Fortunately for Hamilton, New York wouldn't look for offense from him. He has athleticism and can jump out of the gym, but he doesn't have the off-the-bounce game necessary to get to the rim and make the most of his physical gifts.
What he can do is man up either wing position, providing defensive depth for when New York needs to throw bodies at the NBA's toughest scorers. Considering the 6'5" Shumpert has been tasked with containing the likes of LeBron James in the past, having someone like the 6'7" Hamilton would ease the pressure that prolific small forwards put on the rest of the Knicks defenders.
Given Hamilton's youth and athleticism, he probably goes for a little above the minimum. He's an option should the Knicks decide to split the mini MLE.
After a renaissance season with the Brooklyn Nets, it's possible that Shaun Livingston could wind up being too expensive for the Knicks to target.
Don't count on it, though.
Yes, he was an effective second point guard for Brooklyn. His 6'7" frame gave smaller opponents serious difficulties on both ends of the floor, and he was healthy enough to play 88 games between the regular season and playoffs.
But he's an unconventional fit for most teams, and his history of catastrophic knee injuries will still loom large in contract negotiations. That's enough to keep New York in the conversation.
With Jackson building his Knicks around the triangle offense, Livingston's size would be an asset. Jackson's system favors bigger point guards who can both facilitate and play without the ball in their hands. Livingston fits that profile perfectly, though he would have to add a three-point shot to his arsenal to fit perfectly within the offense.
Shooting notwithstanding, he would give New York even more backcourt length and flexibility to play with multiple point guards, shoring up the team's weaknesses while bolstering the strengths it has boasted before.
An end-of-the-bench guy prior to 2013-14, Patrick Mills has been a revelation this season.
When asked to fill Tony Parker's shoes as the veteran point guard rested and rehabbed, Mills delivered. The Australian native looks to shoot first and isn't a natural passer, but the Spurs offensive machine kept humming with him running it, and he provided a defensive improvement over Parker.
Mills is more valuable to the San Antonio Spurs than he is to any other franchise, and the other 29 will take that knowledge into evaluating his free agency.
But it stands to reason that the triangle could bring out his talents just as well as Gregg Popovich's offense could. In the triangle, Mills would not have to kick-start the offense and distribute. Instead, he would be encouraged to play off the ball and rain threes.
New York could provide him a unique opportunity: He could keep the same advantages and comforts he has in San Antonio's system, but he could potentially have a starting role over Felton (if he's still around).
Staying a Spur would be alluring, but the promise of starting could be enough to sway Mills to the Knicks.
New York has never had a true backup for Melo—an equivalently sized bulky small forward/undersized power forward who could allow the Knicks to sub out their star without disrupting the rhythm of the other four guys on the floor.
Someone like Melo gets to be a star by being largely inimitable. This problem is not totally solvable, but Marvin Williams can spell him more credibly than any prior Knick has.
Last season's candidate for this job, Metta World Peace, lacked the speed to keep pace with small forwards and could not capitalize on his strength to finish inside. Williams can still play the wing, and at 6'9", he's two inches taller than World Peace and a capable interior scorer when given a favorable matchup.
That's all we can say about him; he can shoot a little, rebound a little and defend a little, but he rates no better than decent in any facet of his game. New York could use him as a second-unit facsimile of Anthony, but Williams is never going to make anybody forget the first edition.
Still, the Knicks don't need anything more from him. With the meager budget they have, they're looking to plug holes and make the most of the infrastructure that's already in place.
Williams wouldn't be a flashy get, even amongst cheap options, but he can fill a need for New York, and that's valuable enough.