Making the Call on NY Knicks' Toughest Offseason Decisions
The New York Knicks made a huge first step in their offseason by the hiring of Derek Fisher, but there's plenty of work left to be done to make this a successful summer.
Fisher's hiring is a weight off of Phil Jackson's shoulders, but it's not going to get any easier from here. The Knicks are stuck in limbo between rebuilding and having a chance to compete in the East. Jackson will have to balance the two in any decision he makes.
On top of that, their best player is hitting free agency with plenty of better options available to him from a basketball perspective, while other key contracts are set to expire in 2015.
Jackson, therefore, has a handful of very difficult decisions to make this summer that will impact both the immediate and long-term future of the franchise. Let's break them down and make the call about what Jackson should do in his first offseason as president.
Assistants for Derek Fisher
First and foremost, Jackson needs to find some help for his new rookie head coach.
While it's going to be a huge advantage to have an 11-time champion in the front office, Fisher still needs assistants, as Jackson is unlikely to be readily available on the bench and might not even leave New York for road trips.
Since taking up his position, Jackson signed Shannon Brown until the end of last season, took a flier on Lamar Odom and brought in Fisher as head coach, so it figures that he'll pick another of his former players to take the assistant role.
Luckily for the Knicks, that leaves them with a few solid options, headlined by Kurt Rambis, Bill Cartwright and Luke Walton.
Of the three, Rambis has the most experience on the bench, having spent over a decade as an assistant in LA and three years as head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Given Fisher's lack of experience, this makes him the top candidate.
Rambis is also in the running to take over as the Lakers' head coach, so he may not settle for an assistant role. Cartwright is a safe plan B as someone who coached the Bulls for three years and played under Jackson in Chicago.
Offering Carmelo Anthony a Max Contract
Carmelo Anthony is one of the best players in the NBA, and he is certainly the best on the Knicks. For many it's a no-brainer that they offer him a max contract to bring him back.
Despite Melo's elite status though, it's never smart to give up that kind of contract—five years and just under $130 million—without at least thinking things over.
On the surface, it seems normal to go to those levels to keep a player of his caliber, but in reality no NBA team has made the Finals in the past four years with a single player on their roster making more than $20 million.
By comparison, Melo would be averaging $26 million throughout the duration of his contract. No team in NBA history has ever won a title with a single player making more than $25 million. Even in the most recent years the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Tim Duncan have had to take cuts to get close to a title.
As it stands, Anthony would be the league's highest-paid player for the duration of his contract. The only players in the modern era to have ever won a championship whilst holding that title are either in the Hall of Fame or heading there as soon as they're eligible.
The San Antonio Spurs reminded us this season that it's the overall team chemistry that counts, and spending almost half of your cap space on one player—a flawed player at that—should not be taken lightly.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, their lack of draft picks in the near future makes keeping Melo their only real option, unless they can bring in a sign-and-trade package who will kick-start a rebuild.
Their troubled recent history has taken out any choice they have in the matter. They'll have to pay Melo and hope that the fact their owner is willing to go deeper into the luxury tax than the likes of the Spurs will help them build a contender.
In an ideal world, multi-time champions Jackson and Fisher will convince Anthony to take a cut with the promise of titles on the way, but it's not something to bank on.
Trading Tyson Chandler
Coming off his worst season for the Knicks, Tyson Chandler's future hangs in the balance. He's still one of the better starting centers in the league. However, with his contract expiring in a year's time, it may be worth trading him now.
Renting a recent Defensive Player of the Year for a season—albeit at the fairly hefty price tag of $14 million—is a valuable opportunity for a fringe contender. Frankly, Chandler may be worth more to a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder than he is to the Knicks.
Let's face it, the Knicks are not winning a championship next season. They're also likely to renounce Chandler's Bird rights in 2015 in order to be in the running for a major free agent.
There's really no reason to keep a player for one year if he's not going to help you win a title and can be replaced with an asset who's more valuable in the long-term.
This is a thought process that can be applied to most of the Knicks' roster. But Chandler is the only player who can bring back a reasonable package, possibly including a first round pick and/or a young rotation piece.
New York should ship him to any team that has a draft pick or young player to spare and enough marginal players for the salaries to match. Even if they don't get great value, it's better than getting nothing, which is what they'll likely be left with next summer unless Chandler takes a huge pay cut to stay.
Letting Chandler go will be tough. It will be an admittance that 2014-15 isn't going to be their year, but it's the smart move and the type of practical decision the franchise needs to start making.
Iman Shumpert's Future
Along with Chandler, the Knicks' only other asset they should be willing to trade is Iman Shumpert, a player whose production doesn't quite back up his supposed talent.
The first thing to do is to get the facts straight about Shumpert. He's an occasionally great defender who struggles to find himself on offense and has had two knee surgeries in four seasons. For a young player, he's pretty charismatic, but that wasn't enough to salvage his confidence last season.
Shumpert may still turn out to be an above average starter, but that's about where his upside ends. He doesn't have the intangibles to be more than a very good defender and an okay offensive weapon. With Tim Hardaway Jr.and J.R. Smith on the roster, that makes him expendable.
This doesn't mean Shumpert has to be traded—the player just described is a solid player to have and an alternative to the offense-first mentality of Hardaway and Smith. However, a decision needs to be made this summer. He will be a restricted free agent who needs to be paid in a year's time.
As someone who at least had a hand in the legendary careers of shooting guards Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, Jackson may be able to help Shumpert reach his full potential.
With that in mind, it's worth keeping him at least until the trade deadline and making a decision then based on his performance. Expectations for the whole team should be lower next season, taking the pressure off Shumpert and allowing him to perform with a bit more freedom.
It's possible that Shumpert will prove he's worthy of a long-term extension or that his value will rise to the point where the Knicks can acquire a starting point guard for him in a trade scenario. Trading him now would mean trading low, and that's a bad idea.
How to Spend the Mid-Level Exception
Outside of potential trades, the Knicks have only one opportunity to add a real difference-maker this summer, and that's with the $3.3 million taxpayer's mid-level exception.
Again, this is a situation where Jackson has to reconcile immediate needs with finding a long-term contributor. Looking at the free agent market, the obvious answer here is to sign a point guard—there are plenty of reasonable options who can step into the starting role in 2014-15 and still be contributing in three years' time.
The Knicks aren't going to sign a star here, but if they run the triangle offense, they won't need one at the point guard position. The likes of Patty Mills, Shaun Livingston and Mario Chalmers are perfectly capable of running the show, and they will likely be available in around the Knicks' price range.
In 2015, New York will surely make a move for Rajon Rondo, but the great thing about signing a point guard now is that they'll either have a great backup for Rondo or a viable starting alternative if they fail to bring him in.
A solid point guard will almost certainly vault the Knicks back into the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference, and it will knock a long-term need off the list. Therefore, Jackson needs to make this move with such a deep crop of free agent point guards available.