Under-the-Radar 2014 Free Agents New York Knicks Should Pursue
Strapped for cash entering the summer of 2014, the New York Knicks will have to work the margins of the free-agent pool to land talent.
Here are some dismal numbers to quantify New York's financial situation: Per ShamSports.com, the Knicks are well over the salary cap, with more than $90 million committed for next season, restricting them to just the mini-mid-level exception for this coming free-agency period. Larry Coon's NBA Salary Cap FAQ lists the 2014-15 mini-MLE at $3.278 million.
That means the Knicks will have to target not only the less costly players available but also those who won't draw considerable attention from fellow bargain hunters.
For example, Patty Mills, whom Marc Berman of the New York Post reports could be an option to replace Raymond Felton at point guard, may have upped his value beyond what the Knicks could pay with his performance during the San Antonio Spurs' NBA championship run.
We're digging even deeper than the Mills tier of free agents, looking for guys who haven't yet been publicized as potential future Knicks but could be helpful additions for the budgeting team.
New York needs upgrades in both quickness and scoring punch at the point guard position. With Derek Fisher installing triangle-offense elements into the Knicks' scheme, spotty on-ball play and facilitation skills are not deal-breakers. As for the defensive end, an upgrade would be nice, but a poor performer would be nothing new.
Under those circumstances, Jerryd Bayless fits quite nicely.
Bayless made $3.1 million last season with the Boston Celtics, and his 9.3 points per game last season on 40 percent shooting won't earn him a raise this summer. The Knicks will surely be able to sign him if they so choose, and Bayless' game would work best in an offense such as New York's.
Though he has the handle to create shots off the bounce, Bayless is a poor isolation scorer, benefitting when his teammates aid him and get him spot-up looks. That's a big part of why Bayless' three-point percentage jumped from 30 percent to 39 after the Memphis Grizzlies traded him to Boston midway through last season.
His penetration and creation ability would still be useful, giving the Knicks a look they don't get from Felton, Pablo Prigioni or Toure' Murry. But Fisher would get the most from Bayless by maximizing his strengths within the confines of the offense.
For a boost on the other side of the ball, New York should look to Kent Bazemore.
In terms Knicks fans can understand, the former Golden State Warrior and Los Angeles Laker is a rich man's Toure' Murry.
Like Murry, Bazemore is also a 6'5" guard with the length and agility to defend both backcourt positions, if not the basketball IQ or passing skill to effectively run the point. Even in that regard, Bazemore would function better than Murry as a secondary ball-handler in the triangle.
The logic might seem backward, but the offensive edge Bazemore has over Murry would allow him to provide a greater defensive impact.
Murry didn't have the facilitation game or shooting ability to make any substantive contribution to the Knicks offensively. In 28 minutes per game for the Lakers, Bazemore was thrust into a surprisingly ball-dominant role, and he turned that opportunity into 13.1 points per game on 45 percent shooting and 37 percent from beyond the arc.
He has a 23-game sample size, on a gutted L.A. squad, of producing at that level. Considering Bazemore went undrafted two years ago and was playing for the minimum salary, there's no chance his price will skyrocket above the mini-MLE.
At the least New York could land a more effective second-unit defender. At best, maybe Bazemore could prove to be a solid two-way player.
Even if the heroic backup point guard of the NBA Finals exceeds the Knicks' salary restrictions, they could still make a run at the GOAT starter.
For the $4 million the Miami Heat paid him this past season, Mario Chalmers delivered an atrocious Finals performance. All the Heat really ask him to do is defend the point and hit his jumpers, and yet Chalmers shot 33 percent from the field against the Spurs and was helpless to defend Tony Parker or Mills.
Between his career 8.6 points per game and this extremely untimely slump, Chalmers won't inspire a bidding war this summer.
Not even Miami would likely bring him back for as much money as he just made at the end of his rookie deal—and if the Heat look in another direction at point guard, the Knicks could lure Chalmers with the opportunity to start.
Make no mistake: Chalmers played miserably when it mattered most, but he has shot at least 38 percent from three in each of his past three seasons, and he is a solid team defender. Even without the triangle considerations, he would be an improvement for the Knicks.
At this point, Ed Davis has been flying under the radar for his entire NBA career.
The 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft just finished his rookie contract, and it seems he has maintained the exact same talent level since the moment he first donned a Toronto Raptors uniform.
In 24.6 minutes per game, he averaged 7.7 points and 7.1 rebounds as a rookie. Last season with the Memphis Grizzlies, his first full one with the team following a 2012-13 trade, Davis put up 5.7 points and 4.1 rebounds in 15.2 minutes.
Even so, Davis still shows glimpses of the potential that garnered a place in the lottery. Big men who can run the floor and flash explosive leaping ability don't come around every day, and it's possible that Davis has been limited for the past four years playing on teams with crowded frontcourt depth charts.
It's rare to find a cheap big man with such athleticism, but it's also rare to find a lottery pick who's by and large an unproven commodity four years later. If the Knicks' search for guard improvement proves unfruitful, Davis could spell Tyson Chandler as an interior defender and a roll man.
Memphis' forward corps yields multiple interesting, affordable guys this summer.
The Knicks have no one with the size, athletic ability and defensive prowess to man up against dominant forwards such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Enter James Johnson, perhaps. He's not just a staunch defender who can match up physically with the league's most dangerous scorers; he's also a disruptive force. At 6'9", 245 pounds, Johnson had the ranginess and hops to put up 2.1 blocks per 36 minutes for the Grizzlies last season, and the quickness and reflexes to generate 1.8 steals per 36.
So how on earth can New York snag him for below the mini-MLE?
Well, Johnson has next to no offensive game. He tops out as a fine finisher around the rim, but his jumper is as unreliable as they come. In a league increasingly concerned with spacing the floor and keeping weak scorers out of the paint, Johnson's presence on the floor risks torpedoing his own offense, particularly when he plays the wing.
Even so, New York needs a defensive specialist, and it could hide him at power forward and reap the rewards of his energy on the offensive glass. Johnson wouldn't be an exciting signing, but he would be a savvy one who fills a specific role on this team in transition.