Is Jason Smith Signing the 1st Step to Bigger Things for New York Knicks?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2014

“I want to be fiscally responsible. We’ve been a taxpayer team for some time and we want to eliminate that."

That's what New York Knicks team president Phil Jackson said after he knew Carmelo Anthony was staying, per the New York Post's Marc Berman.

Then he went and signed Jason Smith:

Looked at on its own, in a vacuum, where money doesn't matter and the Knicks make moves we should take at face value, Smith is a good addition, like Posting & Toasting's Seth Rosenthal opines:

Jason Smith is a solid, regular big man. He's had pretty serious knee problems, but he's a decent enough rebounder, a reasonably tough tall person, a guy who can step out and hit a jumper, and *not* a relative of J.R. That's about all I know of him. For a single year and a pretty modest salary? Sure, absolutely. If Smith can stay healthy, he could be a regular contributor at center and, s**t, maybe even a starter like he was at times in New Orleans.

While Smith was limited to just 31 games last season courtesy of a right knee injury, he managed to remain productive, averaging 13.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes. He has offensive range for a 7-footer, fights for rebounds regularly and does something the Knicks aren't built for at the moment: play defense. 

At $3.3 million for one year, how could the Knicks not take a flier? They're thin on defense in general and don't house a legitimate rim protector. Smith can come in and start at center if head coach Derek Fisher isn't comfortable rolling with Samuel Dalembert or one of the two less popular options, Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani.

But Smith's arrival comes on the heels of Jackson preaching financial prudence and lamenting a crowded roster. Surely his willingness to spend on and add talent portends something else, something bigger.

Doesn't it?

Yes and no.

Smith's arrival won't precede some big blockbuster deal the Knicks have in the works. Kevin Love is not already scouting Taco Bell locations close to Madison Square Garden.

Nor are the Knicks preparing for a major salary dump that saves them substantial amounts of money. Jackson was shopping the contracts of Stoudemire and Bargnani, according to The Knicks Blog's Moke Hamilton, but the dream of making a big, unrealistic free-agency splash is dead. 

Trading either one of those players demands the Knicks use a valuable asset—like Iman Shumpert or Tim Hardaway Jr.—as a buffer. There is no incentive to doing that now, when all the top-flight free agents not named Greg Monroe are officially locked up.

This move was about function more than anything else. The Knicks' front line was and remains bare. Before signing Smith, they had five players under contract who could be classified as true power forwards or centers, per ESPN New York's Ian Begley—STAT, Bargnani, Cole Aldrich, Jeremy Tyler (who is on a non-guaranteed deal) and Dalembert.

Anthony would make six, since he's shown he can man—and dominate—the power forward position. But six still isn't a lot, so don't expect some groundbreaking, front-line-fracturing move to be staged.

If anything, the Knicks will try to add depth. There really isn't a big man on the roster—from STAT to Bargs to Aldrich to Smith—who embodies what Jackson's famed triangle offense looks for.

Burning through that mini mid-level exception this early, then, isn't insignificant. It gives the Knicks a full roster:

With that many players on the docket, more changes are on the way. 

And they're coming on the perimeter.

The Zen Master has assembled a glut of swingmen. Excluding Anthony, the Knicks have J.R. Smith, Cleanthony Early, Wayne Ellington, Shannon Brown (non-guaranteed deal), Hardaway and Shumpert. Five of those six players are basically shooting guards—everyone save for Early.

That's a logjam Jackson will have to clear up. 

"We have to do roster management there," he said, via Berman.

Indeed, they do. As for who's available, well, that's anyone's guess.

Or just anyone. 

It was Jackson who indicated in June he would listen to trades involving just about everyone on the roster, per Begley. That hasn't changed if your name isn't Cole Aldrich Carmelo Anthony.

Players like Smith and Ellington don't figure into the Knicks' long-term plans, which include free-agent hunting next summer. Brown's non-guaranteed deal can be easily dispatched to tidy up the abundance of 2-guards (he's listed as point guard, but, well, he's not really a point guard).

Shumpert's future is also in doubt. He's eligible for restricted free agency next year, at which point it will cost the Knicks a pretty penny to retain him. Unwilling to invest long-term money in his inconsistent offense, Jackson could decide to make him available in hopes of landing another asset.

Standing basically pat is always an option, too. Smith's deal doesn't eat into New York's cap space in 2015, and Fisher could have certain troops play out of position.

But we know better.

Everything about the Knicks' immediate future is very fluid. Paying Smith could be nothing other than the team's attempt to address a need. But the timing, the swiftness with which Jackson struck, suggests more is on the way.

One of the Knicks' many swingmen could find himself being used as trade bait. Dalembert—who is also on a non-guaranteed deal—might not stick around after the addition of Smith and retention of Aldrich.

There is just more to monitor, more for the Knicks to do.

“We’re in a talent hunt,” Jackson said back in March, via Berman.

That hasn't changed. Smith isn't a victory cigar. The Knicks aren't finished.

Jackson isn't finished. 

This isn't the immediate or temporary end.

Smith, much like the Jose Calderon trade and Anthony's new contract, is merely an extension of the beginning.


*Salary information via ShamSports.


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