Best Potential Veteran Minimum Free-Agent Options for NY Knicks
After signing center Jason Smith from the New Orleans Pelicans to a one-year deal, the New York Knicks further cemented a roster for 2014-15 that boasts Carmelo Anthony as the lone star in a solar system orbited by a debris field of uncertainty.
With precious little roster spots or spending money remaining, the Knicks must now target a veteran who will sign for a minimum salary and can help stabilize a team in tumult—one led by a single bona fide star at the mercy of a rookie head coach and rookie team president intent on installing a new offense.
Veterans carry clout, and their presence can make a marked impact on a potentially middling squad, as shown by the roles of Rasheed Wallace and Jason Kidd on the 54-win Knicks of 2012-13.
It's difficult to say what the team needs right now, because so many players on the roster have question marks, including whether J.R. Smith will bounce back and the looming prospect of actual consistency from Iman Shumpert.
Then again, either of their talents could be on the move to another team, according to ESPN New York's Ian Begley, who cited a league source as saying Smith, Shumpert and trade-acquisition guard Shane Larkin have the team "discussing their potential trade options." (But don't worry, Knicks fans: "Tim Hardaway Jr. has been deemed virtually untouchable, per a source.")
This list of the top potential veteran free agents for the Knicks taps players who will actually fit into the Zen Master's regime. Players with behavior issues get disqualified, unless they have previous history with Phil Jackson, Melo or the Knicks, which actually covers the majority of the targets.
First, it is necessary to examine the state of the team, the roster and the budget in order to temper expectations, and then five realistic veteran targets will follow, with a range of splashiness and utility coming from each.
Where the Knicks Stand for This Season
Free agency has already snatched up the more tempting targets even at the low end of the spectrum, as the likes of Trevor Booker, Kris Humphries and even "Big Baby" Glen Davis are already gone.
So who's left to target, with the caveat that New York's budget is tiny? And don't just blame Carmelo's shiny new contract for the current salary-cap shortfall. Look to lame-duck big men Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani, who are owed $23.4 million and $11.5 million, respectively, this coming season, per Spotrac.
Signing Jason Smith came as a savvy, minor move by Jackson, though it cost the team the taxpayer mid-level exception. The 28-year-old averaged 9.7 points and 5.8 rebounds in 31 games (27 starts), playing 26.8 minutes per game in an injury-shortened campaign. The 7-footer can help protect the rim and hit jump shots from the outside.
But, alas, the Knicks are presently strapped for spending money. And Jermaine O'Neal might retire, but at least Omri Casspi would like to be a Knickerbocker. The team can aim higher, however, even with only the veteran's minimum to offer.
As noted by Newsday's Al Iannazzone: "Jeremy Tyler has a partial guarantee for next season. Second-round picks Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo haven't signed yet. The Knicks only have minimum salaries to offer free agents." Shannon Brown also has a non-guaranteed contract.
The Knicks will have significant flexibility next offseason, but there is no time like the present to get competitive, and these five free agents would be a boon to the roster if they're willing to play for the veteran's minimum.
The last roster spot could go to Toure' Murry, who remains unsigned and also piqued some interest in flashes with the Knicks last season. He ended on a high note with a 15-point night in the April 16 season finale.
However, if the Knicks opt to target a swingman over a true frontcourt presence, Carmelo's buddy Dahntay Jones could end up wearing orange and blue. Anthony and Jones played together on the Denver Nuggets during the 2008-09 campaign.
Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reported Jones will work out for the Knicks as he seeks to come back from an injury that cost him the entirety of the 2013-14 season:
Jones was in contact with Anthony prior to Anthony re-signing with the Knicks. Jones had been in Los Angeles working out for the Clippers. Anthony lives in L.A. during the offseason. The two have remained close...The Knicks have expressed interest in Jones because of his competitive nature and leadership qualities. The Knicks locker room was mostly devoid of leadership last season.
If Jones can lend some vocal leadership while also keeping Carmelo happy, he could be as good an option as any to fill out the back end of the roster. After all, as recently as 2010-11, he averaged 17.3 points per 36 minutes for the Indiana Pacers, per Basketball-Reference. He can prove useful on the court in spurts.
Metta World Peace
According to the New York Post's Marc Berman, Andrew Bynum "is seriously contemplating sitting out 2014-15 to undergo the Germany-based knee therapy called 'The Regenokine Program' that would require an extra long rehab, according to his agent David Lee. But he could be in play for the following season" because of his connection with Phil Jackson.
World Peace is a former Defensive Player of the Year who averaged 12.4 points in 33.7 minutes per game for the Lakers in 2012-13 over 75 contests with 66 starts. That solid output is hardly a distant memory, and MWP holds Jackson in high regard after claiming a title in LA.
While it's slightly embarrassing to sign him after waiving him, that was the action of a rudderless lottery team. Now that Jackson is in town, World Peace could view another return to New York as an opportunity to chase the glory of being a champion once again.
Kenyon Martin only played 32 games for the Knicks in 2013-14, as his season got cut short by left ankle surgery, but his domineering presence down the stretch the previous season proved he can still contribute at a high level when healthy.
Martin made an impact in only 18 games for the Knicks as the 2012-13 regular season wound down, much as Rasheed Wallace had spurred on the team earlier in the season. In that stint, K-Mart went shopping for 7.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 0.9 blocks and 0.9 steals in just 23.9 minutes per game.
The New York Daily News' Peter Botte reported on July 12: "Martin, 36, said he expects to be back on the court 'in about a month' and that he’d 'love, love, love' to also come back to New York."
Martin went so far to state "I’m getting healthy and I feel better than I did during the season, which is a blessing…It feels night and day...I’m not done by any stretch of the imagination and I would love to be a Knick again."
If Dahntay Jones gets a long look because of a one-season connection with Carmelo in Denver, Martin has now logged parts of nine seasons on the same team as Anthony between the Nuggets and Knicks. He's defensively stout, cleans the glass and shoots very well within two feet of the rim.
CBS Sports' Matt Moore opined that the Knicks should target Elton Brand, and it's hard to disagree with that sentiment after he filled in for an Atlanta Hawks frontcourt left hampered by another injury to Al Horford. The team still made the playoffs, and Brand proved an effective rim-protector and rebounder in limited minutes, with some discernible instincts left on offense.
He averaged 19.4 minutes over 73 games for the Atlanta Hawks last season and slightly more than that for the Dallas Mavericks in 72 games the previous year. He has even avoided the injury troubles that derailed him during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons.
With a roster heavy on guards—and a player in Shane Larkin who lacks the size for Jackson's system and has no experience with the team—a small trade could even result, with Larkin going to a team in need of some promising backcourt help, while the Knicks shed some of the crowd at the position.
Such a move could help land Brand or even another target who is seeking greater remuneration.
For some puzzling reason, the free-agency market for Shawn Marion has been slow to develop, and his asking price just might drop far enough that it fits within the Knicks' price range.
Despite his shot-put motion on jumpers, Marion provides strong defense with a versatile skill set and savvy instincts on offense. Landing him would be a home run and could help vault the Knicks out of lottery contention.
Why hasn't Shawn Marion received at least MLE money from a team needing any extra boost to win an NBA title? Folks, he can still ball.— Dwain Price (@DwainPrice) July 18, 2014
Marion logged 31.7 minutes per game last season, collecting 10.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals per tilt.
He also brings meaningful playoff experience, including from last season, which is something the Knicks sorely lack. Coming to New York would be an act of faith in Jackson's vision, but Marion would likely need to be on board for two seasons to cultivate that in any significant measure.