The New York Knicks start the Phil Jackson era with a rookie head coach in Derek Fisher and a roster once again lacking sufficient support for marquee star Carmelo Anthony. However, in the reshuffled Eastern Conference, the Knicks can set their sights on a playoff appearance by filling out the roster with useful youth and a veteran presence.
After inking pick-and-pop big man Jason Smith, the Knicks have only the veteran's minimum left to offer free agents:
The #Knicks used their tax payers exception on Jason Smith so they only have veteran's minimum contracts to offer free agents at this point.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) July 16, 2014
They recently targeted two players in particular, one an undrafted rookie and the other an experienced veteran. Meanwhile, the top draft pick, Cleanthony Early, remains unsigned but likely to take up one of the two open roster spots. In other Knicks news, Metta World Peace seems to have ended any hope of a return, and the team may or may not have offered a not-even-close trade for Kevin Love.
Missing on Moreland
Waiving guard Shannon Brown freed up some roster room and reduced the imbalance between the backcourt and frontcourt players by one. The Knicks still have guards aplenty, with J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Pablo Prigioni returning, joined by trade acquisitions Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin and Wayne Ellington from the Dallas Mavericks.
Understandably, the Knicks seek an affordable forward who can contribute in some meaningful way, either through shooting and passing in the triangle offense or being a defensive force in the paint.
Moreland had gone undrafted out of Oregon State, but his rebounding and shot-blocking in Las Vegas (8.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in 19.2 minutes per game) made him a hot commodity. He helps provide a barometer for the type of player the Knicks will pursue.
The Dahntay Jones Watch Continues
As noted by Tim Bontemps of the New York Post, the Knicks expressed interest in working out 33-year-old Dahntay Jones, an ex-teammate and friend of Carmelo Anthony. Jones would bring a positive locker room presence and the veteran experience of 10 seasons, which included a trip to the conference finals with Melo during the Denver Nuggets' 2009 postseason run.
Jones sat out last season after the Chicago Bulls waived him in October, but he did work out for the Knicks in February after the team waived World Peace. Jones can play on the wing and provide some positional flexibility, so bringing him on makes sense, but how much he has left to give remains in question.
Playing for the Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks in the 2012-13 season, Jones averaged 3.4 points in 13 minutes per game. That rated as 9.3 points per 36 minutes, via Basketball-Reference, the lowest mark of his career since his rookie season. He also shot just 37 percent from the field, seven percent below his career average.
However, the Knicks face stiff competition for Jones' services as teams around the league look to round out their rosters as well:
Free agent Dahntay Jones worked out for NBA teams today in Las Vegas. The Kings, Cavaliers, Spurs, Thunder and Wizards were in attendance.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) July 30, 2014
Would Dahntay Jones be a positive addition to the Knicks?
The Knicks cannot compete with the likes of the San Antonio Spurs or the deja vu, LeBron James Part Deux Cleveland Cavaliers. If Jones impresses in his workouts, he could opt for greener pastures instead of joining his old buddy in New York.
When Will They Sign Cleanthony Early?
Cleanthony Early showed his toughness by taking 12 stitches in the Las Vegas Summer League after a hard fall, but one breakout game had Twitter abuzz:
15 and 10 on 6-11 shooting and 4 offensive boards, 0 turnovers in 30 minutes for Cleanthony Early— Posting and Toasting (@ptknicksblog) July 19, 2014
The Knicks blogosphere lit up like the Vegas Strip, eagerly pointing out the breadth of Early's game and his tremendous upside:
Cleanthony Early has a great feel for the game. Good instincts, knows where to be on the floor, makes the right plays. Solid week for him.— Keith Schlosser (@KeithBSchlosser) July 19, 2014
Another thing about Cleanthony Early: he's constantly moving. He has bounce. You don't catch him standing around much, which is positive.— Keith Schlosser (@KeithBSchlosser) July 19, 2014
Some could not see any reason for the Knicks to hesitate in adding such a player to the roster:
Cleanthony Early is pretty damn impressive. Can’t see why he shouldn’t be a rotation player right away.— Daniel (@benchwarmerdan) July 20, 2014
But Jackson has the final decision squarely on his plate. As he stated on the MSG Network, via Marc Berman of the Post: "Early’s looking good, but he’s still green." Jackson also observed that because Early is 23 years old, "He is a developed player physically."
Early profiles as a backup small forward in the rotation, which would actually be a similar role to that of Jones. The Knicks already have plenty of size, with Jason Smith and Samuel Dalembert added to the $35 million duo of Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani. Signing Early would address a position of need.
He posted 16.4 points on 48 percent shooting and 5.9 rebounds per game last season for Wichita State. On May 21, ESPN's Chad Ford projected Early as the 18th pick in the first round in his mock draft 6.0 (subscription required), but the Shocker fell out of the first round to the Knicks at No. 34.
Early's offensive game lacks professional polish in ball-handling and perimeter shooting, but he'll have a master class in front of him with Carmelo. Given the rookie's high motor and physicality, the Knicks have a chance to groom another value pick into a rotation player, as they did with Shumpert (17th pick in 2011) and Hardaway (24th pick in 2013). That just leaves the small matter of offering Early a contract.
World Peace Going Global
Metta World Peace showed he was ready to revive his NBA career by tussling with an amateur baller in Venice Beach, and a Reddit user posted the video. World Peace even filled his Twitter feed with complaints about the refereeing during the game, an issue which seems to have precipitated his aggressive elbow.
After being waived by the Knicks in February, the 34-year-old World Peace hopes to bounce back from his extremely forgettable 2013-14 season, and it had seemed feasible that he could join Jackson once again. The New York Post's Marc Berman reported on July 19 that the Knicks were mulling an invitation to training camp for MWP.
However, ESPN's Ian Begley tweeted on July 29 that World Peace was "close to agreeing to terms with the Sichuan Blue Whales of the Chinese Basketball Association," so the Knicks can just hang on to the invite to training camp while MWP brushes up on his Mandarin.
Kevin Love Trade Offer Real, Imagined, Irrelevant
The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring reported that the Knicks threw their hat into the ring for Kevin Love by offering a pittance, namely Stoudemire, Hardaway and Shumpert. That's just slightly worse than the trade proposed to the Minnesota Timberwolves by the Cavaliers, which, according to the sources of ESPN's Chris Broussard, included Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a future first-round pick for Love.
However, it's also possible that the Knicks never actually put forth that ridiculous excuse for a trade offer:
A Wolves official tells me that the team never received an offer from the Knicks. Not that it would've mattered anyway. The summer drags on— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) July 26, 2014
The crucial factor is the irrelevance of whether or not the Knicks proposed such a swap. The team lacks the necessary resources in terms of young talent or draft picks to swing such a marquee trade for a potent All-Star.
At this point of the offseason, the Knicks are what they will be until the expiring contracts of Stoudemire and Bargnani free up spending money next summer. In the interim, expect the team to sign Early and a veteran forward to complete the roster before the triangle offense arrives in New York.