It's time for the Knicks to get serious about their options. Currently 51 games into the season and barely holding on to the 11th spot in an abysmal Eastern Conference, the Knicks are officially in the midst of another lost season. But the power to positively alter the history of the franchise this July is still within reach for management, if it stops deluding itself and pulls the trigger on some risky, but crucial deals. Right now the ONLY priority for Donnie Walsh should be moving Jared Jefferies and clearing up enough cap space for two maximum contracts.
Of course, nobody wants Jefferies by himself. And this is the difficult part for the Knicks. If they hope to get any takers for the wiry pseudo-stopper and his 6 million owed through 2011, they will need to give up a promising young player as well, which the Knicks have 3 of under contract past this season. Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Jordan Hill have all show some promise, but let's face it--they're not Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Russell Westbrook in the making. And if Knicks history has taught us anything, the team should strike while the iron is hot.
Case in point: Channing Frye. After the Knicks limped to a 23-win finish to the '05-'06 season, Frye was identified as the one player the team wouldn't consider parting with. Yes, he showed flashes here and there, but not enough to justify the franchise investing its hopes for the future in the rookie. Playing for one of the league's worst teams that season, he only managed 12.3 ppg. Sure, lottery picks end up on struggling teams, that's a given. But the future stars shine through regardless a la Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans, by posting consistently strong personal stats (Frye didn't).
At one point, while Frye was still a rookie, the Knicks had a legitimate shot at Kevin Garnett... But the asking price of Frye was too high for Knicks management so they stuck with their rebounding-inept big man and watched his game regress dramatically. Last I heard, Frye was somewhere in the desert chucking up 3s and fighting the lesser of the Lopez twins for minutes. What could have been!
No more wondering and wistful contemplation of what might have been! It is time for the franchise to realize that it has no future All-Stars on its roster and to act accordingly. I'm not saying that Gallinari won't develop into a nice player, but it's becoming increasingly clear that he's a solid role player at best... Hardly someone worth attaching the future of the team to, or enough to convince LeBron to leave Cleveland for NYC. But, he's young, and has picked up a decent rep in the league for his distance-shooting and offensive game. The Knicks need to make him (or if they prefer Chandler, Hill, David Lee or any combination of these players) available in a package with Jefferies. This would clear enough cap space to make a run at not one, but TWO real stars.
Even if this scenario does play out, there is a distinct possibility no free agent of any consequence decides to sign on with the Knicks this offseason. If their goal of signing LeBron and ilk doesn't come to fruition, at least the Knicks can be content in knowing they did everything in their power to make it a reality. I would have more respect for Walsh if he stuck to his strategy whole-heartedly, making nobody on the current roster untouchable.
If the Knicks are rejected by the free agent superstars, worse lies ahead in 2010-11, and they could very well be next season's version of the Nets (if the Nets don't find a way to reprise the role). At the very least, this would give them an opportunity at something better than the 8th pick in the 2011 draft, allowing them to draft a real potential superstar... No more mid-late lotto Sweetney's, Frye's, and Gallo's. And if the Knicks don't waste their money this summer on anything short of the best free agency has to offer, they might be working with enough cap space to sign Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony in the summer of 2011 to join forces with an early lottery pick. Of course, all of this hinges on the Knicks breaking with precedent and taking some real risks. Does Walsh have the cojones? We will see.