Donnie Walsh was hired as President of Basketball operations of the New York Knicks on April 2, 2008. Since taking over the Knicks’ top job the team has undergone a drastic transformation.
Over the last decade the Knicks went from making the NBA Finals in 1999 to becoming a laughing stock. This is mostly due to the mistakes made by Scott Layden and Isiah Thomas.
Most people want to blame Thomas for everything that has gone wrong with the Knicks. However, in reality it all started when Layden traded Patrick Ewing to the Seattle Supersonics. From that day the Knicks have simply been trading bad contracts for other bad contracts.
Then Walsh took over and decided to clean house. He was given the task of turning this once proud franchise around.
The version of the Knicks that we see today in no way resembles the team that took the court back in 2008.
In 2008 the team started Stephon Marbury, Jamal Crawford, Quentin Richardson, Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry.
Today, the Knicks start Chauncey Billups, Landry Fields, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Ronny Turiaf.
With the exception of Turiaf this is a very talented starting five and when healthy a team that is able to compete with any other starting lineup in the league.
When will the Knicks compete for a Championship
The biggest problem for the Knicks is their bench. Walsh was forced to gut the roster in order to have enough cap space to sign Amar’e and then to acquire Melo from the Denver Nuggets.
By all accounts, New York had a successful season. The team made the playoffs for the first time since 2004, and despite being swept by the Boston Celtics, appear poised to make big strides this summer.
The Knicks only have six players under guaranteed contracts for next season; Melo, Amar’e, Fields, Andy Rautins, Renaldo Balkman and Toney Douglas. Furthermore, Turiaf has a player option, which he will likely exercise. Finally, the Knicks have team options on Billups and Bill Walker.
If all players remain with the team, that leaves up six additional roster spots that Walsh needs to fill.
New York has five days from the end of their season to decide whether or not to pick up Billups option for next season. If the Knicks decide to waive him the team will save $10.5 million of the $14.2 million Billups is set to make next season.
Walsh should consider negotiating an extension with Billups. This would allow the team to retain a solid veteran point guard, likely at a reduced rate. Billups would have to take a salary cut in order to stay with the Knicks. And for Billups it would give him long term security. This would likely be his last contract.
Outside of the above-noted players, the Knicks should consider resigning Jared Jefferies. He doesn’t bring much in terms of offensive, but is a solid defensive presence on the floor. However, Jefferies just like Billups would have to take a significant pay cut.*
The only other player New York should keep is Shawne Williams. According to Mark Hale of the New York Post, Williams has stated he wants to resign with the Knicks this summer. He was originally drafted by Walsh when he was running the Indiana Pacers and has been a valuable contributor this season.
After the team decides which of its own players to retain, Walsh can turn his attention to free agent. The biggest need for the Knicks is a defensive center.
New York will have cap flexibility this summer. The exact amount is largely dependent on the new collective bargaining agreement and the Billups situation.
There are at least four big name centers available, Tyson Chandler, Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan and Nene.
Chandler is an unrestricted free agent. Therefore, he is free to sign with any team he wants. However, Mark Cuban is always willing to spend money to make the Mavericks better and will likely attempt to keep Chandler.
Both Gasol and Jordan are restricted free agents. As a result, Memphis and the Clippers will have the ability to match any offers that are extended to their players respectively. They were both second round draft picks and set to receive substantial pay increases this summer.
Finally, there is Nene. He is not technically a free agent, but he has an early termination option in his contract. Therefore, if he isn’t happy with the direction the Nuggets are going and wants to test the free agent market he is more than able to.
New York has one final avenue to improve its team, the NBA draft. The Knicks have the 17th pick in this year’s draft. Houston has the ability to swap draft picks with New York. Depending on the results of the draft lottery, the Rockets will select 14th and therefore it is unlikely they will exercise that option.
The Knicks should look to add a young big man. The team has very promising wing players. Billups is more than capable of manning the point, but Amar’e is the only legitimate big on the roster.
A few players Walsh should look at, if they are available, are Tristan Thompson, Marcus Morris or Markieff Morris. All are young power forwards could help Amar’e out down low.
As things stand today, I imagine most Knick fans are disappointed the team was unable to win a single playoff game, but the future is promising in New York. The team is relevant again and with a few moves is not that far away from competing for a championship.
* Jared Jefferies is currently making the veteran minimum for a player with his experience. His salary is $462,084, but it would be prorated based on the number of games he played. However, before he was waived by the Houston Rockets he was in the final season of a 5 year, $30 million contract.