With the sweep of the New York Knicks by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, many fans are wondering: What should the team do next?
Donnie Walsh has done a very good job at clearing out cap space and getting two top-15 players on the team in Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
Any fan who saw Amar'e in Game 1 and Carmelo in Game 2 knows that these two players are special talents. The only real issue with this pairing is their long-term health.
The Knicks now go into the offseason with three major questions. First, do they keep Chauncey Billups? Second, can they improve the shooting guard and center positions? And third, should they keep Mike D'Antoni as coach?
The Knicks can justifiably be proud that the team made the playoffs and that New York is now a place where free agents will want to play.
Stoudemire showed real leadership skills all season long, particularly in Game 4 against the Celtics when he produced a double-double while barely able to move up and down the court. As long as Amar'e is healthy, the Knicks will be a tough out in the playoffs.
The long-term vision of the Knicks was established at Carmelo's wedding, when Chris Paul made a toast that Amar'e, Carmelo and himself should join forces in New York to create their own Big Three team.
So far, the Knicks are on a path to set that scenario up.
The Knicks have only two contracts of significance on the roster heading into the 2012 offseason: Amar'e and Carmelo.
That means that as long as the new collective bargaining agreement does not change the cap number too much, Chris Paul can join the Knicks and still get a large contract.
If Paul joins the roster, the Knicks will have a star point guard, wing scorer and post player. In light of how much trouble Chris Paul is giving the Lakers right now without David West, he is proving that he is an elite player.
Which brings us to Chauncey Billups. Chauncey is a very good player who will probably become a great coach one day. He is scheduled to make $14.3 million next year if the Knicks do not waive him by April 30.
The Knicks should keep him.
Without Billups at the point guard position, the team suffered in the playoffs. With Billups, the Knicks would have likely won at least one or two games .
Letting Billups start the season with the team will greatly enhance the team, and should put them on a path where they can contend for the No. 4 seed in the East.
There is another reason to keep him: If Chris Paul wants out of New Orleans early, Chauncey's contract will make that trade easier.
The next question is, how should the Knicks fill the shooting guard and center positions? Landry Fields and Ronny Turiaf will return next year. Turiaf is best suited for a backup role and the rookie Fields disappeared during the last two months.
The good news is that Fields should get better. Many rookies do poorly in the second half as their bodies are not used to the length of the season. However, Fields may also be better suited as a backup.
The Knicks also have Bill Walker, who can play both the shooting guard and small forward positions. Ideally, Walker would improve his ball-handling skills and supplant Fields.
If not, then the best player for the two position may be Toney Douglas. Douglas is a scorer in a point guard's body. Chauncey Billups, however, is big for a point guard and capable of defending big guards with his strength.
The reality is that the Knicks need their other guard to be able to hit open jump shots, play good defense and make good entry passes into the post.
The center position is more of a priority. Turiaf gets injured when he plays too many minutes, and he is more of a power forward than center in the NBA.
However, the Knicks do have an inexpensive option for next year in Jerome Jordan.
Jordan is a true seven-foot center with good athleticism. When he played for the Knicks' summer league team, he showed good skills on offense and the ability to block shots.
However, he needed to improve his strength and game experience, prompting the Knicks to arrange for him to play this year in Serbia. Now the Knicks can bring him back with the chance to start at a minimum salary.
He would only need to be a big body next year, with the hope that he could develop into a true rotation player.
The Knicks actually have their own draft pick this year which should be 17th overall. At that position, the Knicks should have an opportunity to draft one of the Morris brothers from Kansas.
Both are true post players who can improve the Knicks' depth up front. Both are athletic who should be immediate rotation players.
The Knicks should also keep Derrick Brown, the small forward the Knicks claimed on waivers from Charlotte. He showed superior athleticism and a decent enough jump shot that he should be given the chance to be Carmelo's backup next year.
If Shawne Williams wants to come back on a minimum salary contract, then he would be worth re-signing as well.
Shelden Williams should be allowed to sign elsewhere. He is too slow to get major minutes for D'Antoni and undersized for a center as well.
Anthony Carter should be brought back to be the backup point guard to Billups. Carter is a natural point guard and an excellent defender.
So far, it sounds like mostly the same team that just got swept. The reason is that the Knicks do not want any contracts that could interfere with their chance to sign Chris Paul.
So, the Knicks will need to find a cheap free-agent center who can rebound and is athletic enough to play for D'Antoni. There is one good candidate for the job.
Josh McRoberts is a 6'10", 240-pound power forward on the Indiana Pacers. He backs up both Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert. He will be a free agent and he is cheap. He should be the top free-agent target for the Knicks to fill the center role.
McRoberts averaged 7.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in 22 minutes per game this year. He shot 54.7 percent from the field and was 23 of 60 (38.3 percent) from three-point range.
Because he will likely never get a chance to start in Indiana, the Knicks would have a chance to get him to New York with the opportunity to win the starting center job.
He has shown good rebounding and shot-blocking instincts in the NBA. While he would have trouble guarding the elite centers, he is capable of providing solid defense against everyone else. And, he does not need the ball to get his points. He would be an ideal role player for the Knicks for next year.
The final question is whether or not the Knicks should keep Mike D'Antoni as the head coach.
Unless Phil Jackson or Doc Rivers are going to replace him, then the answer is yes. He is a good coach who deserves to have a full season of Carmelo and Amar'e to see if he can get the Knicks to the next level.
With a full year to develop chemistry on offense, the Knicks should be able to win a round next year.
The reality is that Doc Rivers is likely to take next year off to watch his son play basketball at Duke. After that, it is anticipated that he will want to return to the NBA.
The Knicks were once his home as a player and would be a great fit for his return to coaching in 2012.
So, for the long-term health of the Knicks, they should keep both Chauncey Billups and Mike D'Antoni for the 2011-2012 season and only do minor tinkering with the roster this offseason.
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