Pretend for a minute you're New York Knicks president Phil Jackson. Perhaps not as fun a game as it once was, but for the sake of this exercise, just go along with it.
By now, you're familiar with all the moving pieces and drama surrounding the team and how the Carmelo Anthony mess has yet to be sorted out. Instead, let's focus on the only question that matters: Given the club's situation, what can and should be done this offseason? Not just to lift their ghastly win-loss record but to put them on the best possible path toward one day, maybe (don't laugh), competing for a championship.
First, let's look at what the Knicks are working with. Short answer: not much.
You know how Knicks fans are always dreaming of that big free agent? This summer, that pipe dream isn't in play. As things stand, New York enters the offseason with about $19 million in cap room if the team renounces the rights to all of its free agents, guys like Justin Holiday, Ron Baker, Sasha Vujacic, Chasson Randle and Derrick Rose—more on him in a bit.
That may sound like a hefty sum, but teams this offseason will be able to offer free agents a max deal of about $25 million per year. Can you see players like Jrue Holiday or Jeff Teague or George Hill leaving $6 million on the table to join the lowly Knicks?
That number could go up if Anthony is traded, but the question remains: Does tossing cash at non-superstars improve the Knicks' outlook? Jackson's best strategy would be to take a page out of former Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie's playbook and bottom out to get a high draft pick next summer (obligatory note: the Knicks do own their 2018 pick), but fine. It's understandable why that's a direction he's interested in.
Still, the Knicks should keep their list of free-agent targets sparse. Signing anyone whose best basketball is behind him would be a mistake. They need athletes and shooters, the type of players the modern NBA game favors and who can strengthen the team's awful D.
Oh, and given their standing as a talent-needy lottery team, meaning not a squad just one piece away, they should be careful not to overpay.
This presents a problem.
"Nobody wants to go there and play in the triangle," one Western Conference scout told Bleacher Report.
"Some free agents, I think the triangle is an issue," another Western Conference scout added. "But before you even get to the system, I think there are several other factors that are much more of a priority or influence in terms of desire to play there."
So do any free agents fit the bill?
This is where things get even more difficult.
ESPN's Ian Begley recently reported the Knicks are interested in PJ Tucker. He is 6'6" and 245 pounds and boasts a solid outside stroke (35.7 percent from deep last year).
"He's a tough, physical defender, can guard 3s and 4s and some 5s, hit corner three-pointers," one of the scouts said. "He's a 20- to 25-minute player and good role player who has value in guarding star players."
He's 32. Also, as the scout adds: "I think the Knicks would have to overpay to get him."
Other possible bargain-bin adds? Not an easy list to put together. You have Omri Casspi and Ty Lawson if the Knicks want to throw some short-term deals at NBA-caliber players. Tim Hardaway Jr. is 25 and coming off his best-ever season, and he's a restricted free agent, but it's hard to envision him reuniting with the team that dumped him in 2015.
Speaking of restricted free agents, Nerlens Noel could be a nice fit next to Kristaps Porzingis, but it looks like the Dallas Mavericks want to retain him. Also, signing Noel would prevent the Knicks, who already have young talents like Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez on the roster, from using their cap space to boost their thin backcourt. After all, the backcourt is where the Knicks are most in need of a talent infusion.
The smartest move for Jackson would be to use the team's No. 8 draft pick on a point guard (maybe NC State's Dennis Smith Jr. or France's Frank Ntilikina) and let incumbent Derrick Rose, an unrestricted free agent, walk.
Rose is coming off another season that ended with knee surgery. Also, while he seemed to regain some of his once-prolific bounce, his weak and often inattentive defense and lack of a consistent outside jumper make him a tough player to build a winning team around.
The player, however, wants to remain in New York.
"Derrick loves New York and wants to be there," Rose's agent, B.J. Armstrong, told Bleacher Report recently. "We've expressed that to them and been very consistent about it. Whether it happens is on them; all we can do is be clear."
Armstrong said Rose, who underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee in April, is healthy and working out. He also insinuated that Rose would be willing to take a pay cut (he made $21.3 million last year).
"In the end, we want to explore everything—if you're going to compete, you clearly need a number of [top] players, so let's figure that out," Armstrong said. "We want the best team possible. That's it. All the other stuff, if the team wins, everyone wins."
Thing is, it's hard to envision the Knicks doing much winning with Rose around. Not jumping on the opportunity to swap Rose to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Ricky Rubio at the trade deadline was a mistake.
Winning this season shouldn't be Jackson's primary goal, even if Anthony isn't dealt. In fact, the Knicks would be best served letting Rose walk and also trying to trade their other starting guard, Courtney Lee, to a squad looking for a little three-and-D help.
"Many teams would love to have him," one of the Western Conference scouts said. "I think he has a lot of value."
A Lee-for-Rubio swap could make sense for both the Knicks and Timberwolves. ESPN's Marc Stein reported the Detroit Pistons, under Lee's former Orlando Magic coach, Stan Van Gundy, are open to trading their No. 12 pick for a "win-now veteran." The Knicks could then re-sign Justin Holiday, who put up nice numbers in a limited role last year, though one team source views his output as empty calories.
"I don't think he's very good," the source said. "I thought he had a decent year last year because he got a lot of opportunity on a bad team."
All of which brings us back to where we started—searching for an easy fix that doesn't exist. Instead, it's time for Jackson to take the steps he should have taken last offseason. Show patience. Get younger. Shy away from inking aging veterans to long-term deals.
Doing all that won't propel the Knicks into the playoffs, but it would put them back on the right path. At this point, that should be all that matters.