Just In Case: A LeBron/Wade/Bosh-Less Plan for the Knicks

Lou CappettaAnalyst IIFebruary 21, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 20:  Rudy Gay #22 of the Memphis Grizzlies goes up for a dunk over Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Hornets at the New Orleans Arena on January 20, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Hornets defeated the Grizzlies 113-111.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Now that the dust has cleared from the frenzy that was the 2009-10 NBA trading deadline, fans of NBA teams everywhere now have a clearer picture of what their team will look like for the rest of this season.

What may not be as clear, however, is how your favorite team is situated in terms of salary cap space for the upcoming "Summer of LeBron."

The NBA salary cap is arguably the most complex in all of sports.

First, it's a soft cap, meaning that teams are still eligible to play even if they're total team salary exceeds the cap.

Not confused yet? Well, next there seems to be an exemption for almost everything. There's a mid level exemption, meaning a team that is over the cap can sign one player per year at an amount the NBA determines as a "middle ground" of all salaries.

Next, there is the Bird exemption, which allow teams to resign their own player for any amount up to the maximum allowed salary, even if they are over the cap. Then there's a rookie exemption, and bi-annual exemption, and so on.

It can get confusing, even for the best capologists. There is so much misinformation out there, it's very difficult for a fan to fairly analyze what their favorite club can do, in terms of adding talent this summer.

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So where does that leave Knicks fans?

No team has been as open about trying to clear cap space for this upcoming summer. It's been the NBA's worst-kept secret that every move the Knicks have made for the past two years has been made with the summer of 2010 in mind.

So after this trade deadline, in which the Knicks were able to shed more salary while adding the most sought after expiring contract ever, reports everywhere had New York suddenly able to afford both LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, or Chris Bosh and LeBron James, or Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, or, well you get the idea.

This is true, in an essence, but here is the fine print in a nutshell. The projected salary cap for next season will be $53 million. The Knicks will have about $17.8 million on the books for next year, meaning New York will have approximately $35 million to spend, enough to sign two players at the max salary of $16.57 million.

As with most things, there is a catch. In order to have the entire $35 million to spend, the Knicks need to renounce their Bird rights to all star David Lee, other wise his $10.5 million salary from last year counts against the teams caps space.

By renouncing Lee, the Knicks will not be able to resign him if they are over the cap, unless it's for the minimum salary.

If the Knicks decide to keep Lee, they will have about $24 million to spend, not enough to sign two max level guys, but they could conceivably use their entire $24 million and then sign Lee for whatever they want.

For arguments sake, let's say Amare Stoudamire remains in Phoenix, the Knicks want to retain David Lee, and New York is unable to get any of the big three free agents in Chris Bosh, LeBron James, or Dwayne Wade.

It's definitely a worst-case scenario, but it's possible. So where do the Knicks go from there?

The only remaining players in New York will be centers David Lee and Eddie Curry, forwards Danilo Galinari and Wilson Chandler, and guard Toney Douglas. It's only five players counting Curry, who will surely never see the MSG court again under Mike D'Antoni. Still even with Curry, the Knicks will need to bring in seven players to fill out their roster.

So here is a back up plan for Donnie Walsh and Co.

Make A Play For Rudy Gay

Look at this comparison between the Grizzlies' Rudy Gay and player B this season:

Gay: 19.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.4 SPG, .465 FG%, .744 FT%, .308 3PT#

Player B: 21.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.1 SPG, .462 FG%, .832 FT%, .368 3PT%

Player B is Atlanta's Joe Johnson, the player who is widely regarded as the best player available after the "big three."

The numbers are close, although Johnson is a bit better. However, while Johnson probably won't command a max contract, he's making more than $14 million this year, so it's conceivable that he would cost the Knicks approximately $15 million.

Gay, who will be 24 at the start of next season (five years younger than Johnson), is only making about $2.6 million this year, however, he is a restricted free agent, meaning the Grizzlies would have the chance to match any offer the Knicks made.

The qualifying offer for Gay will be about $4.5 million, which Memphis will almost definitely offer.

However, Memphis will have much less room under the cap than the Knicks, and will be facing similar scenarios with there other young talent in the next few seasons, not to mention, the Grizzlies have OJ Mayo, who is a very similar player to Gay.

If the Knicks offer slightly more than twice the amount of the qualifying offer, say $10 million ($5 million less than what it will probably cost to sign Joe Johnson), Memphis almost surely doesn't match the offer.

Result: Knicks sign guard/forward Rudy Gay for $10 million. Knicks have $14 million left to spend.

Get A Quality Point Guard To Run Mike D'Antoni's System

One of the biggest problems the Knicks have had the last two seasons, is that they haven't had a quality starting point guard to run Mike D'Antoni's system. 

It's basically been a two-headed monster of Chris Duhon and Nate Robinson for the Knicks at the point guard position.

Duhon, the usual starter, takes care of the ball and is a good distributor, but can't score, is a terrible shooter, and struggles with his confidence.

Robinson, on the other hand, can score, but makes poor decisions, turns the ball over, takes bad shots, and was in and out of the coach's doghouse until he was traded to Boston. Neither guy plays defense.

Rajon Rondo was scheduled to become a restricted free agent until Boston signed him to an extension, but he would have also cost a pretty penny, and there was no way the Celtics would let him go, especially to a division foe.

So where do the Knicks turn for a quality point guard? North Carolina.

He may not be the sexiest name, but Raymond Felton of the Bobcats can play the point, period.

He averages a modest 12 points and five assists per game, but Felton also averages about only two turnovers per game, shoots about 46 percent from the field and about 40 percent from three, all of which should see a boost playing for D'Antoni (just look at what he did for Steve Nash).

Not to mention, Felton is a plus defender as well.

Felton is still only 26, and will be an unrestricted free agent, and it's doubtful the Bobcats will overpay to keep him around, especially since they'll be over the cap and have DJ Augustin waiting in the wings.

His salary for this season is $5.5 million, but his numbers should keep his salary from sky-rocketing.

Let's say the Knicks can probably get Felton for $8.5 million.

Result: Knicks sign guard Raymond Felton for $8.5 million. Knicks have $5.5 million left to spend.

Bring In A Defensive Minded Big Man To Play With David Lee

Mike D'Antoni is no Larry Brown when it comes to defense, but that doesn't mean the Knicks should just completely forget about it all together.

David Lee is a terrific offensive big man, and a quality rebounder, however, he's under-sized for a center, isn't much of a defensive presence, and not much of a shot blocker.

The Knicks can find that in an old, familiar face by bringing back former Knicks center Marcus Camby.

Camby will be 36 next season, but still has plenty of athleticism, and should play well alongside Lee, as his strengths happen to be Lee's weakness, and vice versa. He's a defensive presence and a rebounding and shot-blocking machine.

While he may be older than desired, his age may work in the Knicks favor in terms of money. While Camby is making $10 million this season, there is no way a team offers him a long-term deal or that much money per year, especially in this economic climate.

Assuming that James Dolan has gotten over his issues with Camby, and Camby isn't still upset with the Knicks for trading him, it's reasonable to expect that Camby could be had for the final $5.5 million the Knicks have left.

If Camby can't be brought back for whatever reason, Udonis Haslem could easily be had for the same price. For arguments sake, we'll say Camby returns.

Result: Knicks sign forward/center Marcus Camby for $5.5 million. Knicks reach the salary cap.

Reaching the Salary Cap

Now that the Knicks have reached the salary cap of $53 million, the new roster looks like this:

David Lee, F/C                     Raymond Felton, G

Marcus Camby, F/C               Rudy Gay, G

Wilson Chandler, F                Toney Douglas, G

Danilo Gallinari, F                 Eddie Curry, C

New York will still need to fill four roster spots, and will only have one mid-level veteran exemption before they can only had out contracts for the league minimum.

Mid-Level Exemption

The mid-level exemption has been around the $5 million mark for the past few seasons, so we'll go with that number here.

There are two savvy veterans that would greatly benefit the Knicks in 2010, who could probably be had for the exemption.

First one may be a long shot, but Manu Ginobili is a quality player who does everything well, and knows how to win. He is making $10 million this year, but he's aging and begins to get injury-prone if he plays too many minutes.

It's doubtful that any team will offer him close to that money, but since the Spurs will be well over the cap and unable to make any other signings, they may overpay to keep him for another year or two.

So let's assume Ginobili stays in San Antonio. The Spurs have another quality guy who can shoot the three, will be only 30 next year, and will actually be taking a slight pay raise by accepting the exemption in guard Roger Mason.

So if the Knicks can get Ginobili, great, but they have a much better chance of getting Mason, so we'll take him.

Result: Knicks sign guard Roger Mason to the mid-level exemption.

The Final Three Spots

The final three spots on the Knicks roster will have to be filled by signing players to the veteran's minimum salary of approximately $2 million.

We're going to fill the final three spots with a guard, swingman-type forward, and a center, all of which will be receiving raises with the veteran minimum.

For the guard and swingman spots, the Knicks should sign a pair of players from Orlando in Jason Williams and Matt Barnes.

Jason Williams has turned himself from a flashy player who at times played too fast for his own good, into a quality, good-shooting point guard who doesn't commit turnovers and makes solid decisions.

Matt Barnes is not great, but he's athletic, can get up and down the floor, and can do a little bit of everything. Plus, Barnes can play the two, three, or four spots without a problem.

The last spot will go to young LA Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. He's hot-and-cold, but has shown flashes of being a solid NBA center who can score and rebound. He's still only 22, so he's still developing.

Technically, Jordan is under contract for next year, but it's a non-guaranteed contract, so the Clippers could release him if they wanted more cap space without having it count against their salary cap.

It may be a long shot, especially since the Clippers will only have to pay Jordan about $900,000, but if the LA decides to keep Jordan, the Knicks could easily sign his teammate Craig Smith or bring in veteran Pistons center Ben Wallace.

Since Smith is an unrestricted free agent, and younger than Wallace, we'll go with him.

The Final Product

So here is what the new Knicks look like:

David Lee, F/C                     Raymond Felton, G           Roger Mason, G/F

Marcus Camby, F/C               Rudy Gay, G                   Jason Williams, G

Wilson Chandler, F                Toney Douglas, G             Matt Barnes, F

Danilo Gallinari, F                 Eddie Curry, C                 Craig Smith, C

It's not great, by any means, especially when Knicks fans are expecting LeBron James, but in a worst case scenario, it does make the Knicks better than they've been in quite some time.

This team can contend for a playoff spot, especially in the Eastern Conference.

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