LeBron James is not walking through that door…
Back in the summer of 2010, the last time (and the first time since 1996) that the New York Knicks were under the salary cap, New Yorkers were dreaming of landing the biggest of fishes. Hopes were high that LeBron might relocate to NYC, and bring along a couple of All-NBA his buddies with him. As we know, the Knicks were spurned by LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and had to settle for the oft-injured Amar’e Stoudemire.
This summer, the Knicks will once again be major factors in the free agent market, as they have upwards of $27 million to lavish on available players. And while LeBron James is again expected to exercise his player option and become a free agent, even the most optimistic Knicks fans knows LeBron is not coming to New York. In fact, it’s also highly unlikely that rest of the cream of the 2015 free agent crop lands in NYC as well. Studs such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and Marc Gasol can all make far more money by re-signing with their current teams – who are all near the top of the NBA standings.
However, Knicks president of basketball operations Phil Jackson still has a tremendous opportunity to improve and reshape the roster.
Even without signing one of the elite, top-tier players, Jackson can craftily construct a foundation that puts New York back on the road to relevancy. By spreading the money around, Jackson can build a balanced roster, one that is not reliant on just one or two superstars. (Of course, who the Knicks select in June’s draft will obviously impact the direction they take in free agency…)
With that in mind, here’s what a potential and realistic wish list for the Knicks might look like:
Wesley Matthews – Unrestricted Free Agent
The Knicks are not going to win a championship next season. Thus, there is no need to chase a ‘quick fix.’ New York has to slowly but surely re-establish a winning culture. Consequently, New York can afford to take a chance on a player coming off a major injury, giving him time to fully heal. Matthews tore his Achilles tendon in early March and is facing a daunting rehab. However, that will scare off plenty of suitors and will likely drive his price down considerably. Before the injury, the underrated Matthews was enjoying another solid season, playing well on both sides of the ball. In fact, he was leading the entire league in made three-pointers at the All-Star break. Recovering fully from an Achilles tear is certainly no guarantee, but if his price tag drops far enough, Matthews could be a very shrewd signing.
Danny Green – Unrestricted Free Agent
Born and raised on Long Island (he attended St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset), Green starred at the University of North Carolina. He became the only player in ACC history with at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists, 150 three-pointers, 150 blocks and 150 steals, but still slid into the second round in the 2009 draft. He was eventually waived by the Cleveland Cavaliers before the San Antonio Spurs scooped him up. Green flourished in the Spurs’ system. He played well in big games, and helped propel the Spurs to a title last season. Would the native New Yorker be willing to give the Knicks a slight hometown discount?
Patrick Beverley – Restricted Free Agent
The Knicks desperately need to upgrade defensively, especially in the backcourt. Opposing guards have been able to get into the paint at will against the Knicks for years now. The ball-hawking Beverley has been one of the NBA’s most aggressive defenders since elbowing his way into the Rockets’ rotation. Like Wes Matthews, Beverley is out for the season. He underwent surgery on his left wrist that will require four months of recovery. This may decrease demand for his services. If the Knicks made a solid offer, would the Rockets match?
Cory Joseph – Restricted Free Agent
Joseph hasn’t had a real opportunity to showcase his skills, but has flashed intriguing upside in limited minutes with the San Antonio Spurs. It remains to be seen if a large enough offer could pry him away from San Antonio.
Eric Gordon – Player Option
Gordon was wildly overrated, and consequently overpaid, after his rookie deal expired. He’s been hurt and mostly ineffective since being traded to New Orleans in the Chris Paul deal (his scoring average has dropped in each of the last five seasons). Gordon has a player option for $15.5 million for the 2015-16 season. If he opts out, he would have to settle for a major pay cut, but could lock up a long-term deal. Again, if the price is right, he might be worth a roll of the dice. This season he is shooting above 45 percent from three-point territory and over 80 percent from the free throw stripe (Kyle Korver is the only other player in this exclusive club).
Jared Dudley – Player Option
Every good team needs a ‘glue guy’ like Jared Dudley. A solid shooter with a high-basketball IQ, Dudley is the type of bench contributor the Knicks have been missing. In the past, Dudley has talked highly of New York.
K.J. McDaniels – Restricted Free Agent
The raw rookie showed why he generated so much draft day buzz while playing heavy minutes for the Philadelphia 76ers earlier this season. However, he’s been an afterthought now that he’s buried on the bench in Houston. The Knicks badly need an infusion of youth and athleticism. McDaniels would provide both. He’s restricted, so the Knicks would have to make an offer that the Rockets refuse to match to land him.
Gary Neal – Unrestricted Free Agent
Neal is a sharp shooter who can come off the bench as a third guard and help space the floor, giving Carmelo Anthony more room to operate.
Honorable Mentions: J.J. Barea, Will Barton, Randy Foye, Mo Williams, Marco Belinelli, Rodney Stuckey, John Jenkins
Draymond Green – Restricted Free Agent
As detailed in depth here, Green would be an ideal fit in NYC. It is an expensive proposition, as the Knicks would almost assuredly have to offer a max contract to even have a shot at Green. Still, Green is the type of young, hungry, defensive-minded, versatile, unselfish, aggressive player who can help turn a franchise around. And it’s not just intangibles that Green brings to the table – he is on pace to become just the second player in NBA history to tally at least 110 blocks, 110 steals and 110 three-pointers in the same season.
Luol Deng – Player Option
Deng’s production has steadily declined the last few seasons, but he still plays hard and he plays the right way. For the right price, he’d improve any team he’s a part of.
Thaddeus Young – Player Option
Young doesn’t have any one particular skill that will bowl you over, but he contributes across the board. He’s been stuck playing for bad teams the last few seasons, which has depressed his value as he’s been forced into a larger role than he’d prefer. A player like Young excels when he can thrive as a complementary piece of a bigger puzzle (as he has been with Brooklyn since being traded to the Nets). The long, lengthy defender can guard numerous positions, and also contribute on the offensive end of the floor. During the 2013-14 season, he became the first player in eight years to average at least 17 points, six rebounds and two steals over the course of a full NBA campaign.
Tobias Harris – Restricted Free Agent
Another Long Island product, Harris has been linked as a potential Knicks target for years, but is that simply his agent trying to manufacture New York buzz in order to increase interest and leverage for his client? Harris has shown plenty of intriguing upside during his stint in Orlando, but his cost will likely be prohibitive, especially considering he’s probably not a perfect fit considering the Knicks many needs.
David West – Player Option
For starters, it’s unlikely the Indiana Pacers would let West get out of town. In addition, adding an aging veteran could be viewed by some as counter-intuitive. However, if the Knicks do draft a young big man (like Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor) with their first pick, ideally they would have a mentor on the roster to teach the youngster how to play the game and succeed in the NBA both on and off the court. You couldn’t ask for a better mentor than West.
Ed Davis – Player Option
Davis slid through the cracks last summer and had to settle for a low-ball offer from the L.A. Lakers. After a decent season in L.A., he’ll be a free agent again this summer.
Honorable Mentions: Mirza Teletovic, Chase Budinger, Jae Crowder, Derrick Williams, Thomas Robinson, Al-Farouq Aminu, Aminu, Jonas Jerebko, Tyler Hansbrough, Carlos Boozer, Tayshaun Prince
Kosta Koufos – Unrestricted Free Agent
It will be very interesting to see what offers Koufos fields once he hits the open market. Backing up Marc Gasol, his playing time has been limited. However, his Per-36 minute averages are impressive: 11.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. Due to the dearth of big men in the league, plenty of teams will be interested.
Robin Lopez – Unrestricted Free Agent
He’s not nearly as accomplished on the offensive end of the floor as his brother Brook, but Robin is a better defender and rebounder. Robin has also been far more durable. Because the Knicks have ‘Melo and should have plenty of offensive firepower, Lopez is solid fit as he will be happy to clog up the paint, board and bang.
Tyson Chandler – Unrestricted Free Agent
It is obviously extremely unlikely that Chandler would consider returning to the Knicks, especially after rumors circulated that Carmelo Anthony requested that Phil Jackson and company move Tyson last offseason. However, the Knicks’ terrible 2014-15 season highlights how valuable Chandler can be. Anthony has always been the Knicks’ best offensive player, by far, since the day he arrived in New York; however, when the Knicks found brief success during Melo’s tenure – including the 54 win season in 2012-13 – Chandler was arguably the team’s most valuable player. That season, Chandler won the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award, the only player in franchise history to receive the honor.
Greg Monroe – Unrestricted Free Agent
Monroe flashed elite talent and very intriguing upside early on in his career. As a 21-year-old, he averaged 15.4 points (on 52.1 percent shooting), 9.7 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game in his second season. However, he’s never taken his game to the next level. His field goal percentage has dipped below 50 percent for three consecutive seasons. His steal and block totals have decreased three years in row. Still just 24, some team will throw plenty of money (and possibly even a max deal) his way. (Per a published report in the NY Daily News, that team might be the Knicks)
Enes Kanter – Restricted Free Agent
Kanter remains a bit of a mystery. He’s been in the league for four years, but is still just 22 years of age and has never averaged more than 27 minutes per game in any season. Will a team make a big offer and force the Thunder to match? What offer would be high enough to scare OKC away? Those are the big questions as Kanter prepares to hit restricted free agency. Our Jesse Blancarte recently broke down why Kanter’s defensive issues could hurt his stock in free agency (which could, potentially, make him more obtainable).
Omer Asik – Unrestricted Free Agent
Asik has been solid, if unspectacular, since becoming a starting center. He signed with the Houston Rockets prior to the start of the 2012-13 season, which was his first opportunity to showcase his full skill set as a starter in the NBA. Then, last summer, he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for a first-round pick. In the 200 games he has played over the last three years, Asik has averaged 8.1 points, 10.1 rebounds and 0.9 blocks. He’s not a stud, but certainly a serviceable starting center who will protect the rim and chip in offensively. In a league bereft of quality big man, Asik will have plenty of eager suitors when he hits the open market in July.
Brandan Wright – Unrestricted Free Agent
Currently on the Suns, Wright is playing for his third team this season. He had the best season of his young career last year in Dallas, when he averaged 9.1 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 67.7 percent from the floor. Still, there are noticeable flaws in his game. Can he handle the rigors of starter’s minutes? Is he worth upwards of $5 million a season?
Bismack Biyombo – Restricted Free Agent
Biyombo, the seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft, has been labeled a bust. He averaged fewer than three points and five rebounds per game last season. However, the big man has showed signs of life this season, particularly of late. Over the Charlotte Hornets’ last five games, Biyombo is averaging 9.0 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.0 blocks, while shooting 58.3 percent from the floor and a respectable 68 percent from the FT stripe.
Honorable Mention: Jeff Withey, Chris Kaman, Aron Baynes, Lavoy Allen
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