Kevin Durant is not coming to New York City. Neither is LeBron James. Consequently, the Knicks are not going to be transformed into a legitimate championship contender this summer.
Consider for a second just how far the Knicks (who have averaged 28 wins per season over the last three years) are from approaching even the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. Think about the enormous gap between the Knicks and the Toronto Raptors, for instance. Then remember how the Raptors were simply outclassed by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. And over the first two games in the NBA Finals, we have watched the defending-champion Golden State Warriors absolutely dominate those same Cavs.
The logical corollary here is that the Knicks are not simply one piece away from contender status. As a result, Phil Jackson and Steve Mills should take a big picture approach to the 2016 offseason. In short, target only “value” contracts. The worst-case scenario is not failing to significantly upgrade the roster this summer. No, the worst-case scenario would be overpaying marginal talent and inefficiently committing cap space that will hamstring the franchise in the future.
Thus, maxing out Mike Conley would be a mistake. Ditto for Dwight Howard.
As I have written previously, the Knicks are not going to win a title with Carmelo Anthony as their best player. If and when the Knicks are great again, it will be with a roster built around Kristaps Porzingis. Thus, searching for a quick fix this summer makes little long-term sense. Due to the salary cap spike (the salary cap FLOOR will be north of $82 million), there is going to be a ton of teams with money chasing a limited number of players. The Knicks’ best course of action would be shopping shrewdly this summer and saving their allowance money for next July, when the greatest point guard crop in free agency history hits the open market.
Nonetheless, even without signing one of the elite, top-tier players, Phil Jackson can craftily construct a foundation that puts New York back on the road to relevancy. And make no mistake, the Knicks need to improve their guard play if they want to improve next season and going forward.
With that in mind, here’s a realistic wish list of free agent guards for the Knicks to consider:
Matthew Dellavedova, 25, Restricted free agent:
The Knicks need a defensive-minded point guard in the worst way. Jose Calderon got cooked on a consistent basis last season, leaving the Knicks’ backline defenders exposed and often out-of-position and/or in foul trouble. Improving their perimeter defense is simply a prerequisite if New York hopes to improve. The Knicks could also use an infusion of aggressiveness/nastiness, which Delly also brings to the table. In addition, he’s an underrated long-distance shooter. Dellavedova was one of just 10 players in the NBA last season to attempt at least 200 three-pointers and shoot 41 percent or better from the behind the arc. At just 25 years old, he’s entering the prime of his career.
Seth Curry, 25, Restricted free agent:
It’s always dangerous to get too excited about relatively meaningless games played late in a lost season, but Steph’s younger brother showed some intriguing upside for Sacramento in April. Over the final 10 games of the 2015-16 season, Curry averaged 15.5 points and 4.1 assists per contest, while shooting 47.4 percent from the floor, 49.2 percent from three-point territory and 90 percent from the free-throw stripe. His last name alone may bump up his sticker price, but he’s the type of young shooter the Knicks should consider investing in.
Ty Lawson, 28, Unrestricted free agent:
Just two short seasons ago, Lawson was one of only three players in the entire league to average at least 15 points and nine assists per game (Chris Paul and John Wall were the other two). However, his career and personal life bottomed out last year. His off-court transgressions (two DUI’s) and his remarkably poor play on the court mean he’ll be a major gamble for any team that signs him this summer. For a Knicks team that likely needs to get lucky somewhere along the line, would Phil Jackson consider rolling the dice? In theory, he’d be an excellent fit in new coach Jeff Hornacek’s up-tempo offense. The downside is obvious, and Phil may be particularly hesitant considering he’s made bringing in ‘high character’ players a priority.
Courtney Lee, 30, Unrestricted free agent:
Lee is a versatile, effective defender who can also knock down threes (38.4 percent for his career). Three-and-D wings – as Lee recently referred to himself in this Basketball Insiders article – are extremely valuable in today’s NBA. If the Knicks can get him at the right price, he’d be a solid, necessary upgrade.
Lance Stephenson, 25, Team Option:
Like Ty Lawson, the downside is immense, as it could be argued that an NYC homecoming might be the worst possible destination for the Brooklyn native. That said, assuming the Grizzlies don’t pick up his $9.4 million option, Stephenson could provide solid bang for the buck if he gets his act together. It looked like ‘Born Ready’ might be on the verge of flaming out of the NBA after wearing out his welcome first in Charlotte and then with the Clippers. However, Stephenson played surprisingly well for the desperate and injury-ravaged Grizzlies after being dealt to Memphis. He averaged 14.2 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in the 26 contests he played in as a member of the Grizzlies.
Evan Fournier, 23, Restricted free agent:
Fournier is one of the more talented and promising young guards set to hit the open market this summer. Last season, Fournier was one of just six NBA players to shot above 46 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three-point range and 80 percent from the charity stripe. In a league that is placing more and more of a premium on shooting, he’s obviously a valuable commodity. As a result, the Magic have intimated they will match anything that even resembles a reasonable offer. Thus, the Knicks would have to overpay to pry him for Orlando, which likely means his name should be scratched from this list.
Eric Gordon, 27, Unrestricted free agent:
Would Gordon be willing to sign a short-term “make good contract?” It might actually make sense for both parties. Such a deal would give Gordon a chance to prove that he can stay healthy (he hasn’t played more than 64 games since his rookie season in 2008-09) and then cash in with a long-term deal the following summer. For the Knicks, it would limit the investment required to purchase a risky stock.
Jeremy Lin, 28, Player Option:
He’s the type of guard the Knicks need (a penetrating point guard who can wreak havoc by getting into the paint), but too many burnt bridges between Lin and the organization makes it highly unlikely Linsanity would return to MSG. (The smart money says Lin ends up across the river in Brooklyn playing for new Nets coach Kenny Atkinson).
Tyler Johnson, 24, Restricted free agent:
Johnson had been playing surprisingly well for Miami (13.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per-36 minutes) before a shoulder injury curtailed his season. He’s a solid shooter from distance, and possesses the quickness and handles to get to the front of the rim. In addition, Johnson is a gritty, plus-defender. Due to the Arenas Provision, the most teams can offer him is a salary starting at $5.6 million. If I’m the Knicks, I pony up and force the HEAT to match.
Brandon Jennings, 27, Unrestricted free agent:
Speaking about the point guard position at his introductory press conference, Jeff Hornacek said, “We have a young player that’s obviously inexperienced after his first year. He’ll get better and better. Jose [Calderon] is kind of later in his career. If we can find a middle guy to bridge those two guys, it would be good. There’s a lot of guys out there.” Jennings would seem fit that mold. He’s also shown an affinity for NYC throughout his career. Coming off a shortened campaign due to a significant Achilles injury, would Jennings be willing to sign a short deal to prove he is healthy and can still be productive?
Kent Bazemore, 26, Unrestricted free agent:
Bazemore successfully made the leap from fringe/role player to certified starter this past season, and will reap the rewards this summer. He competes and contributes on both ends of the floor and would slot in well on the wing, next to Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis in New York, but his strong play may have priced him out of the “value” range. Again, it is important to remember that the skyrocketing salary floor is going to force even the league’s most spendthrift organizations to dole out more than $82 million in guaranteed salary next season. That means a player like Bazemore will likely get offers starting at around $16 million a year.
Allen Crabbe, 24, Restricted free agent:
Crabbe played a total of just 783 minutes in his first two NBA seasons combined, but logged over 2,100 effective minutes for the Blazers in 2015-16. The numbers don’t jump out at you (10.3 points per game, 2.7 rebounds per game, 1.2 assists per game and a 12.2 PER), but he just turned 24 years old and is a versatile athlete that may be scratching the surface of his potential. The Blazers have the right to match any offer; what kind of contract would it take to scare them off?
Evan Turner, 27, Unrestricted free agent:
The former number two overall pick had been relatively disappointing since entering the league, but seemed to turn the corner a bit and played the best ball of his career last season in Boston. He posted a career-high 13.6 PER, coupled with a 51.3 True Shooting percentage. His game isn’t aesthetically pleasing, but he often finds ways to chip in on both offense and defense. Still, it requires a leap of faith to assume he won’t revert back to the inefficient and frustrating player he was for the majority of NBA tenure. He’s been linked to the Knicks recently, but it sounds like the most likely scenario is a return to Beantown.
Jordan Clarkson, 24, Restricted free agent:
Clarkson would be an ideal fit in many ways – a young, athletic guard with considerable upside. However, because he is subject to the Arenas Provision, it is extremely unlikely that the Lakers let him leave L.A.
E’Twaun Moore, 27, Unrestricted free agent:
If you are looking to add guard depth to round out your roster without breaking the bank, Moore is the type of player you look at. He carved out a valuable role in the Bulls’ rotation last season, thanks in large part to his remarkable accuracy from behind-the-arc — Moore shot 45.2 percent from three-point range last season. However, it should be noted that Moore’s previous career-best mark was 37.8 percent back in 2011-12.
Other potential targets: Joe Johnson, D.J. Augustin, Jamal Crawford, Gerald Henderson, Manu Ginobili, Kevin Martin, Randy Foye and Leandro Barbosa.
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