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Should the Knicks make a Run at Draymond Green?

Draymond Green is exactly what the rebuilding Knicks need: Young, hungry, unselfish, aggressive…

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With the Knicks 2014-15 campaign mercifully winding down, Knicks fans are already looking forward to next season.

Thus, over the next few months, we’ll weigh the pros and cons of a number of potential free agent targets that Phil Jackson and the Knicks will likely consider this summer.

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Despite an unfathomably awful season, there is actually reasons for optimism in New York. The Knicks will have a top lottery pick in June’s draft, possibly the number-one overall selection. They will also have a mountain of cap space to go shopping with in July.

Depending on where the salary cap finally falls, New York may be looking at nearly $28 million in cap space to play with. While not enough to sign two max contracts, they will be ability to sign one max deal and another significant contract (starting in the $10 million range).

While the 2015 free agent crop is not overly stocked with top-tier talent, there will certainly be some studs available on the open market. However, the Knicks likely won’t have a realistic shot at landing the cream of the crop. It seems highly unlikely that LaMarcus Aldridge would leave a comfortable/winning situation in Portland, and forfeit upwards of $25 million, to leave the Trail Blazers and sign with the Knicks. Ditto for Marc Gasol. Although he would be a great fit in the Triangle, it’s hard to imagine Gasol leaving money on the table in Memphis to join the downtrodden Knicks.

There will be a number of other attractive free agents up for grabs (Rajon Rondo, Greg Monroe, Goran Dragic, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, etc.) but finding the right fit will be difficult.

One intriguing restricted free agent that has seen his value skyrocket this season is Golden State’s Draymond Green.

At first glance, Green’s numbers aren’t overwhelming; but if you dig in a bit, they are undeniably impressive. He stuffs the stat sheet and contributes across the board. Consider this: In addition to averaging over 11 points and 8 rebounds per game, Green 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.

The advanced statistics on Green are even more favorable, as they highlight just how incredible he’s been on the defensive end this season. A remarkably versatile defender, he currently leads the entire league in Defensive Win Shares and is third in the NBA in Defensive Rating. Many pundits have argued that Green should be considered a serious contender for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year this season.

Moreover, Green’s true value will never be calculated strictly on stats alone. Some of his greatest strengths are the intangibles he brings to the floor each and every night – including a fierce competitiveness and unselfishness which have helped propel the Warriors to the best record in the West.

Green will undoubtedly be a much sought after commodity when he enters free agency this summer. The question is: How much will teams be willing to pay for the former second-round selection?

Due to his accession this season, there are a number of analysts (including Jeff Van Gundy) who believe Green is actually worth max money.

Based on a salary cap of $66.5 million next season, here is what a max offer (with max allowable raises) from the Knicks would probably look like:

Year                          Projected Salary
2015-16               $15.9 million (25% of cap)
2016-17               $16.6 million (4.5% increase)
2017-18               $17.4 million (4.5% increase)
2018-19               $18.2 million (4.5% increase)

New York could also offer the max starting allowable amount (to make it difficult for Golden State to match initially) and then either reduce the annual percentage increases, or eliminate the increases altogether. Such a structuring could save New York nearly $5 million over the life of the contract.

There are two important questions here. First, would it make sense for the Knicks to offer max money? Secondly, would the Warriors match a max offer?

In many respects, Green is exactly what the Knicks need. He is an elite defender who can guard multiple positions on the floor. With Carmelo Anthony as a starting forward and playing as many minutes as he can handle, it is imperative that New York surround Melo with defensive-stoppers to compensate for his defensive inadequacies. Green certainly fits the bill there.

However, Green obviously isn’t solely a defensive-stopper. He can help space the floor by knocking down corner three-pointers. In addition, he is a solid passer who sees the entire floor. He’s a perfect compliment to Anthony because Green is the type of player who can score in double-figures on a nightly basis without ever having a single play called for him.

Just as importantly, Green would bring intensity and a competitiveness that the Knicks are sorely lacking. Just a few years in the league, and Green has already developed a reputation as one of the game’s more fiery combatants. He would also supply youthful exuberance (he just celebrated his 25th birthday this week) and a healthy dose of confidence.

Granted, $66 million does seem like an extremely steep price to pay for a player that isn’t yet widely recognized as an All-Star – let alone a “superstar.” However, the definition of what constitutes “superstardom” in today’s NBA is a fluid, ever-changing classification. Green will never lead the league in points, but he will lead his teams to plenty of wins. And while $16 million a season seems excessive right now, when the salary cap eventually makes the astronomical jump it is fully expected to after the 2015-16 season, contracts signed this July may seem like relative bargains.

Moreover, if Phil Jackson remains resolute in his commitment to “changing the culture” of the Knicks franchise, then Draymond Green is the exact type of player you want to build around. Young, hungry, defensive-minded, versatile, unselfish, aggressive…. All attributes you want in a franchise cornerstone.

Of course, ideally Phil and company would be able to snag him with a contract starting in the $10-$12 million range. However, that won’t get the job done. The Warriors are well aware of just how valuable Green is to their success. They would happily match a below-market offer if Green signed such an offer sheet.

And make no mistake, that would be below market value. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski has already reported that Green’s hometown Detroit Pistons (Draymond was born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan) are already preparing to throw out the red carpet and offer Green a max deal.

So, even if the Knicks were willing to offer the max, there’s no guarantee they would secure his services. Would Green be willing to relocate to NYC? And if the Knicks did get his signature on the dotted line, would the Warriors be willing to bite the bullet and match all that money?

If Golden State did match that contract, they would pass the tax threshold and be tax payers next season. Is the Warriors ownership group ready to take that step? It would also mean they would be paying Green more than both Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry next season. (Amazingly, Stephen Curry would actually be the sixth highest-paid player on the Warriors next season). Golden State would likely have to try to find a taker for David Lee’s deal in such a scenario. It will be fascinating to watch how the Warriors handle this situation this offseason.

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We are still more than four months away from the start of 2015’s free agency period, but for Knicks fans, there’s not much to look forward to until then. When free agency finally arrives, should the Knicks make a run at Draymond Green?

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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