Offseason Outlook: New York Knicks

May 1 at 5:00pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Guaranteed Contracts

Options

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Free Agents / Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • None

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed salary: $29,903,532
  • Player and early termination options: $58,244,393
  • Team options: $0
  • Non-guaranteed salary: $3,706,939
  • Cap holds: $5,592,697
  • Total: $97,447,561

This summer will have a lot in common with the winter of 2010/11. That was the last time the courtship of Carmelo Anthony took center stage, and the specter of Anthony’s free agency this summer figures to once more dominate the back page headlines in New York and our pages here at Hoops Rumors. Anthony made it clear before the season that he intends to decline his lucrative player option for 2014/15 and hit free agency, and he’s maintained that stance ever since. He said at the All-Star break that the Knicks were his preference and that he’d be open to the idea of taking a discount to remain in New York, but he added that he wants to hear the team’s plans to return to contention before making his final decision.

Anthony has repeated those remarks as well, though it seems that he’s more concerned with what the team can do next season than in the long term. That puts pressure on Knicks president Phil Jackson, just weeks into his first job as a team executive. Anthony and the Zen Master met this week to discuss ‘Melo’s free agent plans for the first time and talk about Steve Kerr, whom Jackson has zeroed in upon for the team’s coaching vacancy. Kerr would be a first-time coach, meaning that he and Jackson, neophytes in their jobs, would have the task of squeezing a significant improvement out of a 37-win team that offers precious little roster maneuverability.

The Knicks have less than $30MM in guaranteed salary for next season, but that number is almost certain to more than double, since Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani appear to be locks to opt in. That would bring the team’s commitments to about $64.8MM, roughly $1.6MM more than even the new, more optimistic projections for next season’s salary cap. That means the team would be capped-out regardless of where or for how much Anthony decides to play next season. Anthony’s return would almost certainly bring the team over the tax threshold for a third straight season, putting them in line to pay sharply escalating repeat-offender tax penalties in future years.

Such expenditures matter little to the high-revenue Knicks, who gave Jackson a five-year, $60MM contract, making him the most highly paid basketball executive in the league’s history. Where paying the tax hurts the Knicks is with the loss of the full mid-level exception, the bi-annual exception, and the chance to accept players who agree to a sign-and-trade. New York will only have the $3.278MM taxpayer’s mid-level exception at its disposal, and the minimum salary, to attract free agents from other teams.

The Knicks are also without either a first- or second-round draft pick this year. The earliest first-round pick that Jackson can offer teams in a trade is the Knicks’ 2018 selection because of the Stepien Rule. New York has little in the way of intriguing young players to offer outside of Iman Shumpert, whom the team dangled at multiple points this past season, nearly sending him to the Clippers at the deadline. Shumpert is eligible for a rookie scale extension this summer, but he doesn’t appear to hold the promise of turning into a star as most of the players who receive such extensions do. Jackson seems higher on Shumpert than the front office did under GM Steve Mills, who gave up his title of president when Jackson came aboard. Of course, Jackson, who made a habit of manipulating his team through the press when he was a coach, might have planted the assertion that he values Shumpert to better leaguewide perception of the 23-year-old as a trade asset, but that scenario is probably far-fetched. Still, the prospect of trading Shumpert represents one of the team’s clearest avenues for an upgrade.

Tyson ChandlerCole AldrichTim Hardaway Jr. and Toure’ Murry are also reportedly among Jackson’s favorites. Chandler suffered an injury early this season, and his play dropped off when he returned. He was a frequent critic of former coach Mike Woodson this year, fueling speculation that he might ask for a trade, but the arrival of Jackson and a new coach presents an opportunity for Chandler to reset. The question is whether the 31-year-old can resuscitate his game and again provide the elite defensive presence that was so critical to New York’s 54-win season in 2012/13. If Jackson senses he can’t, Chandler would become a trade chip whether he wants to leave New York or not. It might not be too hard to find takers for him, since he’s only under contract for one more season, and the risk of taking him on wouldn’t be too severe.

Hardaway would be another attractive trading piece after a strong rookie season. Still, given Jackson’s rumored affection for the guard and his potential for growth, he’d probably help the team more than whatever he could net in a trade, unless a team is willing to overpay for him. J.R. Smith began to play better toward the end of the season, but for the most part he was an albatross whose trade value bottomed out. Unless Jackson wants to send him out for little in return just to remove him from the locker room, Smith seems destined to remain a Knick.

New York’s late-season signing of Lamar Odom was clearly tied to Jackson’s history with the troubled forward, but it also signals what lies ahead in the offseason. His non-guaranteed contract is worth the minimum salary, but it’s the minimum for a veteran of 10 or more seasons in the league, worth more than $1.448MM. Odom’s chances of becoming a useful NBA player again seem remote, but that won’t matter if Jackson needs to use him to make the salaries match in a trade this summer. He can insert Odom into a trade, and the team that acquires him can simply waive him without owing him a cent. The Knicks can also cut him loose before opening night without him counting toward the team’s salary, so it’s a low-risk investment.

Jackson and, if hired, Kerr may hold out hope that the triangle offense will significantly help a team that’s too often reliant on Anthony’s isolations, but for Anthony to get his wish of an improved roster by next season, Jackson probably knows that trades are his best option. His assertion that Anthony should be “true to his word” and give the Knicks a hometown discount matters little for the team’s 2014/15 math. Jackson must exhibit the same aplomb with executives from opposing teams that he did with his players in his years as a coach to help the Knicks make a quick return to prominence.

Cap footnotes

* — Anthony has said repeatedly that he intends to opt out and become a free agent. In that case, his cap hold would be $22,458,402.
** — Murry’s cap hold would be $816,482 if the Knicks do not tender a qualifying offer.

ShamSports was used in the creation of this post.

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