Offseason In Review: New York Knicks

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.

Signings

Extensions

  • None

Trades

Waiver Claims

  • None

Draft Picks

Camp Invitees

  • Langston Galloway
  • D.J. Mbenga
  • Orlando Sanchez
  • Jordan Vandenberg

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

The Knicks entered this past offseason in a difficult position, with the team in the luxury tax, their star player a free agent, no first round draft pick, and not much in the way of tradeable assets. This was hardly an ideal spot for new team president Phil Jackson to enter his first summer as Knicks president, but nothing in the NBA is ever easy.

The team’s first order of business was re-signing Carmelo Anthony, and despite stiff NBA: Charlotte Hornets at New York Knickscompetition from the Bulls, Lakers, Mavs, and Rockets, the team retained the star forward with a five-year, $124.065MM pact. Anthony did give the franchise a small discount, amounting to $5,071,124 over the life of the deal, with the intent that the team would use the extra cap space to try and surround him with more talented players. While every free dollar of cap room helps, the discount could be seen as more of a symbolic gesture on Anthony’s part to show that he cares more about winning than the amount in his paycheck.

Having inked his deal prior to the NBA signing its new $24 billion TV contract, I’m curious if ‘Melo would have still given the team a discount if he signed after the announcement. Perhaps he might have signed a contract similar to the one LeBron James did with the Cavs instead, though Anthony has gone on the record saying he wouldn’t have wanted a shorter deal. That would have allowed Anthony to see what changes Jackson would make to the team, giving the star forward an opportunity for an “out” if things did not improve. It also would have afforded Anthony the opportunity to really cash in when the new CBA takes effect, though a $124MM contract won’t leave ‘Melo clipping coupons anytime soon.

It is nonetheless possible that in four year’s time, Anthony’s deal will be looked at as a bargain, especially if the salary cap increases as drastically as is rumored, and even more so if the next CBA does away with max contract restrictions altogether. But for now, it can be argued that the Knicks handcuffed themselves to a max deal with a 30-year-old scorer who has only once made it past the second round of the playoffs, and whose best seasons are behind him.

The Knicks were in an extremely difficult position regarding Anthony’s free agency. Team owner James Dolan isn’t paying Jackson a record $12MM a season to allow the franchise to hit bottom and rebuild from the rubble, something that Anthony’s departure would have ensured. It would have also been a bitter pill for the team and its fans to swallow if Anthony was allowed to leave for nothing in return, especially since the franchise gutted itself back in 2011 to acquire him.

The other primary risk with allowing Anthony to depart would have been the hit the team would have taken in trying to recruit free agent talent the next two summers. With the trend of players forming superstar tandems or trios, it’s likely the Knicks would have relived the summer of 2010, when LeBron spurned them and they instead had to settle for signing Amar’e Stoudemire, a contract the franchise will be all too pleased to get off of its books this coming summer. Anthony’s presence should make Jackson’s free agent pitches more effective, though he’s not necessarily someone other players are clamoring to play with, either. His reputation as a “ball-stopper” is not unearned, though it can also be argued that Anthony hasn’t had enough talent around him at any point in his career for him not to have had to take the volume of shots (19.7 per game) that he has in his career.

Jackson’s second biggest move of the summer was the trade with the Mavericks that sent Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas in exchange for Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, and two second-rounders. This deal was a big win for the Knicks, despite New York giving up arguably the most talented player in Chandler. The 32-year-old big man had grown increasingly frustrated in New York and his production took a dip last season as a result. While his 9.7 rebounds per game were quite respectable, the 8.7 points per game he averaged represented Chandler’s lowest scoring output since the 2009/10 season he spent in Charlotte. Chandler also wasn’t the defensive stopper that he had made his reputation as being. Nagging injuries and the Knicks’ porous perimeter defense that often left Chandler exposed certainly contributed, but the fire that defined his first stint in Dallas was noticeably absent, and he was rumored to be a negative influence in the locker room as well as to have had issues with now-former Knicks coach Mike Woodson.

There was seemingly little, if any, chance of Chandler re-signing with the Knicks next summer when his contract was up, so dealing him away for something of value was a wise move. But even more importantly, the trade rid New York of Raymond Felton and his player option of $3,950,313 for the 2015/16 campaign. Shedding Felton’s potential 2015/16 salary was a bonus, but removing him from the on-court equation was the true benefit, since Felton was one of the worst starting point guards in the league statistically.

The players the Knicks picked up in the trade are certainly intriguing. Point guard Jose Calderon is a huge potential upgrade over Felton, and his outside shooting and competent ball distribution should be assets in the triangle offense, though he has yet to make his regular season debut courtesy of an injured right calf. But one negative involved with acquiring Calderon is that he’s signed for two more seasons and is scheduled to make $7,402,812 in 2015/16 and $7,708,427 in 2016/17. While those dollar figures aren’t excessive for a veteran with career averages of 10.2 PPG and 6.8 assists per game, his salary cap hit won’t necessarily help the Knicks nab max free agents. The other issue is that if the Knicks intend to try to sign Rajon Rondo next summer as has been rumored, Calderon’s contract could pose a problem for Jackson and the front office unless they are able to find a taker for it via trade.

Samuel Dalembert is a stopgap at the pivot, and not in Chandler’s class as a defender. So far this season he’s averaging 2.0 PPG and 4.8 RPG, but he’s only logging 16.4 minutes per game in the Knicks rotation.  The one surprising aspect of his game that has surfaced in New York is his ability as a passer in the triangle offense, where he’s far surpassing his career 0.5 APG, logging 1.8 APG thus far.

The potential steal of the trade with the Mavs was young point guard Shane Larkin, a first-rounder in the 2013 draft who didn’t see much playing time during his rookie season. Larkin has an extremely high upside, and he has been the team’s starter early in the season thanks to an injury to Calderon. But the Knicks may have made an error in declining to pick up his $1.675MM team option for next season since the CBA bars the team from re-signing him for more than he would have made on his option. If Larkin continues to impress on the court, he’ll likely command a higher salary than that option would have paid him. This could end up being another potential Jeremy Lin scenario, where the player has a breakout season and then another team swoops in and offers more than New York will be able to match.

Outside of the personnel Jackson acquired from the Mavs, he was also able to snag two second-rounders in the draft, valuable commodities for teams that are over the luxury tax line. While neither player is expected to make an immediate impact, it’s not unreasonable to think that Jackson maximized the value of those picks by selecting Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo. Both players have high upsides, and Early, who was projected by DraftExpress as a late first round pick, was a steal with the 34th pick. Antetokounmpo won’t be terrorizing arena announcers in the NBA just yet, as he declined overseas offers to join the Knicks’ D-League team in Westchester.

Another contract decision that could come back to bite Jackson is the team declining to sign Iman Shumpert to a contract extension. Shumpert hasn’t lit up the stat sheets since entering the league back in 2010, averaging 7.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, and 2.1 APG, but his true value is as a perimeter defender, a skill that is at a premium in the league with the shift in emphasis to guard play. Shumpert was the subject of numerous trade rumors last season, which would seem to indicate that the Knicks will have competition for the 24-year-old’s services next summer, should they wish to re-sign him. I look to Avery Bradley‘s four-year, $32MM deal with the Celtics as a good indicator of the sort of numbers Shumpert’s agent, Happy Walters, will be seeking for his client, as both players’ skill sets are remarkably similar.

Jackson made a number of other minor moves that were more placeholders than franchise changers, with one exception: signing Jason Smith with the team’s taxpayer mid-level exception of $3.27MM. While the Knicks have a glut of power forwards on the roster, Smith, if he can stay healthy, has the type of skills that can thrive in the triangle offense, as his 10.4 PPG average over 20.2 minutes per game this season indicates.

New York also made some drastic changes on the bench, firing Mike Woodson and hiring Derek Fisher to implement the triangle offense. Woodson wore out his welcome in New York, and with the locker room seemingly lost to him, a change was best for all parties involved. Fisher was Jackson’s second choice, but Steve Kerr, Jackson’s main target, chose to ink a deal with the Warriors instead.

While I like the hire of Fisher, I’m not convinced yet about the triangle offense. Yes, it’s worked for a slew of championship teams over the years, but the system doesn’t fit the team’s personnel very well, especially Anthony, who thrives in iso sets. Early returns haven’t been stellar, with the team averaging only 89.8 PPG thus far and looking extremely out of synch. It’s a work in progress, and I’ll hold my final verdict until next season when Jackson will have cap room to play with and can sign players who fit the system, rather than this year when he’s trying to put a round peg in a square hole.

The Knicks’ only real avenue for improvement this season is flipping one of their expiring contracts (Stoudamire, Shumpert, Andrea Bargnani) and/or one of their younger players like Tim Hardaway Jr., for established NBA talent. One name that is being tossed around in speculation as a possibility is Lakers great Kobe Bryant. Bryant would have to waive his no-trade clause for any deal to be a possibility, but his pedigree in the triangle and previous relationship with Jackson, though rocky at times, are why people advance this theory. Bryant’s acquisition would place him alongside ‘Melo, an interesting pairing. Both players have averaged nearly 20 shots per game for their careers, so seeing how the two would co-exist would make for interesting theater. But the Knicks would also be adding Bryant’s $25MM salary for 2015/16, which isn’t an ideal situation for a franchise looking to make a splash in free agency next summer.

One report indicated the Knicks were talking about swapping mercurial guard J.R. Smith for the Pacers’ Chris Copeland. Though a follow-up report threw cold water on the possibility of such a trade happening, and Indiana would have to add more to the deal to make it legal, it’s one that New York should jump on if given the opportunity. Smith has expressed his disdain for the triangle, has had numerous issues on and off the court, and the team has a glut of two guards, so ridding itself of the headache, as well as Smith’s $6,399,750 player option for next season, for Copeland’s lower-maintenance personality and expiring contract would be wise.

This looks to be a rebuilding year in New York, with the team fortunately owning its first-round pick in next year’s draft for a change. But unless the Knicks can score in free agency next summer, which is not a given based on past history, they may find themselves stuck in a position similar to where the Hawks have been the last few seasons — good enough to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, but not talented enough to make it past the first or second round. That’s not a result the owner or fans will be thrilled with, and Anthony isn’t getting any younger.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post. Chuck Myron contributed to this post.

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2 Comments on "Offseason In Review: New York Knicks"

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alphakira
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alphakira
1 year 10 months ago
Umm…good writeup and all, but when has J.R. ever shown “disdain” for the triangle? He’s said he hasn’t grasped it yet but has even went as far as saying he wants to pass more and be a better leader now if it means they’ll win. Also, a bit unfair to say “a 30-year-old scorer who has only once made it past the second round of the playoffs” – Iverson made it to the Finals…he was one of the worst team players that a team can have. If Kobe (with all of his issues with other players and terrible leadership) can… Read more »
Eddie Scarito
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Eddie Scarito
1 year 10 months ago
But….Kobe is also the type of player who can make his teammates better (mainly on the defensive end), and he is a proven winner. Anthony HASN’T made it past the second round, and seeing as he’s on the wrong side of 30 with a ton of mileage, he’s not likely to improve in the future. I liken Anthony to Dominique Wilkins–both players put up monster statistics, but neither are true number one players on a championship team. If Melo ever wins one, then I will revise that opinion. And as a Knicks fan, believe me, I hope I one day… Read more »
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