Knicks president Phil Jackson is currently orchestrating a scorched-earth cleansing of the team’s roster. He began the offseason with his ill-advised trade of Tyson Chandler to the Mavericks, and most recently, dealt away Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith to the Cavaliers as part of the ongoing tear-down. Now it would appear that the Zen Master has turned his attention to ridding the team of one of the previous regime’s biggest miscalculations — Andrea Bargnani.
Finding a taker for the 29-year-old seven-footer from Italy will be no easy task for Jackson, since Bargnani has spent much of the last two seasons in street clothes due to various injuries (hamstring, calf, and elbow). It also doesn’t help matters that Bargnani hasn’t been all that effective when he has managed to make it onto the court. He’s only made two appearances thus far this season, totaling 22 uninspiring minutes, and averaging a mere 4.5 points per game. Unless former Knicks GM Glen Grunwald suddenly gets another NBA GM position prior to the trade deadline, Jackson is unlikely to find a return for Bargnani similar to the fleecing that the Raptors pulled on New York two years ago.
The Knicks believed that adding Bargnani to their roster would help spread the floor and open up more shots and scoring opportunities for Carmelo Anthony. But Grunwald completely ignored the fact that ‘Melo was most effective when occupying the four spot, which also happens to be Bargnani’s position. Since Bargnani has never been known as a particularly competent or willing defender and rebounder, this made any notion of playing him at center alongside ‘Melo a flight of pure fancy on New York’s part. The team also apparently ignored his prior injury history, which had seen the Italian miss time during four of his first seven seasons in the league, including 46 games the year before coming to New York.
So, it can be easily argued that the Knicks received almost exactly what they should have expected from Bargnani in the trade. I still can’t fathom the logic in including a 2016 first-rounder in the deal when Toronto was motivated to move Bargnani, and the Knicks had little to no competition in their pursuit of the big man. Steve Novak, whom the Knicks sent to Toronto in the trade, could have provided essentially the same skillset for a fraction of the cost, and wouldn’t have required New York to surrender a valuable first round pick, not to mention two second-rounders.
But crying over spilled milk won’t solve the Knicks’ woes, though neither will dumping Bargnani at this point. The benefit for the team in unloading him, besides assuaging the boo birds at Madison Square Garden who never miss an opportunity to let the player and organization hear their displeasure, would be to cut down its ample luxury tax bill. Shedding his $11.5MM cap hit would certainly do just that.
However, expiring contracts don’t hold the value they once did, which makes moving Bargnani a true challenge. The Knicks would likely need to attach a number of draft picks or a player such as Tim Hardaway Jr. to any deal for Bargnani to get another team to bite, and surrendering Hardaway is something I don’t see the logic in. New York has already sacrificed enough of its future to acquire Bargnani, and compounding the problem to save a few million dollars of James Dolan’s money makes little to no sense. The Knicks are perilously low on draft picks as it is, and Anthony isn’t getting any younger, so the team needs to think about the future. But if the Knicks do decide to attach a sweetener to a deal, the only candidates likely to bite are the Celtics and the Sixers, both of whom are stockpiling draft picks at a record pace.
Even if Bargnani was completely healthy this season, which he is not, finding a taker for his expiring $11.5MM contract would be no easy task. Plus, with New York trying to clear as much cap space as humanly possible in order to pursue max contract free agents this summer, it will take an improbable alignment of the stars (and salary cap numbers) for the Knicks not to be stuck with Bargnani until the end of the season. The more likely outcome is that New York will simply end up waiving him, as has been speculated, and pray that it could recoup some of his remaining salary via set-off rights in the event Bargnani inks a deal with another team.
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