By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks’ present situation is not an enviable one. Over the salary cap, they only have the midlevel exception (starting at $5 million), the bi-annual exception ($2 million) and the veteran’s minimum to lure free agents.

Further hamstringing them is the need to keep as much salary cap room as possible available to try and lure guys like Chris Paul in 2012. That means they can only offer one-year deals.

In other words, their options are extremely limited.

The only thing the Knicks have going for them is that they are finally an exciting destination for free agents. In the past, with little hope of making the playoffs, the bright lights of New York was all that made them attractive to potential free agents. It didn’t attract winning players or veterans looking for one last run. For the first time, the Knicks are actually a team where players want to land, even if it’s just for a one-year contract.

That being said, top players aren’t coming in New York. There will be no Tyson Chandler, Nene Hilario, DeAndre Jordan or Marc Gasol. Instead, the Knicks will have to find players with flaws that fit their needs. As the Knicks stand now they have 12 players under their control, including second round picks Andy Rautins (2010) and Josh Harrellson (2011). Derrick Brown can be kept for a $1.1 million dollar qualifying offer. Of those players, six are guards and three are small forwards. That leaves only Amar’e Stoudemire, Ronny Turiaf and Harrelson as legitimate big men that can play the four or five.

Unfortunately for the Knicks, good size is hard to find — and doesn’t come cheap.

The players out there that might be gettable are Joel Pryzbilla, Kurt Thomas, Tony Battie, Jeff Foster, Joe Smith, Erick Dampier, Aaron Gray, Bostjan Nachbar and Alexis Ajinca. Like I said, they will have to settle for players that have serious flaws. Thomas, Smith and Foster are over the hill. Dampier is perpetually out of shape. Gray is unproven. Nachbar has been playing overseas.

Shawne Williams can also be re-signed. While he was a good defender last year, he doesn’t provide the bulk and toughness down low the team lacks. It’s the same for Jared Jeffries, who the Knicks will reportedly re-sign. He’s a mobile forward, but not a banger.

None of these guys are viable long term solutions at the center position, one of the reasons the Knicks will have a hard time competing for a championship this season. It also raises red flags as to whether the Knicks should spend all their available cap money next season on Paul, effectively leaving their frontcourt with a huge hole.

A secondary need for the Knicks is at shooting guard. Landry Fields and Bill Walker will return but neither showed they can start. Fields clearly has potential but he will have to return to his form from the first half of last season to remain a viable starter. Iman Shumpert and Toney Douglas can also play the two spot. That being said, the Knicks will be on the lookout for depth there with the likes of Grant Hill, Michael Redd, Shannon Brown and Caron Butler. Versatile forwards Shane Battier, Tayshaun Prince and sharpshooter Jason Kapono might also be on the radar.

Once again, the pickings are slim.

Even worse, many of the players above will likely go elsewhere, whether for a multi-year deal or for a better chance at a championship. The Knicks will have to go to war with a team of a similar skill level as last season and hope their young players take a noticeable step forward in their development.

That’s where the improvement is going to come from — and that’s what Knicks fans should focus on when training camp is expected to open on Friday.

You can follow me on Twitter at:!/Schmeelk.

Do you see the Knicks making any sort of splash in free agency? Let Schmeelk know in the comments below…

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