By John Schmeelk
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For the longest time, it seemed like whenever something could go wrong for the Knicks, it would. Just look at the constant flow of injuries throughout this season. Whether it was Amar’e Stoudemire’s back, or Carmelo Anthony’s wrist, or Jeremy Lin, Iman Shumpert’s or Baron Davis’ knees, it was always something. Don’t forget the fire extinguisher incident either. It was Murphy’s Law for the Knicks, and it only got worse as the team got into the playoffs. Well, that changed on Friday when the league ruled that both Steve Novak and Jeremy Lin would have their Bird Rights after being claimed off waivers by the Knicks.
The ruling, by any objective measure, was a surprise. There seemed to be clear language in the CBA that only traded players were allowed to retain their Bird Rights when changing teams. The Knicks got lucky that an arbitrator agreed that being claimed on waivers equates to a trade since a player had no choice in where he was going. It’s a gift and one that can really make a difference for the Knicks next season.
Now that the Knicks don’t have to use their mid-level and bi-annual exceptions on Novak and Jeremy Lin, they can use that money on other players. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. (when dealing with CBA’s, when is it?) The Knicks can spend a full five million for their mid-level but it will trigger a clause in the CBA that will put the team under a hard cap for the entire season. That means they can’t add any D-Leaguers, or veterans on 10 day contracts throughout the entire season because of injury. This is likely no t a risk the team will be willing to take.
Instead, the team will have a three million mid-level exception, along with the 1.9 million bi-annual exception to entice players to come to the team. Here the problem: at this number Steve Nash is not coming to the Knicks. In my opinion, if the Knicks are told Nash will come to the Knicks for the full five, I throw caution to the wind and deal with a hard cap for a year. He gives the Knicks the best and only chance to win a title next year, and for that chance I play a little fast and loose. This isn’t a popular opinion, but when winning a championship is a goal, chances must be taken.
Assuming the Knicks play it safe, they can take that three million and try to bring in a veteran point guard like Raymond Felton, Andre Miller, Kirk Hinrich or Jason Kidd. Sharpshooter Ray Allen or Jason Terry would also be a possibility. Perhaps they look at versatile swingman Lamar Odom or wing defender Mickael Pietrus? These guys aren’t going to make a huge difference, but they can help. There’s also a decent chance that all of those guys find better offers elsewhere and spurn the Knicks. The team needs to bring in some insurance behind Jeremy Lin at the point guard position, and some shooting to spread the floor for Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. Whether or not JR Smith returns could affect their decision-making as well.
It will also be interesting to see what the team does in the draft. With only a second round pick, the Knicks can try to trade into the first round using someone like Toney Douglas or Landry Fields, who are low-cost options for teams to save money long term rather than making the selection themselves. There are conflicting reports as to whether the Knicks can buy a pick on draft night that I’m trying to sort through. All those are options the team could use to try to trade into the late first round in what is an extremely deep draft.
We’ll take a closer look at the Knicks roster later in the week, and see where they can go in the draft and in free agency. The arbitrator’s ruling gives them a lot more options, ones Glen Grunwald will have to maximize if he wants the team to have any chance of advancing past the Heat in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
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