By John Schmeelk
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When the moratorium lifts on Wednesday night and teams around the league execute all the deals reported over the last 10 days, the Knicks will still be left with many holes to fill and very few good options to fill them. Once J.R. Smith returned and Pablo Prigioni was given part of the Knicks’ tax payer mid-level exception, all they were left with were veteran minimum contracts worth $1.4 million and a $1.7 million deal (money remaining on mid-level exception) to offer the remaining free agents on the market. It didn’t take long for the Knicks to discover that many of their preferred targets would find better deals elsewhere.
Carlos Delfino, Mike Dunleavy, Francisco Garcia, Matt Barnes, Tony Allen, Jose Calderon, Eric Maynor, Darren Collison, Randy Foye, Devin Harris, Kyle Korver, Willl Bynum, CJ Watson, Jermaine O’Neal and even their own player, Chris Copeland, have signed deals elsewhere. Reports are that Elton Brand won’t accept the Knicks’ veteran’s minimum offer either. The options have dwindled and the Knicks still only have 10 players on their roster:
Point Guards: Ray Felton, Pablo Prigioni
Shooting Guards: Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr.
Small Forwards: J.R. Smith (the position he will primarily play for the Knicks), C.J. Leslie
Power Forwards: Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani
Center: Tyson Chandler
The Knicks still have distinct needs at point guard, small forward and center.
At point guard, the Knicks’ dream scenario would be Chauncey Billups. He is a liability defensively and more of a spot-up shooter than anything, but he could play both guard positions off the bench and try to spread the floor. There are reports that Mike Woodson is trying to convince him to take the veteran’s minimum, but I find that possibility very unlikely. If this gift doesn’t fall into the Knicks’ lap they will be down to Aaron Brooks, Jamaal Tinsley, Sebastian Telfair, Nate Robinson, DJ Augustin and Beno Udrih. Brooks is trying to salvage what was once a promising NBA career. Udrih is a passable backup guard. Tinsley, Telfair and Augustin are truly desperate choices. Nate Robinson, as much as I can’t stand him, would be a better option than the prior three. Maybe he actually learned something from Tom Thibodeau.
The crop is even thinner at small forward. Corey Brewer, Antawn Jamison, Wesley Johnson, Raja Bell and Mickael Pietrus are the best options. Pietrus appears to finally be healthy and he would be worth the risk to see if he can regain his shooting and defensive form. Raja Bell has barely played the last few seasons, but he seems healthy and was always a good shooter and defender. Both of those guys would provide much-needed defense at small forward, which is what the team needs most. Corey Brewer will probably get more money elsewhere, and Johnson and Jameson are nothing more than a roster filler. Leslie is a more likely contributor this year than one of those two players.
Ron Artest could be a real option too, but there are problems in counting on him. Artest hasn’t been amnestied by the Lakers yet, and even if he is, teams with cap space can bid more than the vet minimum for his services and keep him away from the Knicks. Artest’s eccentricities and threats of retirement might scare teams away, which would free him up to sign with the Knicks. He is not the player he used to be, but his defense and physical strength still makes him valuable as a stretch four. His signing would be a home run.
The team still has a chance to bring in a decent big man. If Brand won’t take the Knicks’ $1.7 million contract or the veteran’s minimum, odds are the team turns to Kenyon Martin. He was a good defender and finisher in place of Tyson Chandler, but he is not a very good rebounder. If the Knicks miss out on both, Brandan Wright would be a great option, but he is likely to get more elsewhere. Chris Wilcox and Earl Barron are desperate choices. Timofey Mozgov would be a good fit but he is more likely to go overseas than sign a veteran’s minimum contract. Josh Harrellson, known to Knicks fans as Jorts, is also on the market and he can provide some outside shooting and rebounding.
As you can see, the Knicks’ options have dwindled. Best case scenario is that they wind up with Billups, Artest, Pietrus (or Bell), and Brand (or Martin). All of those players would at least be useful. Once you get past that group you start venturing into useless territory. Glen Grunwald will once again have to be creative and find diamonds left in the rough, and maybe get a little lucky along the way. With the Knicks’ age and injury problems they are going to need depth, and Grunwald is going to have to find it. Retaining Smith and Prigioni was a good start, but there is a lot more work to do.
– Knicks summer league starts on Friday, and while very little can be taken out of summer league, there are some things to watch for. I want to see whether Hardaway Jr. can create his own shot on a consistent basis, which could make him very valuable to the Knicks. If Leslie shows a decent jumper in summer league he could be a factor this season, too. I would like to see Shumpert improve as a scorer off the dribble. Finally there are a couple of big men. Jerome Jordan might be a good enough defender and rebounder to help the Knicks, and Jeremy Tyler has the athleticism to play in the league if he can put his game together. I’m just looking forward to watching real basketball again.
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