By John Schmeelk
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With the Knicks re-signing Carmelo Anthony, they have put all their eggs into the 2015 basket. Anthony only has a few years left at the top of his game, and the New York cannot play the waiting game. They can’t afford to take another swing in 2016.
It’s the summer of 2015 or bust.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, their options next offseason are somewhat limited.
Kyrie Irving has been signed long-term. Kevin Love is likely to be traded — and locked up for years — by the time this season starts. Rajon Rondo isn’t a fit for the triangle offense, with the way he dominates the ball and can’t shoot the three. Brook Lopez is a constant injury risk at center. Ricky Rubio is a restricted free agent. Goran Dragic is more of a pick-and-roll point guard than a triangle one. Paul Millsap plays the same position as Anthony. Kawhi Leonard is likely to be re-signed by the Spurs, and plays the same position as Anthony to boot. Klay Thompson is restricted, and it’s likely the Warriors would match any contract offered to him.
LaMarcus Aldridge is considered a real star, but he is slowly navigating further away from the basket with every passing year, leading to a career worst 46-percent shooting last season. Despite the fact he finished with career highs in points and rebounds, Aldridge might actually be starting to decline. Besides, Aldridge has said he wants to stay in Portland, where he can make the most money. He would also move Anthony back to small forward, where Melo struggles defensively.
The Knicks should have enough money for one max contract, and not much else, which means they’ll have to spend every dime wisely.
1. Marc Gasol. A max player, he could get a full four-year offer from the Knicks, but it will still come up short from what he can get from Memphis. He’s a great fit for the Knicks in a couple of different ways. He can pass extremely well from the post, both high and low, in the triangle. He is an excellent defensive player who can help anchor a team on that end. He can also score well in the post. The hope is that he can thrive in the triangle the same way his brother Pau did under Phil Jackson in Los Angeles.
2. Al Jefferson. For me, this is really a 1-B choice. Jefferson isn’t the passer or defender that Gasol is, but he is the superior post-scorer. His game is focused around hook shots and other deceptive moves down low, which means his game should age pretty well. He could be a very formidable post option in the triangle and create an excellent inside-out option with Melo. Jefferson can opt in with Charlotte, but could decide he wants to test the market. He will likely want the max. He might be worth it.
3. Arron Afflalo and Wesley Matthews are two swing men that may want the max, but would likely get somewhere between $10-12 million per year. Afflalo is the better player and averaged more than 18 points last season, shooting at 46 percent overall and 43 percent from behind the arc. He also averaged more than three rebounds and three assists. Matthews checks in at over 16 points per game on 44 percent shooting and 39 percent from three-point land. Both would be a good perimeter option next to Melo at either shooting guard or small forward and are right in their prime in their late 20s. Afflalo has a player option next year if he chooses to exercise it, which for now, appears unlikely. He should be the top target of the two. If Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert mature this year, there might not be a huge need for either guy.
4. DeAndre Jordan will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason, and while he has shown plenty of athleticism, dunking skills and the ability to block shots, he is still extremely raw offensively in almost every way. He wouldn’t be a great fit in the triangle unless he matures a lot as an offensive player in 2014-15.
The sad thing is that none of the players above, on their own, would make the Knicks a championship team.
They could get New York to 50 wins and home-court advantage in the first round, but maybe not much more, unless one of the younger guys on the team explodes to star status. But any of the five I listed would improve the Knicks significantly, especially the top big men: Gasol and Jefferson. They could be real difference-makers who give the club an option in the middle that sets them apart from other Eastern Conference teams.
Can Phil Jackson land Jefferson or Gasol?
If he can’t, the Carmelo Anthony era might turn out to be a disappointing one.
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