By John Schmeelk
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There are three main arguments proponents of the Derrick Rose trade have given for why it will help the Knicks long term.
The first is the obvious one: Rose is a clear upgrade over Jose Calderon. He obviously is, but whether the upgrade is worth a solid starting-caliber center and last year’s first-round pick is an argument we discussed here on Thursday. It’s also just a one-year upgrade given Rose’s contract situation. There’s no need to address that again.
Strangely, the second and third arguments are almost in contradiction of each other. One is that Rose will attract another big-time free agent to come to the Knicks this offseason. The other is that the move frees up more cap space in 2017. But here’s the rub: every prominent free agent the Knicks sign this offseason will cut into next year’s space.
If the overall goal of the trade is to clear as much space as possible for the impressive 2017 free agent class, then the Knicks shouldn’t sign any free agents this offseason. Therefore, Rose’s role as recruiter or attraction for free agents is meaningless. If the overall goal of the trade is to attract free agents this offseason, that means sacrificing 2017 cap space. Impact players are not likely to sign one-year deals. Rose is either a recruiter or a means to open up cap space next offseason. It can’t be both.
While trading Robin Lopez and Jerian Grant does open up an additional $14 million of space in 2017, it also opens up two huge holes on the roster that will have to be filled by pricey free agents. The Knicks are going to need a starting center to replace Lopez. That player, even if not as good as Lopez, will likely cost close to, or more than Lopez due to the rising cap and the resulting salary inflation. A good backup point guard will cost far more than Grant’s rookie salary.
In other words, once the Knicks go into free agency to replace those two players, they will more than likely spend more money than they owed Lopez and Grant to begin with. It will be a net loss. And Shedding Calderon’s salary means nothing because it was replaced by Rose’s, and both expire after next season. It all comes back to the fact that the 2016 and 2017 offseasons will go down in history as two of the worst free agent periods in NBA history to have cap space.
With the cap rising as much as $40 million over a couple of seasons, nearly every team in the league will have cap space. With the number of players entering free agency remaining the same, it creates a market environment of low supply and high demand and excess capital. The result is players getting overpaid and current contracts already on the books (like Lopez) becoming bargains. The size of contracts players get the next two offseasons will shock people.
Furthermore, the chances of the Knicks landing a premier player are reduced because some of the best teams in the league that are far better than the Knicks will also have a lot of money to spend. That is normally not the case, since the best teams with the most expensive players are often at or above the cap. With the influx of money into the system, they’ll have money to spend even though they are already paying more than one top player. Just look at the Warriors with Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.
The idea of relying on cap space to build a team or propel a mediocre team to championship status has been a gamble in the past, but in the next two seasons it will be a downright long shot. The Knicks have tried this before, and failed. Amar’e Stoudemire arrival years ago brought some momentary good feelings, but in the end was a failure. Of the nearly $30 million the Knicks spent in free agency last year, only Kyle O’Quinn remains. The markets and competition for players the next two offseasons will be historically tough. It is possible to come out on top, but the odds are bad.
The Knicks have given little indication they are willing to wait until 2017 to improve the team, anyway. If that was the plan, Lopez’s salary could have been moved for a draft pick (like George Hill or Thaddeus Young) rather than a player like Rose who will only help this season. Jackson wants to try to win in some significant way this season.
It’s clear that Carmelo Anthony’s presence has forced Jackson to accelerate his rebuild to try to win with him on the roster. It’s a mistake that could backfire horribly if he makes the wrong moves. Anthony’s time table to win was never going to line up with the Knicks, no matter what he or fans thought. It still doesn’t, even with this trade.
Jackson said Thursday night that Rose will invigorate Anthony, and provide an attacking guard for this season. He also said he plans to add a big man. There are also clear needs at backup point guard, and even more important: shooting guard. If the Knicks fill those three needs with decent players, there goes $30 million in cap space and a lot of 2017 space. If Jackson re-signs Langston Galloway and Lance Thomas there goes a few more million, especially if he goes over the cap to do it.
When you take into consideration whatever raises those players will get in the second year of their contracts and next year’s draft picks, 2017 salary cap space gets smaller and smaller. There might be room for one max player, but that’s only if the team elects not to re-sign Rose.
Jackson indicated Thursday night re-signing Rose could be a real possibility. Given his injury history, no matter how he plays this season, giving Rose any sort of big, guaranteed money over the long haul would be reckless. It could hamstring the franchise for years, much like Stoudemire’s contract did. Bad knees rarely get better. It would also likely erase any hope of signing a big free agent in 2017.
Finally, even if Rose does somehow attract top talent this offseason, the free agent crop is notoriously poor. Unless LeBron James (not happening) or Kevin Durant comes here, which is extremely unlikely, the market is filled with mostly flawed players that are barely All-Stars, let alone top 10 talents.
Here are some examples:
Hassan Whiteside has the numbers, but his basketball IQ and focus leave a lot to be desired.
Andre Drummond is restricted.
DeMar DeRozan can’t shoot the 3 and plays little defense.
Al Horford averaged 15 points and 7 rebound last season, and wants a max deal.
Dwight Howard? Ugh.
Bradley Beal is restricted and always hurt.
Harrison Barnes might get maxed and he was the Cavs’ third-best player in the Finals while playing for the Warriors.
Dwyane Wade wants max money and is on the wrong side of 30.
Pau Gasol is, likewise, old, and struggles defensively.
Al Jefferson and Ryan Anderson play little to no defense.
Joakim Noah is never healthy.
I can do this all day. None of these guys are putting the Knicks in championship position, but all will take up all the cap space everyone covets.
When all is said and done, the Rose trade will not have a big impact on the Knicks’ salary cap situation next offseason. If the team wanted to make sure to have max space (about $30 million) available, it could have done it even without the trade. The Knicks won’t have room for two max players if they sign anyone significant this offseason, which given the holes at shooting guard and at center (created by the Rose trade) is near certain. How much is left after one max contract in 2017 depends on factors that are too early to determine. But it could be as little as $5 million to $10 million, which is not significant.
In other words, Rose’s long-term positive impact on the Knicks will be slim to none, which is why the trade was a bad idea.
- The Knicks did not buy a draft pick Thursday night, a surprise given their lack of picks. Clearly, a pick never became available when there was a player they liked. With the draft as deep as it was, the undrafted free agent class should be strong, so I would expect the Knicks to be very aggressive pursuing those players. With so many open roster spots, New York should be a favorable destination. Many of the players the Knicks were rumored to like weren’t drafted, so expect Jackson to be busy in the next day or two.
For all things Knicks please follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk