Over the last two NBA seasons, essentially the last 16 months, Amar'e Stoudemire has played 180 games – including payoff contests. He played all 82 regular season games for the Suns in 2009-2010, and tacked on another 16 in the postseason. Then he played 78 of the Knicks' 82 in 2010-2011, plus four more in the first round. Moreover, during his debut season in New York, Stoudemire averaged a career-high 36.5 minutes per game. In addition, those 180 games where played on two of the NBA's more up-tempo offenses.
I start here to highlight the fact that the Knicks desperately need to add a starting center this summer. Yes, the Knicks want to find a long-term answer at point guard as well, but that is not NY's most glaring need. Obtaining a big man is the number one priority. The wear-and-tear on Amar'e was undeniable.
In the end, should we have been shocked when Stoudemire's back gave out against Boston? Going forward, this is something the Knicks have to address. Not only does Head Coach Mike D'Antoni need to reduce Stoudemire's minutes, he also needs to lessen the load on STAT's shoulders when he is on the floor. Amar'e should spend less time at the '5' and more time at his natural power forward spot.
In order to make this happen, New York obviously needs to import a legit starting center. However, it's obviously not quite that simple…
The Knicks will have nearly $51 million dollars committed to just the trio of Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, and Chauncey Billups next season. And with the lockout looming, the threat of a hard cap (at worst), or a reduced cap threshold at the very least, it a reality that must be faced. In the past, teams over the cap still had the option of bringing in a good player via the mid-level exception. There are rumors that the new CBA may not include that provision.
Also, one of the Knicks clear objectives has been maintaining ample cap space for the 2012 class of free agents – which may include Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Dwight Howard. The ideal scenario would be adding one of those superstars to a core including Melo and Amar'e.
The bottom line is that the Knicks will likely have to get creative.
While there will be a handful of talented centers on the market this summer, they are not realistic options for NY. Nene has an ETO he can exercise, but he'll be offered major money from every team with cap space. Marc Gasol will be a restricted FA, but expect the Grizz to do everything in their power to lock him up long-term. Young up-and-comer DeAndre Jordan will also be restricted, and the Clippers would likely match any reasonable offer he receives. Tyson Chandler will be unrestricted this off season, but if Mark Cuban has been so willing to vastly overpay for bad centers, imagine how much he'll pony up to keep Chandler in Dallas.
After those four, there is a drop-off to the next tier of available big men.
One name which has generated considerable buzz in the New York tabloids has been Samuel Dalembert. Dalembert has some tri-state-area connections, having attended high school and college in New Jersey. The New York Post reported last month that Dalembert may be inclined to accept a comparable offer from New York, all other things being considered equal. The post speculates that Donnie Walsh might offer Dalembert the full-mid-level exception (approximately $6 million per season) via a multi-year deal.
On the surface, this seems like a decent fit. Slammin' Sammy is a legit seven-footer that can board and block some shots. However, an in-depth look at the numbers leads me to a different conclusion. Dalembert would improve the Knicks next season, that isn't debatable. However, would it the pros outweigh the cons in the long run?
At this stage of the game, you pretty much know what you are going to get. Last season in Sacramento, Dalembert averaged 8.1 points per game and 8.2 rebounds. For his career, he has averaged 8.1 points and 8.3 boards. Considering the dearth of quality centers in today's NBA (and currently on the Knicks roster), those numbers are obviously nothing to sneeze at. Still, Dalembert doesn't quite fit New York's needs. The Knicks obviously don't have to add a stud scorer; they already have that covered. But, ideally, they would add a bruiser that would board and protect the tin. A defensive-minded center willing to set screens and do the dirty work - that is a prescription for what ails New York down low. Dalembert just isn't that player.
Dalembert isn't a guy looking to mix it up inside or intimidate in the paint. He's far too comfortable floating around the perimeter, settling for long jumpers. Take a look at these stats: Per Hoopdata.com, last season Dalembert attempted just 2.9 shots "at the rim" per game. In contrast, he averaged 2.7 field goal attempts from 10-23 feet away from the basket. Also, consider this: The Philadelphia 76ers won 27 games in 2009-2010 with Dalembert as their starting center. After trading him last summer, Philly was 41 games without him in 2010-2011.
Again, Dalembert would certainly be an upgrade for New York next season, but I think offering him a long-term contract would be a regretful decision.
If he wants to settle for a one-year deal (he won't), then by all means, bring him in. But that's not going to happen, so the Knicks will likely have to keep searching.
Some other (less appealing?) free-agent centers that will be on the Knicks radar this summer include: Spencer Hawes, Jeff Foster, Nenad Krstic, Joel Przybilla, Erick Dampier, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Nazr Mohammed, Kurt Thomas, Aaron Gray, Dan Gadzuric, Ryan Hollins, Kwame Brown, and Jason Collins.
For the risk takers out there, Greg Oden will be a restricted free-agent, although the Blazers have indicated they plan to tender him an $8.8 million dollar qualifying offer. Yao Ming will be an unrestricted free agent, but it is unknown if he has recovered from his injuries and is ready return to NBA action.
The Knicks do have the #17th overall pick in the upcoming 2011 draft, so they could look to add some front court depth if a talented big man fell into their lap. But the odds of them landing a difference-maker ready to contribute right away are highly unlikely. Another internal option could be Jerome Jordan, whom the Knicks acquired on draft night last year. Jordan spent last season in Serbia, playing for KK Hemofarm. Here's a link to his Euro League stats. Jordan will be given an opportunity to earn a roster spot during summer league play (if there is any) as well as training camp, if both sides decide to go that route.
However, there is one last avenue the Knicks could explore in their search for a starting center; if they don't have the requisite cap space to sign a center, and can't rely on the draft, New York could check out the trade market. Unfortunately for the Knicks, they don't have many assets that other teams would clamor for in trade discussions. Still, if New York finds the right partner, there are some feasible options. One team Walsh may want to call is the Clippers. Chris Kaman is the highest paid player on the L.A. roster (a franchise with a notoriously stingy owner). Assuming the Clippers ink DeAndre Jordan to a long term deal this summer, they may look to part ways with the oft-injured Kaman. Kaman's contract fits the Knicks' plans perfectly, as he has just one season ($12.2 million) left on his current pact. Finding a package that would interest the Clipper is difficult, but would L.A. be interested in an offer of: Billups, Turiaf, a future pick, and cash for Kaman and Randy Foye?
Yet, after searching through NBA rosters, I think a great fit for the Knicks may rotting away on the bench in Phoenix. Robin Lopez – remember thy name Knick fans.
During Stoudemire's last season in Phoenix, Lopez and Amar'e developed a solid chemistry and worked well together. Lopez is not a guy you will run plays for, but he is a big body that is content doing the little things. He's not a great athlete, but he will bang, board, and hustle. Lopez would be a great fit alongside Melo and Stoudemire on an NY front line. Better yet, it shouldn't be too difficult to pry him from Phoenix.
The Suns owe Marcin Gortat $21.8 million over the next three seasons. Channing Frye is set to earn $18 million through 2014, with a player option worth $6.8 million for the 2014-2015 season. That is nearly $40 million dollars worth of center over the next three years. They also owe Hakim Warrick nearly $14 million thru 2014 as well.
Considering Suns owner (Robert Sarver) purportedly finds himself in financial difficulty, it is not inconceivable to assume Phoenix may be looking to lighten future salary commitments.
Lopez was buried on Phoenix's bench last season. In the 27 post-All-Star break games he played in, Lopez averaged just 4.6 points and 2.4 boards in 11 minutes of action.
Lopez experienced his best success as pro when he was teamed up alongside Amar'e. Lopez started 31 games at center (with Stoudemire as his PF) in 2009-2010. In those 31 contests, Lopez averaged 11.3 points and 6.2 boards, while shooting 59.7% from the floor and over 74% from the free-throw line.
Lopez will make $2.9 million next season, and his qualifying offer in 2012-2013 will be $4 million. Certainly seems worth a gamble from the Knicks perspective. If New York could play Lopez 25-30 minutes a night, and then bring Turiaf off the pine for some added defense and energy, it might be recipe for success.
As far as what the Knicks could offer Phoenix, the key part to any deal might the $3 million in cash James Dolan could send to Sarver (assuming that is still allowed under the new CBA). If the Knicks have a small amount of cap space, how about Bill Walker (Phoenix will be losing starting SG Vince Carter) and cash to the Suns in exchange for Lopez? It might make sense for both teams.
Whatever direction the Knicks head in this summer, it needs to end with a starting center on the roster before the next season starts…
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