Long but excellent article. A must read.

Can The Knicks Get Creative?

Joe Treutlein, 3/4/2010 11:00:14 AM

With a projected $53,000,000 cap this offseason, the Knicks are currently set to have $31,428,263 in cap space, putting them just short of offering contracts to two maximum players. Aside from getting their target max players to take a slight discount annually (or praying the cap falls somewhere slightly about $54,000,000), the Knicks will have to get creative if their goal is to attract two legitimate stars, so let's take a look at some of the options potentially available to them.

To quickly re-assess the Knicks' cap situation, they have $17,782,905 in guaranteed salary locked up between Eddy Curry, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Toney Douglas. By CBA rules, they then also must also account for 8 minimum cap holds of $473,604 each, bringing them up to $21,571,737 in guaranteed salary. For each player they sign, one of these cap holds will be removed, freeing up that space to be used for the next player they sign.

Considering virtually every possible scenario for the Knicks involves signing at least one max player, we'll play that out now so we don't need to do it for every possible scenario. To sign one of the big three (James, Wade, Bosh) to a max contract, the Knicks will have to fork up $16,568,907 for the first-year salary, so we need to deduct that from the $31,428,263 in available cap space, but then add back $473,604 for the recouped cap hold, bringing us to $15,332,960 in available cap space, while having a theoretical roster of Curry, Gallinari, Chandler, Douglas, one max player, and two second round picks to start with.

Scenario 1: The Knicks buy out Eddy Curry

The least creative of all the scenarios, buying out Eddy Curry is something the Knicks could consider if they can't find any takers on the trade market. This scenario would require Curry and his agent to believe Curry could get a minimum contract somewhere in the NBA, and that he'd get more minutes or be in a better situation elsewhere, neither of which is incredibly outlandish. The minimum contract for a player with 9 years experience will be $1,229,255 next season, and it's possible Curry could agree to a buyout saving the Knicks that amount, assuming he'd be able to get all that money back by signing elsewhere. For the Knicks, their total savings would actually be just $755,651, as you have to add another minimum roster hold to replace Curry's spot on the roster. This would bring the Knicks up to $16,088,611 in available cap space, less than $500,000 annually away from offering another max deal. With some projecting the salary cap to be slightly higher than $53,000,000, making this move should, for all intents and purposes, position the Knicks to offer two max contracts.

That said, this is obviously a last resort option for the Knicks, assuming Curry would even agree to such a move. The additional cap space they gain would be minimal, and it removes the option of using Curry's expiring contract as a trading chip at some point later in the season. Given that the Knicks are unlikely to have any real cap space next season due to the annual rises in salary of all the players on their roster, along with looming CBA negotiations likely lowering player salaries (and thus, the salary cap), using Curry's contract as a trade chip will be one of their few options to add to their new core of players. For these reasons, it's unlikely the Knicks pursue this option, but if they're active in trade discussions from draft night onwards, odds are they won't have to.

Scenario 2: Trade Wilson Chandler for second round picks and/or future first round picks

Wilson Chandler has a guaranteed salary of $2,130,482 next season, while second round draft picks and future first round draft picks don't count against the cap in the offseason. For these reasons, swapping one young asset for other young assets could be an attractive option for the Knicks, giving them more flexibility while also likely adding a player (or players) that are better fits for D'Antoni's system. Given Chandler's lack of reliable perimeter shooting, it's tough to field balanced lineups in D'Antoni's spacing-reliant system, which usually calls for three, if not four, players with three-point range to be on the floor at all times. Seeing how the Knicks also lack anything resembling a shot blocker in the front court (and direly need one moving forward), and further seeing how few starting-caliber shot blockers with three point range there are in the NBA, it will make it tough to fit Chandler into most lineups.

Trading Chandler for any combination of 2010 second round picks, future second round picks, and future first round picks will yield the Knicks cap savings of $1,656,878, bringing their available cap space up to $16,989,838, well above the amount required to sign a second maximum contract free agent.

Note: most of the remaining scenarios involve trading Eddy Curry for contracts that are guaranteed slightly less in 2010-2011, but extend beyond the 2010-2011 season, when Curry's contract expires. Teams could be inclined to make a deal like this to give themselves more financial flexibility in the future, while taking on slightly more salary in 2010-2011 as the price of doing business. The Knicks can also send up to $3,000,000 in cash in a deal such as this, minimizing that cost for their prospective trade partner.

Scenario 3: Trade Eddy Curry to Sacramento

The Kings could be one of the Knicks' most likely suitors, as they have multiple unfavorable contracts in Nocioni, Garcia, and Udrih. The Kings, themselves, are about $400,000 away from signing a maximum contract player of their own this upcoming season, under a projected $53,000,000 cap, and to get in range, all they'd have to do is find someone to take on Spencer Hawes' expiring deal, valued at $2,974,320, while they have a slew of assets to use as sweeteners, and someone might actually find giving Hawes a one-year test run to be a decent option in and of itself, so getting themselves into that range should only be a formality. For the Kings, it will ultimately come down to whether they think they have a good chance of attracting a maximum free agent, or if ridding themselves of some of their unfavorable contracts would be more beneficial to their long-term goals.

The worst-case scenario trade for the Knicks would be Nocioni ($6,850,000) and Hawes ($2,974,320) for Curry ($11,276,863), yielding them a total savings of $1,926,147 after you account for the recouped roster hold. This would just put the Knicks just into range to offer a second max deal and burden them with an extra year of Nocioni, hardly an attractive scenario. If the deal were to be done without Hawes, however, it'd yield the Knicks $4,426,863 in cap space, leaving them with $3,664,520 to sign a second player after signing two max contracts. This, on the other hand, would be a very attractive scenario, as it would allow the Knicks to sign another decent player or two through free agency for more than the minimum.

Another option for the Knicks would be trading for Beno Udrih instead of Nocioni, as he has a deal of similar salary but for one year longer. That said, Udrih is a much more effective player than Nocioni and appears to have found a nice niche in Sacramento, so prying him away would be tougher. His skill set is perfectly suited to D'Antoni's system, though, so this could be a very attractive option to the Knicks, as he could come in and instantly be among the Knicks' best three-point shooters, while bringing a very unselfish approach to the point guard position. Acquiring Udrih would probably mean giving something up, and the Kings could be interested in Toney Douglas as a way to get younger, cheaper, and more defense-oriented at the point guard spot. Trading Curry and Douglas ($1,071,000) for Udrih ($6,478,600) and Hawes would yield the Knicks savings of $2,894,943, leaving them with $2,132,600 to spend on a third free agent after signing their two max players. Getting Sacramento to agree to the deal without Hawes would yield the Knicks $5,395,659 in savings, leaving the Knicks $4,633,316. This would be a home run by all accounts, and probably isn't very likely.

Scenario 4: Trade Eddy Curry to Golden State

The Warriors are another potential trade partner, as they have one of the more unfavorable deals in the league with Corey Maggette's contract that extends into the 2012-2013 season. If the Warriors are looking to rebuild and gain cap space for the 2011-2012 season, a 1-for-1 swap of Curry and Maggette would save them nearly $10,000,000 each of the next two seasons, something no other team in the league will likely help them do. Trading Curry ($11,276,863) for Maggette ($9,600,000) would yield the Knicks savings of $1,676,863, putting them just into range to sign another max player and not much else.

Scenario 5: Trade Eddy Curry to Charlotte

The Bobcats are another team with an awful contract they might like to rid themselves of, that being Desagana Diop's monstrous deal that extends to the 2012-2013 season. For a team always worried about its finances, saving approximately $7,000,000 in each of the next two seasons would certainly be attractive for taking on such an albatross. A swap of Curry ($11,276,863) for Diop ($6,478,600) and D.J. Augustin ($2,540,400) just works under CBA rules, and would yield the Knicks $2,731,467 in cap savings, while adding a young point guard with a skill set very well suited for D'Antoni's system. The Knicks could send the Bobcats $3,000,000 in cash to offset the extra salary they add this season, and free up future salary allowing them to sign Raymond Felton to a long-term deal.

While D.J. Augustin has fallen out of favor and has reportedly been on the trade market, if the Knicks are unable to pry him away in such a deal, the Bobcats could replace him with Gerald Henderson and Alexis Ajinca, two more of their recent first round picks that have quickly fallen out of favor. Regardless, there are quite a few options to make such a deal work, and it would appear to be in both teams' best interest to make something happen here.

Scenario 6: Trade Eddy Curry to Milwaukee

This scenario is a bit more unconventional, and will require some chronological manipulation to make it work correctly. Michael Redd is due to make $18,300,000 in 2010-2011, and the Knicks have the cap space to absorb that salary in exchange for Curry's, netting the cost-conscious Bucks over $7,000,000 in savings this season for a player who likely isn't in their long-term plans and has shown seriously problems playing alongside Brandon Jennings.

For the Knicks to make a swap of Curry and Redd, the incoming salary must be within 125% + $100,000 of Curry's $11,276,863 deal. The figure for that is $14,196,079, so the Knicks must have $4,103,921 of cap space available in order to take on Redd's $18,300,000 in a 1-for-1 swap. Since the Knicks will be taking back more salary than they are sending out, it is best to make this move LAST in their offseason movements, allowing them to go slightly over the salary cap.

From the Knicks' $15,332,960, we'd subtract this difference, bringing us down to $11,229,039 in salary to use after signing the first max player and before making the Curry-for-Redd swap. This money could be used to re-sign David Lee, giving the Knicks a core of one max player, Redd, and Lee to add to its other players, along with anyone else they could add with the money remaining after signing Lee, depending on the size of his contract. They could also choose to sign another player or players instead of Lee.

The Knicks could also sign-and-trade Lee for up to $11,229,039, as doing so while remaining under the cap to sign him (read: not using his Bird Rights) wouldn't make him a BYC player. They'd have to essentially make the Lee sign-and-trade and the Redd-Curry swap simultaneous, however, in fact making it a three-team trade, as doing either trade individually would put the Knicks over the cap, making the other trade on its own no longer possible.

There are actually a few options the Knicks could look at for sign-and-trading Lee, as both Phoenix and Toronto could want to bring something back if they think they're losing Amare or Bosh, and Lee could be a good fit at a cheaper price. If the Knicks sign Lee for a deal starting at all their remaining cap space, they'd be able to trade him for $14,136,298 in returning salary, a little ways short of the maximum number of $16,568,907. Adding in Wilson Chandler brings them up to $16,266,780, which is a max deal for all intents and purposes, and with the cap possibly falling at a number more than $53,000,000 flat, it might be in range anyway.

This entire scenario would give the Knicks a roster of two max players, Redd, Gallinari, Douglas, two second round picks, and minimum contract players to fill things out, something that even the most pessimistic of Knicks fans would have to view as a home run. That said, it's incredibly unlikely and has a ton of moving parts, making the simpler Curry-for-bad contract swaps something more feasible for Knicks fans to set their hopes and dreams on.

The Other Scenarios:

These are obviously just a mere handful of the scenarios that could play out, but in addition to the countless variations of the ones described above, there are other unfavorable contracts out there the Knicks could swap Curry for, including Detroit's Jason Maxiell (or maybe even Gordon or Villanueva), New Orleans' James Posey, and Dallas' Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera. Using Lee as an asset in sign-and-trade scenarios, or signing him to a contract along with another player or two instead of a second max player are also options that could be done in all of the above scenarios.

Possible Free Agent Targets:

In addition to the obvious targets the Knicks will have in the max contract range (James, Bosh, Wade, Amare, Joe Johnson), there are also a lot of mid-level guys out there the Knicks could set their eyes on if they can create some extra flexibility as outlined in some of the scenarios above.

At point guard, if the Knicks can't acquire D.J. Augustin or Beno Udrih in one of the aforementioned scenarios, C.J. Watson of the Warriors could be an attractive option. Likely to yield a contract starting in the 3-4million range, Watson is an efficient scorer, low turnover player, has three-point range, and is a good defender to boot. His +/- numbers have been very good for Golden State, he's young, and he has experience playing in an up tempo system. Despite showing solid court vision and being an unselfish player in general, he doesn't have the ideal creativity you'd want out of a point guard running the D'Antoni System, but if the Knicks can acquire playmakers like Lebron or Wade, and keep McGrady for a minimum contract, that can be made up for in other ways. And regardless, he'd still be an upgrade over the incumbents, and without many other options, you have to take what you can get.

On the wing, Ray Allen and Manu Ginobili both could sign for deals in the 5million range, and could be attracted to New York if it means playing alongside someone such as Lebron James in Mike D'Antoni's player-friendly system. Allen and Ginobili both have the type of playmaking ability and three-point range that is critical for wings in D'Antoni's system, and despite their age, both could be very strong contributors. Mike Miller is another guy in this role, albeit on a much smaller scale, and should likewise yield a smaller contract, making him another option.

Anthony Morrow is another attractive option on the wing, being one of the best three-point shooters in the league, while slowly developing the rest of his game and having experience playing in an up tempo system in Golden State. It's tough to say how much he'll command in free agency, and he's also an RFA, so he's probably less likely an option for the Knicks than some of the others.

Along with Tracy McGrady, another player who might be inclined to sign for a minimum contract in New York, assuming they add the requisite star power to make it worthwhile, is former D'Antoni wing Grant Hill. What a strange turn of events it would be to see McGrady and Hill joining forces again on minimum contracts instead of maximum contracts, but both could potentially see much more success in the wins column if they decided to give it a go. Both McGrady and Hill have excellent playmaking skills for D'Antoni's system, to go along with great positional versatility. Hill would need to opt out of his 3.2million deal with Phoenix this year to come sign in New York for a little more than 1/3 of the price, but as he's getting up there in age and with Amare undoubtedly on the way out, he may very well be inclined to opt out and try his chances at winning elsewhere.

In the frontcourt, options are a bit more limited, as bigs with excellent athleticism and three-point range are not very common in the NBA, and that's even more true if you're also looking for a shot blocker, something the Knicks direly, direly need moving forward. Tyrus Thomas has reportedly been a target of D'Antoni's for awhile, and could command a deal in the 3-4million range. Amir Johnson is another player to keep an eye on, as he has excellent physical tools, is a very good finisher around the rim, is great on the boards on both sides of the court, and routinely is among the best players in the league in target="_blank">Adjusted Plus/Minus, especially on the defensive end. If Lee is on the outs and the Knicks are looking for a cheap option to finish pick-and-rolls with Lebron while providing some help on defense, Johnson could be attractive, and he probably won't yield much more than 2-3million annually unless someone puts a lot of stock in his APM stats. He brings along a little bit of baggage in that he's fallen out of favor with coaches and his effort and focus have been questioned in the past, but this would be the perfect type of system for him to thrive in, assuming the Knicks can surround him with enough shooters at the other positions to make his lack of a jumper irrelevant.

Some other random players who could sign for minimum deals to round out the Knicks' roster with skill sets fitting D'Antoni's system include Eddie House, Tim Thomas, Travis Diener, Steve Novak, Jonathan Bender, Bill Walker, and Louis Amundson.

It should also be mentioned here that another strategy the Knicks should explore is going on a spending spree for second round picks. Since they're not guaranteed, the Knicks could technically buy every pick in the second round this season and not have it affect their cap situation one iota, and seeing how the Knicks' cap figure is probably going to be less than half what itís been the past few seasons when you take into account the luxury tax (seasons during which the Knicks were STILL among the most profitable franchises in the league), they'll obviously have a lot of extra cash to throw around. Buying an additional 4-5 second round picks and really trying to maximize value there would be a great, low-risk option for trying to fortify the roster around the players they expect to sign in free agency, and it gives them much flexibility moving forward, either being able to stash the players overseas or trade them in the future if they don't work out. The second round is largely viewed as a crap shoot, but the more hands the Knicks play, the better their chances of striking it rich.

Whether the Knicks have a real chance at any of the marquee free agents this summer is still largely speculative, but aggressively looking to maximize their situation on draft night and as soon as free agency starts will both be in their long term interest and likely be attractive to players, who could question whether the Knicks have the assets to build a roster around their hypothetical stars. Seeing the way forward-thinking General Managers such as Sam Presti, Kevin Pritchard, and Daryl Morey have aggressively attacked the trade market around draft time, the Knicks should definitely have some opportunities to make some moves, and they obviously will have the cash to throw around if required. While Donnie Walsh has done a good job of clearing cap space with the Crawford, Randolph, and Jeffries trades over the past two seasons, he's done it in a pretty passive fashion, and the Jeffries trade was obviously largely done with Morey in the driver's seat, given the incredibly high compensation for taking on just 6million in salary. Whether Walsh will shift it into high gear and start getting aggressive and creative on the trade market down the home stretch is yet to be seen, but the opportunities will certainly be there if he wants to.

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