Mortgaging the future is basically cashing out future value to spend now. The Knicks have a small window here to maximize the max contracts on this team, so win-now mode was engaged at the expense of long-term forecasting. We’ve seen this before here and the results were not favorable, but this franchise hasn’t seen this much actual talent on the roster in over a decade, so the full-speed-ahead ambition to win now is understandable, especially with only a few years here to get it done and a juggernaut in the Miami Heat setting the standard.
We won’t know for sure the result of the latest effort to build a championship team in New York — and end what is now a 40 year drought — until after this era ends, which is in about three years. Make no mistake, as we pointed out before, this coming season may be the one and only shot this group has at it.
Despite calls to break up the Carmelo Anthony-Amar’e Stoudemire tandem, the intent was to give it a chance over a full 82 game season, with a full training camp and no major roster moves. That is what awaits in 2012-13, as Mike Woodson comes back fully installed as the head coach and Melo and Amar’e are expected in camp at full health. The roster does not have the hole at the critical point guard position it had last year as veteran Jason Kidd and rising star Jeremy Lin are expected to be in place. The center position is now two deep, with returning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler and veteran Marcus Camby, who is still among the best rebounders in the game, as the tandem.
Steven Novak, the NBA’s best three-point shooter last season, is back, along with J.R. Smith, who is a volatile scorer and underrated defender and came at a ridiculously cheap price of $2.8 million. The lone concern is filling the shooting guard spot behind Smith while All-Rookie standoutIman Shumpert is expected to take most of the season to return from a serious knee injury.
This is a solid group and considerably better than last season’s team, which finished six games over the .500 mark despite myriad injuries, questionable point guard play for a majority of the season and a coaching change. Are they good enough to beat the Heat? The quick answer, especially after the Heat upgraded with the addition of Ray Allen, is no.
But there’s no question they got closer. And there’s plenty of time for this group to develop before that will really matter, come Spring 2013. What you have to consider is that this group has the potential, if they can just stay healthy, to be a formidable opponent for Miami in a seven-game series. In the end, it’ll depend on what Melo and Amar’e give you. That’s why they get $40 million of a payroll that will likely top out just under $80 million this season.
Hey, no one is looking for another Honorable Mention finish like we saw so many times in the 1990s. Like this team is being built to beat LeBron James and the Heat, those teams were built to beat Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls and win a title. But Xavier McDaniel didn’t stay in New York, Charles Smith didn’t make a layup, John Starks didn’t make a single three in Game 7, Patrick Ewing didn’t convert a finger roll, Charlie Ward didn’t keep his cool, Ewing didn’t recover from that wrist injury and overall the team didn’t have enough size to contend with the Spurs.
Those were wonderful years that just didn’t end in a title. In 1996, the team went big into the offseason and came away with Allan Houston, Larry Johnson and Chris Childs. They bought insurance for Ewing in Chris Dudley. They had the pieces to win, but still didn’t win. There were still teams better. The Bulls, the Heat, the Pacers and the Spurs.
Still, it was fun to fight the fights through those hot spring nights. But when it ended, the longterm effects were painful. Instead of letting Ewing’s contract expire for the cap space, he was traded for other contracts. Instead of making a first round pick in 2002, it was traded for an injured all-star in Antonio McDyess. Things unraveled quickly.
And so here we are again at the point of no return.
The roster is full of talent and experience, but the cupboards are now almost bare. The team gave up two future second round picks, along with a young player in Josh Harrellson (who showed flashes, at times, of potential to be a rotation player in the NBA), for the 38-year-old Camby. Don’t cry for Toney Douglas, however. He knew more than anyone that he was not going to get another chance in New York. He was looking forward to a fresh start and wouldn’t have been happy buried on the bench for another season with free agency awaiting next summer. As for Jerome Jordan? Try to convince me that you’d feel better keeping Jordan, a major project, and letting Camby play in Miami.
Still, in signing Camby and Kidd for deals that will stretch three seasons, the Knicks surrendered $6 million in cap space per year to players who will be over 40 when their deals end. So, again, this had better work out.
Draft-wise, the Knicks are running out of assets. They could add 21-year-old Kostas Papanikolaou, this year’s second round pick, as early as next year. They have their 2013 first rounder, but no longer own a second round pick in that draft (their pick went to Washington as part of the Tyson Chandler acquisition and the one they acquired from Golden State for David Lee went to Denver in the Carmelo Anthony deal). Denver owns the Knicks’ 2014 first round pick from the Melo deal and now Houston owns the second round pick from the Camby move. Houston also owns the 2015 second round pick, though the Knicks have their first rounder.
So looking forward, the Knicks own five picks in the next four years of drafts: 2013 (1st), 2014 (2nd, from Boston via Nate Robinson trade), 2015 (1st) and 2016 (1st, 2nd).
Denver, as a final piece of the Melo deal, has the option to swap first round picks in 2016, which could be the most significant loss. By then, this era will almost certainly be over, as the gigantic contracts for Melo, Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire will have expired after the 2014-15 season. That summer is significant for the team in free agency and they also have a first round pick, but they’ll have to wait until 2017 for another potential building block in the draft.
We’ll know by then if all of this was worth it, of course. The intention is to maximize those max contracts by surrounding the star players with as much talent and experience as possible. The Knicks believe they already have a better roster for 2012-13 than they did last season but the question that remains is this: is it enough to win a championship?
That is the only thing that justifies mortgaging the future.
Lin became a priority for the Knicks when the NBA free agency moratorium lifted on Wednesday, but he wasn’t when the moratorium started on July 1. And that right there is a sign of the times.
Lin, 23, is the team’s future and that much was relayed to him and his growing entourage of representation. But an all-hands-on-deck mission to land star point guard Steve Nash took precedence at the start of free agency, which, essentially, put baby in the corner.
And when Landry Fields agreed to an offer sheet from Toronto and was removed as a piece in a potential sign-and-trade for Nash, the Knicks strongly considered putting Iman Shumpert in the deal. Nash might have saved the Knicks from a regrettable move when he convinced Suns owner Robert Sarver to deal with the Lakers so Nash could live closer to his kids in Phoenix.
Plan B now centered around Lin as the starting point guard, which he wouldn’t have been, at least in Year 1, with Nash on the roster, but still Lin wasn’t the priority. The focus turned to Jason Kidd and getting him to reconsider a retirement package to stay in Dallas to instead come to New York for the same price to provide depth, leadership and a mentor for Lin.
Meanwhile, Lin went out to set his market price and got it with the Houston Rockets at four years and $28 million, though that fourth year and $9 million are not guaranteed. The Knicks all along planned to match anything offered to Lin, but while keeping their young star in the fold was always the plan, does Lin feel a little jilted by the early flirtation with Nash?
This was Lin’s first lesson in the reality of the business of the NBA. What he can’t do is dwell on it.
The Knicks have been criticized in the past for negotiating against themselves for players (and coaches) and still overpaying. The more logical play was to allow Jeremy to set his market value by receiving the best offer he could get and then let the Knicks match and that’s exactly what happened when the Rockets came in with a four-year, $28 million deal.
But had the Knicks jumped in early and reached an agreement in principle with Lin at a number his agents felt was fair (in other words, maximum), Lin could have kept his commiment to USA Basketball and played for the Select Team in workouts with the Olympic team. This would have been very good for his development and preparation for the coming season. Instead, Lin pulled out of the USA Basketball training camp in Las Vegas.
On top of that, other players have told me Lin took to heart some strong criticism from Woodson during exit interviews after the season ended. Woodson was tough on all of the players and challenged every one of them — including Carmelo Anthony — to work on their weaknesses and come back stronger and better when training camp opened. Lin is a very proud player who is well-aware there are many naysayers out there who have proclaimed Linsanity to be a passing fad. Confidence from his coach is critical. The two did meet last month in Los Angeles over dinner, where Woodson tried to carefully smooth over any issues Lin had from the exit interview.
Update: Jeremy sent a tweet from his Twitter account Wednesday morning that seems to reject the idea that he is “dissatisfied” with the Knicks actions.
Kidd’s presence should help immensely and it will be worth watching to see if the two can become fast friends. Kidd might prove to be more valuable off the court than on it in regards not only to leadership in the locker room, but also in the development of Lin. Yes, Kidd is 39 and age is always an issue. Raymond Felton would have been a safer pick because he is 13 years younger and had success with Stoudemire. But Felton’s presence might have caused even more friction with Lin because the competition for minutes and for a starting role might have resulted in an unwanted issue at that position rather than much needed camaraderie and mutual support.
For a team that has lost many future assets in building this team, the last thing it needs to do is limit the growth of one of its most important players for the future.
SHOOTING FOR A BARGAIN
Once all of the deals are officially completed, the Knicks will have at least three more roster spots to fill to have a full team. The need for depth at shooting guard is a priority — though free agent signeeJames “Flight” White will get a shot at being a wing defender at the 2 and 3 spots — and the market may reveal some interesting names available for the veteran’s minimum or for the $2 million the Knicks can offer in a sign-and-trade for Dan Gadzuric’s non-guaranteed contract.
A few candidates available:
• Mickeal Pietrus: He is expected to re-sign with the Boston Celtics, especially in the wake of Avery Bradley’s shoulder surgeries, which are expected to have him out for a bulk of the coming season. Pietrus would fit perfectly in the 2 and 3 spots for the Knicks, but he’s regularly mentioned how returning to Boston is his intention and there’s little chance the Celtics would entertain a sign-and-trade to help him to New York.
• O.J. Mayo: The Knicks had strong interest in Mayo with their mini MLE after it seemed Kidd was set on returning to Dallas. Mayo would fit well behind Smith at the shooting guard spot and would provide scoring off the bench and defense. But with teams out there that have cap space (Mavericks, for one) it’s highly unlikely Mayo will be gotten for as little as $2 million via sign-and-trade.
• Randy Foye: Several teams are interested in him, with the Rockets, Suns and Bucks among teams that can give him more money. But if he’s interested in being part of a team that has a chance to win big, New York may be a team for him to come at a discount for a year and test the market again next summer.
• Courtney Lee: The Celtics have recruited him hard since Ray Allen left and with Bradley out for an extended period of time, Boston could be a good fit for him. Knicks have him on the radar.
• Matt Barnes: Former Knick is still one of the league’s toughest perimeter defenders but he’s lost some athleticism and his offense isn’t consistent. Still, would be a very good depth addition and add another experienced veteran to the group.
• C.J. Miles: Inconsistency has dimished his potential, but New York could provide him with just the right opportunity to restart his career after some disappointing years in Utah. Miles comes from the same Dallas high school (Skyline) as Larry Johnson.
• Marco Belinelli: Very one-dimensional player who gives almost no emotion, but when he gets hot, he can hit threes and stretch the floor. Impossible to see him succeed under Woodson’s demanding style of coaching.
The Knicks are expected to add at least one more forward for Woodson’s rotation. Two names to watch are Kenyon Martin and Jared Jeffries. It is doubtful both players will sign here, but the intention is to get one of them. Jeffries brings terrific defensive instincts, while Martin is much more physical and can still finish around the basket while also providing a defensive presence at the rim.