The New York Knicks lost to the Miami Heat in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, ending their roller coaster ride of a 2011-2012 season, and leaving fans wondering what’s ahead this offseason. The Knicks were not expected to beat Miami, who are the favorites to win the NBA Title, lead by Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh the Heat a force to be reckoned with. However any chance they had of upsetting Miami was greatly diminished by several key injuries, to rookie phenom swingman Iman Shumpert (torn ACL), NBA sensation point guard Jeremy Lin (torn meniscus), and veteran point guard Baron Davis (dislocated knee). The Knicks were not going to beat Miami at full strength, but they had no chance decimated by injuries, (not to mention Amare Stoudemire’s self inflicted hand injury, Jared Jefferies knee injury, both who were able to gut it out and play) and were simply outclassed by a better Heat team.
I have seen a lot of retrospective articles which touched on the storylines of the wild ride that was the Knicks 2011-2012 season (the NBA lockout, Linsanity, D’Antoni, etc). Those are all interesting subjects, but they are in the past, and we here at sportsmasher.com look to the future. What will the Knicks look like next season? Who will be back? Who will be playing elsewhere? What will the Knicks look like at the tipoff of the 2012 season?
Carmelo Anthony – Forward (Under Contract)- In my estimation, other than Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, Carmelo is the best pure scorer in the NBA. You can absolutely win the NBA title with Anthony as your best player, but he must be surrounded by the right pieces to reach this ultimate goal, and the Knicks do not have enough talent around him yet. Carmelo does have his faults (especially on the defensive side of the court), and he does not always play as hard possible every night, but he puts the ball in the basket when it matters. Carmelo will continue to be the Knicks first option on offense and go-to-guy in the clutch for the foreseeable future. PREDICTION: BACK WITH KNICKS
Amare Stoudemire – Forward (Under Contract) – I feel bad for Stoudemire, after a decade of horrible basketball, he signed as a free agent and quickly became the face of basketball in New York City. He was the go to guy on an improving Knicks team, who had cleared enough cap room to land Lebron James, and turn the Knicks into the title contender that their fan base has deserved for almost 30 years. He said “The Knicks Are Back” at his press conference and we truly believed him. Lebron made the decision to become a second banana in South Beach and join Dwayne Wade’s Heat, a decision that the Greatest Player Alive should never make, and New York was left in a bind. Then the Knicks traded for Carmelo Anthony, both players need to be the first option and have the offense run through them, and the Knicks became Carmelo’s team. Now, if the franchise he helped turn around could dump him for a package of equal value, they would in an instant. The main problem is that Amare has three years and a whopping $65 million left on his contract ($265,228 per game!), which is uninsured because of his knee issues, making him virtually untradeable. I hope that Amare dedicates himself this offseason, regains some of the spring in his legs and revitalizes his career in New York, because with that contract he’ll be here for a while. PREDICTION: BACK WITH KNICKS
Tyson Chandler – Center (Under Contract) – The Knicks surprised many fans last summer, when instead of pursuing a point guard as their “third star” behind Anthony and Stoudemire, they instead signed center Tyson Chandler from the defending champion Dallas Mavericks. The move paid off in a big way, Chandler won the Defensive Player of the Year award with the Knicks this season, was the heart and soul of the team, and provided intensity and leadership night in and night out. His toughness is a huge part of the identity of this team, and the city of New York embraces him, he defines what Knicks basketball once was and should always be. PREDICTION: BACK WITH KNICKS
Jeremy Lin – Point Guard -(Restricted Free Agent) – The second year point guard came out of nowhere to take the NBA by storm, he brought the “Linsanity” phenomenon to New York City and lead the team to wins in 10 of the next 13 games. Not bad for an undrafted free agent out of Harvard. Lin is a one man marketing machine, he provided consistency at the point guard position that the team sorely lacked, and when he is on the court all eyeballs league wide are fixed on the New York Knicks. Lin is a restricted free agent, meaning that other teams across the league can offer him a contract, but the Knicks have the right to match that offer. Luckily, the “Gilbert Arenas Rule” prevents other teams from more than the mid-level exception ($5 million) in first-year salary for players with less than three years experience (which Lin is). To sum it up, no team can offer Lin more than the MLE, and the Knicks can match any offer, and the Knicks have the MLE. If the Knicks want Lin (and by all accounts they do) they will match any offer and he will be back. PREDICTION: BACK WITH KNICKS
Iman Shumpert – Guard (Under Contract) – The rookie guard was nothing short of incredible for the Knicks this season, he is a freak athlete and a lockdown defender, who was the was my favorite player to watch during the 2012 season (even during Linsanity). I wrote extensively on this topic a few months back, if Shumpert can get his jump shot to fall more consistently, the sky is the limit. I was heartbroken when Shumpert, who twisted his knee early in the season and dealt with knee pain throughout his rookie year, tore his ACL early in the Miami series. I hope that he rehabs the knee hard and dedicates himself this offseason, because I really think he can become an All-Star caliber player in the NBA if his game becomes more consistent, all the tools are there. PREDICTION: BACK WITH KNICKS
NOTE: Dear James Dolan, I have zero faith in you as an owner, and I do not trust your decision making abilities at all. Let me rephrase that, I am unsure if you are able to actually make a good decision regarding the basketball team that you own. I often worry that you are going to trade Iman Shumpert, who is the most talented young (just 21 years old) player we have actually drafted in New York in a long time (I guess there was Danilo Gallinari, who you threw into the Carmelo Anthony deal, even though you could switched him out with Landry Fields instead). I worry that you are going to trade Amare Stoudemire and his huge contract this summer for a high priced, washed up veteran and you’ll insist on randomly throwing in Shumpert as a “trade sweetener”. The other team, who never asked for Shumpert in the first place, will be shocked that you brought his name up and joyously accept. I have lost sleep over this, Mr. Dolan, so please do not trade Shumpert. Your incompetence frightens us all. Sincerely, Knicks Fans Everywhere.
Landry Fields – Guard/Forward (Restricted Free Agent) – The future is a little more cloudy when it comes to Fields, some nights he is great and a big part of the team, others he is totally lost and a nonfactor for the Knicks. Fields is a restricted free agent this offseason, and it is a known fact that several franchises like his game, so I could see rival franchise making an offer for Fields. Here is where this gets complicated. The “Gilbert Arenas Rule” also comes into play with Fields, however if keeping Lin costs the Knicks the entire mid-level exception ($5 millon) the Knicks are then unable to go over the $74 million dollar cap “apron” to make an offer to Fields. If the Knicks sign Lin with the mid-level, that brings their payroll to $62 million for just six players, so they would barely have anything left to spend on the rest of the team. If another team out there offers Fields a mid-level contract, the Knicks will face a very difficult decision regarding Fields. I think another team will force the Knicks to make the tough decision to let Fields walk. PREDICTION: GONE
J.R. Smith – Guard (Player Option) – This decision is a much less complicated than the Fields scenario which I discussed above. Smith is what he is, instant offense off of the bench, and when he is hot a spark plug who can both shoot with range and run the floor. However, when Smith is cold and his jump shot is not falling, there are few players in the league who are more frustrating to watch. He is a poor defender, who makes terrible decisions with the ball, and a knucklehead off of the court. The Knicks do not have to make a decision on Smith, he has a $2.5 million one year player option, that he can exercise to stay with the Knicks. If Smith does not exercise this option, he will become a free agent. Smith clearly wants a long term contract and thinks he is worth a lot more than $2.5 million per year, I think the Knicks are praying he decides not to exercise the option, and leaves the organization. I question if this is a smart move for Smith, I am not sure he is as valuable as he thinks on the open market, but I hope he is gone. PREDICTION: GONE
Steve Novak – Forward (Restricted Free Agent) – The sharpshooter was excellent during the 2012 season, leading the NBA in three point percentage (47.2%), and is also a restricted free agent who will be looking for a raise (because he is making the veteran’s minimum of $854,389). His situation is very similar to that of Landry Fields, the Knicks clearly want Novak back, however if another team searching for a three point specialist comes in and makes a better offer it could be tough for the Knicks to match. Novak loves playing for the Knicks, and the Knicks faithful love him, I think he gets a modest raise and stays in New York. PREDICTION: BACK WITH KNICKS
Jared Jefferies – Forward (Unrestricted Free Agent) – There is little doubt that Jared Jefferies loves New York City, he can provide valuable minutes off the bench for the Knicks, and seems to relish his role on the team. Jefferies is a Mike D’Antoni loyalist, and D’Antoni he gets another gig, I could see him trying to sign Jefferies. Jefferies is a strong locker room presence, he likes New York, and the fans appreciate what he does. I think Jefferies will have the option to sign a one year deal with the Knicks, and I think he accepts it. PREDICTION: BACK WITH KNICKS
Baron Davis – Point Guard (Unrestricted Free Agent) – I really feel bad for Baron Davis, there was a point in his career when he was one of the most talented players in the league, and looked like a future All-Time Great. However multiple knee and back injuries have marred his career, and now we will look back on it and wonder what could have been as watch his YouTube highlight reels. Davis suffered one of the worst injuries I have seen in the Heat series, as he dislocated his knee and tore his ACL and MCL, threatening his career if not ending it. Luckily for Davis, he has been extremely successful off of the court, and no longer needs basketball to generate income. I think the 33 year old point guard retires. PREDICTION: GONE
Mike Bibby – Point Guard (Unrestricted Free Agent) – I was down on Mike Bibby all season long, the former star point guard is a shell of his former self, and can no longer log major NBA minutes. However, he knows how to run an NBA offense, and competent veteran point guards who limit mistakes will always have a place in the NBA. Bibby actually impressed me late in the season and in the Miami series, the Knicks will try to do better in the free agent market, but if they cannot find a competent backup Bibby may be brought back. I think the Knicks will do better. PREDICTION: GONE
Toney Douglas – Point Guard (Team Option) – What a fall from grace for Toney Douglas, who was the opening day starting point guard for the New York Knicks, and by the end of the season was nothing more than deep bench depth. I like Toney, he is an excellent defender, but he is a shooting guard and has zero concept of how to run an offense. He needs a change of scenery for sure, and the Knicks no longer have any use for him, so the Knicks won’t pick up his $2.5 million dollar option, making him an unrestricted free agent. PREDICTION: GONE
UPDATE: I have just been informed that the Knicks have already picked up Toney Douglas’ player option and he WILL be back with the team next season. I must have missed this, above is how the Knicks SHOULD have handled this situation.
Josh Harrelson – Forward/Center (Nonguaranteed Contract) – I am a huge fan of “Jorts” and was very impressed with his play this season, he showed an ability to do the dirty work in the paint, a soft touch on his jump shot and some room for growth. Harrelson will never be an elite athlete and will never be a full time, however, you can do a lot worse for a reserve big man. The players and fans all seem to like Harrelson, he works hard and does a lot of the little things that you look for in bench depth. PREDICTION: BACK WITH KNICKS
Jerome Jordan – Center (Nonguaranteed Contract) – I was at a game this season when the Knicks blew out Orlando and late in the game they brought Jordan in to play some garbage minutes. Other fans seated near me instantly noticed him, he is big and athletic, he was very active and involved in every possession. He has no idea how to play basketball yet, but he has potential, and could develop into a backup center with some more seasoning. PREDICTION: BACK WITH KNICKS
This offseason will leave the cupboard pretty bare when it comes to the Knicks depth, but this is what happens when you commit so much money to three players, it is tough to fill the holes between Chandler, Stoudemire and Anthony. The Knicks will keep Lin, there is essentially no way he can leave if the Knicks want him due to the “Gilbert Arenas Rule”, and by all accounts the Knicks want him. The two players who will make the offseason tough on Knicks management will be Fields and Novak, both players are well liked and play essential roles, and the team clearly will want both of them back. However, if either player receives and signs a large offer sheet from another team, the Knicks are going to find it very difficult to match due to salary cap concerns. I really hope this injury has no consequences for Iman Shumpert long term, he needs to rehab that knee and come back more explosive than ever next season, I hope he does not miss time early in the season due to the injury. If Shumpert is going to be out for an extended period of time, the Knicks cannot afford to lose Fields and/or Smith. It is going to be very interesting to see if J.R. Smith picks up his option or not, Smith is an explosive offensive player off the bench and a lot of teams need that, but I do not think he is as valuable to other teams as he thinks he is. I think Jefferies, Harrelson and Jordan will all be brought back as depth. The Knicks will then spend the summer trying to convince veterans to join the team for minimum money, which is a reality for every team who acquire a “Big Three” in a salary cap league. As always, I wish the Knicks had a draft pick, and as always they don’t. It would be nice to acquire a pick late in the first round or early in the second round, this is a deep draft class, and the Knicks really need players that can contribute and depth.