Rose in the Garden: Free Agency Plans for the Knicks

July 1st. The clock strikes midnight and NBA players are about to get paid like they never have before! Agents have finished scheduling meetings with teams in fancy restaurants where they’ll do some wining and dining. The league salary cap has exploded to a monstrous $94 million from this season’s $70 million after TV deals have amounted to $24 billion over the next nine years. The new luxury tax line is projected to be set at $113 million and the salary floor, or the minimum amount teams will need to spend on payroll, is set at over $80 million. That’s right, if you’re a professional basketball player, be prepared to see some significant raises. Perhaps no team has positioned themselves better going into Thursday night, early Friday morning than the New York Knicks. Their blockbuster acquisition of former Most Valuable Player award winner Derrick Rose has put them back on the map as a team free agents would like to play for. Of course, money talks and New York will have anywhere from $30-35 million to spend this offseason – a sum that is big but just doesn’t get you as far as it used to couple seasons ago.

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Shock waves were sent throughout Chicago following the departure of their prodigal son. Critics of the Derrick Rose deal from the Knicks end have said that the days of the youngest MVP putting up 25 and 8 are over. While this may be true, it may not and his last season with the Bulls was still a noticeable upgrade from Jose Calderon and the Knicks’ horrid point guard unit that averaged something like seven points per game. Others are insisting that they gave up too much when they didn’t even surrender a draft pick, but rather a starting center in Robin Lopez. Lopez can defend but he is not irreplaceable and does not come without faults of his own, mainly from the offensive end. Signing Brook’s twin a year ago turned out to be a smart move, as it materialized into this because of his meager $12 million annual salary that will look like a bargain in today’s, or should I say tomorrow’s, standard (look: Bismack Biyombo). What you need to also account is what is shaping up to be a contract year for Mr. Rose. Going from the shadows of Michael Jordan and unreachable expectations in his hometown to Jeff Hornacek’s point guard friendly system sounds great for him. It’s not often that someone goes into the pressure cooker that is New York City and feels less pressure but that is what Rose is facing. Coupled with flashes of Derrick’s old self in the second half of the season and his own admission that he was simply trying to play and not set goals like he will be doing this coming season, it is not unreasonable to think that a rebound is in store soon in the biggest media market in the world. After all, the farther he is away from his surgeries, the better it will mean for his performance. Rose will not be asked to do as much with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis in his corner, effectively forming their own “Big Three.” Highly motivated, Derrick Rose probably believes that he’s as good if not better than Anthony and Porzingis but he’ll definitely have to try to create for KP and Melo, forcing defenders on him to dish out to others.

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High flying and acrobatic dunks are what made D-Rose special, however, this is an explosive, attack guard even without the extra lift or two. Then there are those comparing him to experiments that didn’t work out so well like Stephon Marbury with expensive contracts. But this is a 27 year old on an expiring deal and a much better option than we would’ve had in the open market. Knicks fans were essentially saved from watching Rajon Rondo or Brandon Jennings handle the duties for the next several years and the questions that come with them. Phil Jackson’s relationship with the Bulls front office, ran by some of his former players, no doubt helped make internal discussions a reality in a relatively short amount of time. The Chicago Bulls had always wanted to move on for a mini rebuild, got to do so and were willing to let go of Justin Holiday, the brother of Jrue and the least talked about part of the trade. Holiday can become a solid, useful rotation player and was a Pac-10 All Defensive player in college. Carmelo Anthony, preparing for his fourth Olympic Games, is reinvigorated and is getting the team all those pundits wanted him to sign with a couple of years ago and leave oodles of money on the table. Kristaps, as amazing as he is (we told you), is not getting forced to take next the step like some want him to next year and that is another great aspect of having Derrick Rose. Rose can be re-signed if he is well and healthy enough following a season of play, as the Knicks have his bird rights, and there is not a better placeholder in case you miss out on future superstars. It should not surprise anybody if he regains the title of top three PG in the East, neck and neck with Kyrie Irving and John Wall. By himself, the addition of Rose can reasonably add ten wins onto this team’s record of 32 wins with the opportunity for more.

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The Rose in the Garden was probably the best possible news the Knicks could’ve hoped for because you don’t see players of his caliber get shipped out every day. With half the roster to fill and holes at the center, shooting guard and backup point guard positions, they have their work cut out for them. Furthermore in depth, they’ll need a rim protector, wing defender and shooters at a cost mentioned earlier depending on cap holds on Galloway and Lance Thomas. With other teams ready to spend like drunken sailors, it will be hard to resist the urge not to do the same. If the Knicks are able to remain disciplined with an eye towards next year when we have $65 million in room, they’ll be the real winners of the offseason while Kent Bazemore gets $16 million. Stopgaps like Aaron Afflalo make people hesitate but are the reason you can move on and try something else, and surprise everyone when no one is on the books a year later. In our four free agency plans, we tried to restrict ourselves to two years deals with opt outs after one unless it was a young player with long term visions for him. The next Collective Bargaining Agreement is not far away next year and likely gives teams an amnesty clause for the dumb contracts they’ll be giving out shortly. For the Knicks sake, we hope we won’t have to use it but it is in our back pocket nonetheless.

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Plan A:
Rose
Batum/Beal
Melo
Porzingis
Noah

 
The perfect realistic free agent possibility for the Knicks s is Nicolas Batum. The multi-talented French wing has skills that translate well in New York’s offense. At 6’8”, Batum would be a big two-guard who can shoot, pass, and defend at a high level. Averaging 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists, Batum would stabilize the Knicks backcourt alongside Derrick Rose and be a leader defensively with his long 7’1” wingspan. The Charlotte Hornets can surely attest to Batum’s talents as he helped lead them to the playoffs and 48 wins. It has been reported that Charlotte will offer a max contract to Nicolas Batum but the Knicks should offer a similar contract close to $20 million if not the max as well. While Batum has expressed interest in re-signing with Charlotte, it’s not as if he is strongly attached to the city as he has been there for only one year. The intrigue of a bigger city and market like New York has its advantages and the Knicks with Batum would be arguably a top four seed in the East. Bradley Beal is also an option here but much more unlikely since Washington has intentions of retaining him on a max contract as well.

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It’s no secret that Derrick Rose along with the Knicks also want Joakim Noah. The New York City born Noah has the game fitted for the prototypical 90’s Knicks player that would be relished by the Garden faithful. Noah has been said to be one of Phil Jackson’s favorite players and it’s no secret why. The 31- year old big man plays with heart, defensive tenacity, and is a gifted passer. Injuries have held Noah back as he’s two years removed from being named NBA Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All-NBA. The recruiting effort should be fairly easy as Noah is known to be close with both Rose and Carmelo Anthony. He would slot in very nicely at the 5 for the Knicks at the right price. Under Plan A, Joakim Noah would sign with the Knicks on a one year deal with a player option averaging 15 million dollars annually. If all goes accordingly to plan, the Knicks would trot out a formidable starting lineup of Rose-Batum-Anthony-Porzingis-Noah and challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.

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Plan B:
Rose
Clarkson/Crabbe
Melo
Porzingis
Gasol
Gerald Green, Teletovic and Leuer

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Of course, life rarely goes according to Plan A; that’s why having a great Plan B is crucial. While Nic Batum and Joakim Noah would fortify the Knicks starting lineup, the team would have to be very creative in assembling a fairly inexpensive bench. Plan B, also affectionately called the “poison pill” plan provides some more depth for New York. Some Knicks fans may remember losing Jeremy Lin to the Houston Rockets on a similar four year $30 million deal where he earned about $5 million in the first two seasons and $10 million in the third and fourth years. The Knicks ultimately didn’t match Houston’s offer sheet in part due to the concerns of Lin eating up future cap space. Two key restricted free agents should capture the Knicks attention this summer, Jordan Clarkson and Allen Crabbe. As Eric Pincus of the LA Times details brilliantly in his article on Clarkson’s potential deal, restricted free agents such as the Lakers’ Clarkson and the Blazers’ Crabbe are subjected to the Gilbert Arenas Rule. Teams like the Knicks can offer a four year deal worth approximately $58 million. Both free agents would make $5.6 million in Year 1, $5.9 million in Year 2, and see their salaries jump significantly to $22.7 million and $23.6 million in Years 3 and 4, earning $14.5 million on average. Both the Lakers and Blazers will be hesitant to match this type of offer but New York can afford to make this gamble as they are going all in on free agency both this summer and next.

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While Clarkson no longer fits at point, he can easily play shooting guard and has proven to be a good young athletic player who can shoot and score (nearly 16 PPG on 35% from long distance). Similarly Allen Crabbe made some noise this season after going relatively unnoticed from his productive days with the University of California Golden Bears. Crabbe shot nearly 40% from 3PT range and will space the floor greatly for the Knicks (music to Jeff Hornacek’s ears). Paying one of these players less than $6 million for the next years will afford the Knicks to go after a premier free agent. Assuming Joakim Noah doesn’t agree to a deal, Pau Gasol would be a good backup plan for the Knicks assuming he’s willing to take a one year deal worth Noah’s $15 million with a team option. Gasol would be the perfect mentor to Kristaps, perhaps the best in all of basketball for him, and teacher of the triangle. Pau’s close relationship with Phil Jackson is what would make an agreement come to fruition. You cannot guarantee a title in this business as Pau knows from his time with the Bulls and he’d have a greater legacy and impact here. Lastly, the Knicks would have roughly $14 million left to spend in Plan B on building a strong bench thanks to the restructured contracts of Crabbe or Clarkson. Reuniting former Hornacek players may be the way to go. Gerald Green who had his best years under the new Knicks head coach averaged over 20 points per game per 36 minutes in his two years with the Phoenix Suns. He would bring instant energy, athleticism, albeit streaky shooting, and perimeter defense off the Knicks bench. Similarly, Mirza Teletovic and Jon Leuer are quite underrated as a stretch fours and can be weapons for Coach Hornacek again as Kristaps takes a breather.

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Plan  C:
Rose
Turner
Melo
Porzingis
Jefferson
Jamal Crawford
Derrick Williams, Grevis Vasquez or other

In the slight chance neither Joakim Noah nor Pau Gasol are Knicks, the next man up is Al Jefferson. Big Al is part of a dying breed with his low post ways where he teaches big men how to cook. It’d give the Knicks another dynamic through Rose’s driving, Melo’s mid range and KP’s three point shot. 2015 was a lost season for him after suspension, not as concerning as you’d believe with his decent reputation, and playing in half his games. A prove it contract would be ideal for both sides, starting around $10 million. Jefferson has had an amazing career and has more than enough left in him. Evan Turner has been linked to Phil Jackson more than once due to traits that the Zen Master likes. Turner has improved his stock the last several years but continues to not start. For a player older than the restricted Crabbe and Clarkson, he’s going be asking for a similar duration or length and $12 million per without the ceiling since he is who is at this point. Evan is closest to a second point guard as you’ll find in these four plans for the lineup and can take away some of the responsibility. His defense is another one of his major selling points as is his unselfishness and willingness to play multiple roles at the drop of the hat. Al and Evan mask and complement each other’s deficiencies.

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Jamal Crawford wants to return home and took notice of the Knicks moves early on Twitter. Crawford throughly enjoyed his five years in New York and continues to be the premier sixth man in the league, a model for any player wanting to age like fine wine. Jamal has taken discounts with the Clippers and could do the same for the Knicks’ proposal of $8 million, a $3 million increase from what he earned there. He has said he’d like to mentor younger players and clearly sees the Knickerbockers as an up and coming team. Derrick Williams is able to return under such a circumstance, receiving a close offer to that himself. Williams progressed, displayed what made him a second overall pick like Turner and is beginning to be more efficient and run in transition with solid results. Seth Curry, Matthew Dellavedova and Tyler Johnson are unlikely for backup point guard; their teams could keep them for theirs. Veterans Grevis Vasquez and/or Jarrett Jack will not be valued, capable of starting if Rose gets hurt and there could be value there with what’s remaining. Kirk Hinrich has this experience as does Augustine.

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Plan D:
Rose
Gordon
Melo
Porzingis
Boban, Mozgov/NeNe/Mahinmi
Johnson/Martin, Henderson, W. Johnson, Hill

Failing to ink a preferred center like Noah, Gasol, Jefferson and shooting guard like Batum, Clarkson/Crabbe, Turner is not the end of the world, despite being less than ideal. Eric Gordon was a part of a fantastic AAU backcourt with Derrick Rose and were on the verge of going to school together. Gordon and Rose have two of the most promise but have seen their career go in the same direction. He’d be a high risk, high reward proposition at $10 million and like Rose, will need backup in the event something does happen or goes wrong. The Pelicans have not gotten what they expected of him and are not interested in bringing him back. Joe Johnson and/or Kevin Martin can step in at a modest salary around $5 million and do some of the same things. Johnson came alive in Miami and Martin was traded for James Harden a while ago. The need for defensive wing remains there and would be addressed with Gerald Henderson, a Courtney Lee lite at half the price and won’t be fought for in free agency like Wesley Johnson or Solomon Hill.

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We have decided to go into the restricted free agency pool again, this time for the Spurs’ Boban Marjanovic. Boban has become such a folk hero and beloved amongst circles for everything but his playing ability. He put up crooked numbers during garbage time in the fourth quarter and is being groomed to replace Tim Duncan. 7’3” like Kristaps, Marjanovic literally scares players on the court by his sheer size and is more polished like Euros tend to be. I’d challenge San Antonio and hand him an Omer Asik, around $20 million for two years then do the same for Houston’s Donatas Motiejunas who is capable of what he did in 2014. Whomever accepts would be the starter and third big for the future if they regress. Timothy Mozgov and NeNe are intriguing on one year deals at that rate and Ian Mahinmi, just started for the Pacers this year, can be exactly what Robin Lopez was if you’re so inclined and want the top ten defense. It will be fun to see what Jared Sullinger gets as the rare 6’9” center that rebounds and can’t play late in games.

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Dwight Howard did not make the cut. Unless he is willing to take $15 million to play for Phil Jackson, half of what he’s asking by the way, then we shall pass. He is not suited for an environment like this and has had ugly divorces everywhere he’s went. Dwight does not get support from his peers as they do not respect him and his diminishing physique and predictable stat line do not do him favors. Hassan Whiteside will most likely be in the purple and gold next season and Al Horford wants to play power forward like LaMarcus Aldridge did last offseason. Dwyane Wade is trying for the second year in a row to use other teams as leverage. Wade does not want to leave Miami like DeRozan doesn’t want to leave Toronto, if he did, he would’ve joined Cleveland last year even though I’ll be for giving him a call and seeing what this is about.

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While each of these plans have a different flavor to it, they all share what should be the overarching theme of the Knicks free agency pursuit: maintaining financial flexibility over the next two summers. After the Rose trade, New York have positioned themselves to potentially have over $60 million to spend in the summer of 2017. While teams are fighting over the Mike Conley’s of the world this summer, next year’s free agent class is elite with Stephen Curry and Gordon Hayward staying in their situations. Perhaps they will take another run at Roc Nation’s New York based Kevin Durant along with his running mate, Russell Westbrook. The key to convincing KD to leave OKC may just be the most athletic point guard in NBA history with a, let’s say, unique fashion taste. There have already been whispers about the Knicks potentially making room for the Banana Boat next year as the Super Friends (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony) have always aspired to play together as teammates.

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Whatever the Knicks decide to do, they should learn from both the Lakers and Heat. Because of their recent losing ways, the Los Angeles Lakers have been denied a meeting with Durant this summer. Making the playoffs next season is pivotal for any strong chance of convincing a superstar to come to New York, hence the Derrick Rose trade. The coach is there, the players are there and now it is up to Knicks to start winning into the playoffs. Additionally, it’s always easier to convince two All Stars to join your team than counting on one man to leave his team as the Miami Heat maneuvered their Big Three in 2010. Resisting high priced free agents on three or four year deals will pay dividends soon and the Knicks would also be wise to trade for expiring contracts instead. The asking price will be fairly small for guys like Andrew Bogut, Greg Monroe, Trey Burke, and Tony Allen are all available in trades now since teams are searching to clear money for potential free agents. Another fun filled free agency season will start as the clock hits 3 AM in the West coast, but the Knicks big picture is undoubtedly next summer. We will also soon unveil our plan on how to best take advantage of next year’s free agent crop and trust us, the New York Knicks are fully aware of it. In the meantime, may the odds be ever in the Knicks favor.

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