What If the Knicks Don’t Get Anybody?

By that I mean, what if the Knicks aren’t able to land any of the big time, top-tier free-agents? That’s the 800lb gorilla in the room that we’ve all been willfully ignoring for almost two years now because the thought that the Knicks obliterated their talent base and suffered through two rudderless seasons only to whiff in free agency is so unpalatable. I know that, whenever my mind drifts towards that kind of speculation, I tend to shout it down with thoughts like “Nah, Donnie wouldn’t have done this unless he had good intel that someone great would come.” or “Nah, we’ll at least get Joe Johnson because of his relationship with D’Antoni and Donnie’s relationship with his agent.”

But even if it’s not the most likely scenario (and, for the record, I don’t think that this is what’s going to happen), let’s dig deep down into the places we don’t talk about at parties and explore the possibility: What if the Knicks don’t land any one of Lebron, Wade, Bosh, Amare, Joe Johnson, Rudy Gay or Carlos Boozer? Even worse, what if the Knicks don’t get any of those guys and they lose David Lee?(!?) What will they do then?

It appears our loyal commenters certainly have a dark side (especially Italian Stallion) because yesterday, in the comments to our weekly fan satisfaction poll, they explored these thoughts in a more meaningful way than I’ve ever observed in a pro-Knicks forum. Knicks fans always seem to conclude that Donnie will get somebody great to take the money. But what if no one does? When I first started reading through the comments, the very suggestion caused me to cringe and resort to my default rationalizations. But as I began to consider the possibility of this outcome, as is sometimes the case when you explore your worst fears, the thought became a little bit less scary.

This is the conclusion I arrived at: If the Knicks can’t land any of the big fish, as Dan suggested they should certainly rent their cap space in a trade or two. Whether they pick up draft picks or young players, it’s a great way to get something for nothing. But they should also still take the plunge into the free agent market. Only instead of looking for franchise players, they should look to add young, talented rotation players that could serve as building blocks and compliment the one potential star they already have on the roster (Danilo Gallinari, of course). While this plan wouldn’t produce immediate results anything like what everyone was dreaming on when DW anounced his 2010 plan, if this summer lands the Knicks upgrades at four or five rotation spots and mixes in playoff-experienced veterans with some talented young guys, that would be an extremely productive summer.

In one of the comments to the poll post, Traps dropped a list that included a number of the second (and third) tier free agents available this summer. For your convenience, here it is again:

Raymond Felton
Raja Bell
Marcus Camby
Kyle Korver
J.J. Redick (R)
Hakim Warrick
Tyrus Thomas (R)
Jermaine O’Neal
Randy Foye (R)
Ronnie Brewer (R)
Mike Miller
Luke Ridnour
Channing Frye (P)
Grant Hill (P)
Steve Blake
Ben Wallace
Amir Johnson
Anthony Morrow (R)
Kelenna Azubuike (P)
Shannon Brown (P)
Kurt Thomas
Rafer Alston
Matt Bonner
Tim Thomas

A quick scan of that list reveals that the most prevalent types of players available this summer happen to be playoff-experienced vets and talented, young players with upside. Bully for us.

Now, we all heard the news yesterday that the Knicks are interested in Marcus Camby and that, likewise, Camby has a strong interest in returning to New York.  Whoever else the Knicks might sign this summer, in my opinion Camby would be a great, great addition. Another big guy on the list that immediately jumped out at me was Amir Johnson. He’s unrestricted this summer and only 22 years old (the same age as erstwhile Knick Jordan Hill, by the way), despite this being his fourth NBA season. I think he’s on the cusp of becoming a very solid big man (perhaps as good or better than Hill?) and he wouldn’t be very expensive.

So let’s say, for instance, that the Knicks dealt Wilson Chandler and a giant trade exception for Darren Collison and Peja Stojakovic. Then in free agency they added Camby, Johnson, (last night’s star) Anthony Morrow and Raja Bell. To me, that would make for an awfully productive summer. Not only would it give the Knicks a young rotation brimming with potential, there would be some older players – guys that have been through some NBA wars – playing key roles on and off the court. Best of all, the Knicks would maintain their flexibility for the future and have a young talent base to make trades, all while still fielding a team that was capable of making the playoffs.

Consider this rotation: Collison, Bell, Morrow, Gallo, Camby, Douglas, Johnson, Peja and Bill Walker. Probably not much more than an 8th seed but not bad at all, right? Certainly not a bad way to kick off a rebuild. Or, if the Knicks re-sign Lee, how about this: Douglas, Morrow, Gallo, Lee, Camby, Bell, Johnson, Walker and let’s say Jordan Farmar. That’s not too bad either.

Look, even as I write this I know that, if the Knicks field a roster similar to one of those next season it’ll undoubtedly be a huge disappointment because of all the sacrifice and unrelenting hype that preceded this summer. But, after some hand-wringing (and maybe even some soft weeping) I’m sure I’ll be able to come up with some new rationalizations and convince myself that the Knicks took their shot with the superstars and then did the next best thing with the money.

Frankly though, the more deeply I explore the dark side, the more I’m beginning to actually believe that scenarios like these might really and truly be the next best thing to landing James or Wade. These might not be the moves that put the Knicks over the top. But they could be the moves that lead to the moves that put the Knicks over the top.

Or at least that’s what I’ll be telling myself if the Knicks strike out with Joe Johnson.

13 comments

  1. Dan L

    As long as we get Korver. But honestly if we get Morrow, Peja, and Korver we’d have some ridiculous shooters when you also consider Gallinari. I’m sure the team would be more successful. And like you said, none of them would be very expensive, so the Knicks would retain flexibility going forward.

    Here is what John Hollinger had to say about Morrow earlier in the year (Hollinger’s CSR is the sum of a player’s 2-point, 3-point and free throw percentages):

    Finally, two young players on the Golden State Warriors have established a great chance of finishing their careers near the top of [the Combined Shooting Rating] list. Rookie Stephen Curry is at 1.770 thus far in his brief career, and should that number hold up, he’ll finish his career in the top 10. Since players’ shooting often improves dramatically in their second through fifth seasons, he could finish as one of the top-ranked players of all time.

    Then again, he also might finish second among current Warriors. Curry’s teammate, Anthony Morrow, has played two NBA seasons as a part-time starter, and posted career marks of 48.8 percent on 2s, 45.9 percent on 3s and 87.6 percent from the line. That’s good for a CSR of 1.822, which is better than every other player in history except Nash.

    • Traps

      +1

      Better to build a team than just snag any old free agent out there. I’m not huge on Joe Johnson, but the guy’s damn good. I just think Donnie wants a team, and that Korver, Camby, a trade for Paul/Collison, Bell/Morrow (GSW wants both back, with Williams; not happening), and Felton (who’s said he wants to stay a Bobcat) are all on the radar. Shooters and athletes, folks. You don’t need a superstar this year, but if you didn’t sell out for more space, you wouldn’t have the chance at Paul/Collison, either. It’s not just about the Big Four.

  2. Long Term

    Durant in 2011. Don’t have to use all the cap space in 2010. Get one max player in 2010 and another one in 2011. Patience.

  3. paterickschmede

    It’s been such a rough 6 or 7 years, as long as it ain’t Steve Francis or Starbury, I don’t think I give a damn.

  4. gamblo

    I really like Morrow, but playing in GS and playing in NYC are different environments (i think the same can be said for Korver…).

    Waiting for Durant is a lost cause IMO (as much as i’d LOVE to have him), he won’t be going anywhere. I think he really wants to stay in OKC (even wants to sign an extension this summer?), I don’t think he has the same ego and market-savvy as some other larger FAs.

  5. Traps

    D’Antoni’s rotation is typically eight deep. If you look at what he likes to sub in, you see a combo guard, a wing, and a third big. Going off of that, you want to find the best guys available as a team, and it seems there are some places where it’s tough to fit guys, whether it’s guys you and I desire or guys currently on the roster. Assuming we don’t trade for Collison and Peja:

    Felton/Ridnour
    Bell/Morrow
    Wilson Chandler
    Danilo Gallinari
    Marcus Camby

    Toney Douglas
    Kyle Korver
    Tyrus Thomas

    Is there room for Walker, Giddens, or House if you can get Bell/Morrow and Tyrus Thomas (insert comparable big man here)? Sure, there’s room for Earl Barron if he graded out equal to, or better than, Amir Johnson, and you wanted him as your third big, but Walker’s more of a straight up 3, and when you’re playing with such a short rotation, you need versatile guys.

    Now, I’m just using Walker as an example. House was D’A's third guard before, and Toney seems like he can fit that mold going forward. So, you don’t bring him back. Can Toney be a starter? Probably, but I’d much rather put that cap space to use with an upgrade (yes to Collison/Peja, please).

    David Lee. Same thing: Do you keep him and slide Chandler to sixth man status, or can Chandler reliably play the 2 as a starter? Can he off the bench? He’s certainly a wing, but what if your shooters get in foul trouble? We don’t need to see Wilson hoisting up a bunch of threes, again. Can Camby (insert other starting 5 here) hit the mid-range jumper enough to allow spacing for Lee running the pick-and-roll? Can Camby run it well enough to let Gallo sit out for a three?

    Should Gallo actually BE playing the 4, or will he not be active/aggressive enough? Could Wilson play the 4 really well, or should we get someone else?

    These are all questions that need answers. This isn’t easy. Getting the cap space to answer these effectively hasn’t been easy, either. But it is what it is, and we’re in prime shape to build a young, solid team that might surprise a lot of people who think it’s a failure that we don’t have LeBron.

    That’s all for now. Been busy lately. Off to go do work.

    • Traps

      You might be able to add Steve Blake to the ever-leaking “wanted list,” per Berman (cue salt lick).

  6. Nathan

    Anyone think S-Rod will get another season at the Knicks?

    The guy shows a lot of potential and I think if he got 20 minutes a night consistently he could be a top back up PG.

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