Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Stat & Melo, The New Ewing-Starks"

"Stat & Melo, The New Ewing-Starks"

After almost a year of anticipation, Carmelo Anthony is finally a Knick. Seven months after missing out on LeBron the Knicks pull off a blockbuster trade to bring Carmelo to New York.

To acquire Anthony, the Knicks are sending: Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, the Knicks’ 2014 first-round pick, two second-round picks New York (acquired from the Golden State Warriors in the David Lee sign-and-trade) and $3 million. The Knicks will also trade Anthony Randolph and Eddy Curry's expiring contract to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who will send Corey Brewer to New York. The Knicks will receive Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams, Renaldo Balkman, and Anthony Carter.

But everyone is wondering if the Knicks gave up too much for Carmelo and how the front office is going to replace all the talent they gave up. But if you look around the league, there are a ton of affordable players who can play key roles for New York next season. The Knicks gave up four role players for a super star (and a role player in Billups). Anthony Carter and Shelden Williams come off the books this summer, Billups has a team option in his contract for 2011-2012 (to bridge the gap until Chris Paul), and Balkman is signed to a very affordable salary and can be a useful big man in his second run with New York. Many people are also questioning the Knicks financial flexibility in the future, but they are set up well to supply Stat and Melo with very solid role players.

Obviously the two major contracts are Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony's long-term deals. The Knicks have both players under contract until 2015. In yesterday's trade the Knicks shipped away Eddy Curry's ridiculous expiring contract. But they also shaved off other smaller financial obligations such as Gallinari and Randolph who were signed until 2013 and schedule to make a combined $10 million that season. Chandler will be a free agent in the summer either way and Felton was a short-term option with only one year left on his deal, at $7.5 million due next season. The Knicks will retain Bill Walker, Andy Rautins, Toney Douglas and Landry Fields for another season, all making between $700,000 and $1.2 million.

The next step will be filling the roster with affordable players who give the team both short-term talent as well as long term financial flexibility. The first move will be Ronny Turiaf who has a $4.36 million dollar player option for next season. I am not sure whether I am a fan of Turiaf accepting this option but he has every right to do so. He currently ranks 25th in the league in PER (Player Efficiency Ranking) among centers. Turiaf brings a ton of energy and excitement to this Knicks and it will be interesting to see how he plays the rest of the season. So far he is only averaging 18 minutes per game due to nagging injuries, but if he can stay healthy and play starters’ minutes at Center (25-30) then he is definitely worth the money. Roger Mason and Kelenna Azubuike are both unrestricted free agents and both have yet to see the floor very often. Unless they begin to show signs of life I would let them both walk and look to fill the void somewhere else. The most important thing for the Knicks may seem small but the team needs to retain Shawne Williams. Williams is making $885, 210 this season but he is a 6'9" forward who can play on the wing as well as down low. Shawne Williams is the perfect player for New York's system because he is an outstanding 3-point shooter, currently holding the best percentage in the league. I love the Knicks talent off the bench in terms of spurts of talent; Douglas is great on-the-ball defender and has greatly improved his shooting range. Toney was the back up for Felton and will continue that role backing up Billups (and hopefully CP3). Bill Walker had one of the best dunks of the season, a monster slam over Andrew Bogut (league leader in blocked shots) and he is the only remaining piece from the Nate trade. Walker is a better pure scorer than Nate and is also signed longer/for less money making him a steal. The final remaining Knick will be Syracuse native Andy Rautins. Rautins is an experience player from his days at Syracuse and on the Canadian National Team. He is a great shooter and hopefully will grow into a bench role next season.

Now comes free agency, the Knicks still have roster spots to fill and some money to spend. But the team will not go after any big name-high price guys until 2012 (Dwight, Chris Paul, and Derron) making guys like Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, David West, and Caron Butler out of reach. But we have seen the Miami Heat use almost all of their money on 3 superstars then surround them with role players and still produce an elite team. The Knicks will use a similar formula, a mix of veteran talent and youthful prospects.

There are some very interesting players available whom I would absolutely love to see in New York. The first on my list is Deandre Jordan. The Clippers have over $12 million invested in Chris Kaman next season, and also have young big men like Blake Griffin and Al-Farouq Aminu signed until 2014. Deandre will obviously be in a bench role if the Clippers retain him but it seems like they are more likely to spend money on big man free agents or in trades for veteran wing players. Due to Kaman's injury Jordan has been averaging 26 minutes per game and posting 7 rebounds as well as 1.7 blocks per game. Those two numbers alone are enough to make me think he could really help the Knicks. He is an efficient scorer and at 7 feet, Deandre Jordan can be a scary presence down low. In the East, the elite teams will have trouble penetrating to the hoop against Stoudeimire (2.2 blocks per game) and Jordan. The Knicks are already first in the league in terms of blocks, but would dominate with the addition of another Top 15 shot blocker. The front office should sign this young big-man to an affordable long-term deal before other teams realize his potential

The next piece if the 2011 Three Point Champion, James Jones. He is a free agent and Miami is in no position to be giving any players a raise, and frankly they don't care who they have on the bench as long as LeBron and Wade are playing MVP-level basketball. James Jones is a one dimensional SG/SF but that one area is exactly what they Knicks need, a pure shooter. James Jones could split time with Landry Fields at SG and play the SF when the Knicks go small, he will spread the floor and see a lot of open shots when Carmelo and Amare draw double teams. This will help everyone because teams will have to pick their poison against the Knicks if our superstars are surrounded by snipers. New York should sign James Jones to a short-term deal at around $2 million per season.

Marcus Thornton is a young player with a great offensive arsenal, except in New Orleans he has been in the doghouse due to "lack of work on defense". Such a thing would never occur on a Mike D'Antoni team where defense takes a back seat to offense. Marco Belinelli, Trevor Ariza, Marcus Banks, and Jarret Jack have all cut into Thornton's minutes but maybe he can carve his way into the Knicks rotation with his quick scoring style. He is making less than $800,000 this season and he’s a risk, but a small-short term contract could lead to a big return for New York next season.

Another big man who will be available is Houston's Chuck Hayes. Hayes is another guy who is getting an increased role due to injuries; Brad Miller has missed a lot of games for the Rockets as well as Yao Ming. Next season Houston will look to spend money and bring support for Kevin Martin. Jordan Hill, Luis Scola, and Brad Miller will all be on the roster and healthy next season so look for Houston to part with Chuck Hayes, Shane Battier, and Yao Ming. New York should definitely look to get a big man down low and after Deandre Jordan, Chuck Hayes is the best on my list. Hayes is an undersized center at only 6'6" but his 238-pound frame allows him to muscle in the paint for rebounds and he shoots at a high percentage from the field (mostly an around the basket guy). Hayes has less potential than Deandre Jordan, but is much more consistent (similar to Ronny Turiaf). Jordan and Turiaf would compliment each other best, but if Turiaf leaves then look for the Knicks to be a serious play at one, if not both, of these big men. He is making $2.3 million this year and will demand a higher payday than Jordan.

The Pistons have a talented second year player in Jonas Jerebko. He made the All Rookie Second Team, which has been an indicator of guys poised for breakout seasons: Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, and Eric Gordon (from the 08-09 team). Jerebko is another international stud and will hopefully want to play in New York, the media capital of the world. Similar to how Gallo loved the New York spotlight, Jonas Jerebko could flourish in New York and give the Knicks a lot of European appeal. The lanky big man can be a back up to Amare and learn the game from an All-Star power forward. This situation would be a win-win for everyone (except the Pistons). Another guy making under 800K who isn't expecting any multi-million dollar deals. This guy is for real. James Dolan needs to make sure we lock him up for a long-term deal, or at least a contract with team options.

Reggie Williams is part of Don Nelson's love of guards/wing players. On a team headlined by Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, and Dorrell Wright, Reggie Williams has had very few chances to break out. Golden State and the Knicks run similar styles: "don't play defense", so Williams would feel right at home in New York. He's another guy who may fly under the radar when times throw big money at the elite players. Similarly would be Shane Battier, but for opposite reasons. Battier does not put up good looking stats, but he ends up filling the box score. He is an outstanding defender, great shooter, extremely efficient, and is coming off a big contract. Teams are not going to pay a veteran-defender who doesn't score big money, so the Knicks should look to pay him (definitely less than his current $7 million deal). He has experienced a lot of hard times with Yao Ming in Houston and will hopefully look to pair up with two healthy superstars.

In the case that the Knicks decide to buy out Billups rather than pay him $14 million dollars, they need to look for a fill-in point guard, a one-year bridge until free agency 2012. Toney Douglas hasn't show signs of being a franchise or even starting point, and there are now NBA ready point guards that the Knicks could draft. This is a very hard void to fill, which is why they are very likely to keep Billups. Other options include signing someone like Sebastian Telfair, T.J Ford, Steve Blake or Mario Chalmers to a one-year deal. A more ideal situation would be to acquire Luke Ridnour from the Timberwolves in exchange for Toney Douglas. Ridnour is making around $4 million a year for the next 4 seasons and could be a back up for New York come 2012. Other less likely candidates would be Acie Law, Mo Williams, and Rodney Stuckey.

There are a large number of scoring wings, but this is not important with Carmelo and Amare at the forward positions. Guys like Marquis Daniels, Anthony Parker, Jason Kapano, Tayshaun Prince, and Tracy McGrady may be willing to sacrifice money for a chance to help bring a title to New York.

The Knicks did the right thing and got an elite scorer for a group of role players. In less than a year the Knicks have acquired two Top 15 players and returned to the playoffs, even after losing out on LeBron. As fans, we hated the front office for signing guys like Eddy Curry and Jerome James, making bad trades for Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway, and for trading away countless draft picks and potential superstars. Denver fans are going to be sitting home for the five seasons praying to be blessed in the draft with a once-in-a-lifetime player (again), hoping this time that the won’t lose him.

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