Walsh clears cap space, but still isn't finished
With the jettison of Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph for the 2010 expiring contracts of Al Harrington, Cat Mobley, and Tim Thomas, who comes for a second stint with the Knicks, team President Donnie Walsh has given every Knick fan hope: the ability to sign two of the megastars in free agent class, headlined by LeBron, Amare, DeityWade, Chris Bosh, and Yao. Each of the players has either player options or early termination option (ETO), and only Yao figures to be a lock to re-sign with each respective team. They may even have the ability to sign a third superstar with a little more dealing.
Other free agents of considerable note are Joe Johnson, TMac, Mike Miller, Tyson Chandler, and Steve Nash, among others, to go along with Dirk’s ETO and all the other restricted free agents.
The Knicks have put themselves in a position to become the major player in the loaded free agent crop. Although, they will be competing with upwards of 20 teams with the cap space to offer a maximum contract to any of the players listed above. Few, however, have the ability to offer two maximum contracts so one megastar can pair with another megastar buddy. Moreover, none of these teams with loads of cash to float give the New York market to go along with the contract of 30% of the cap for those with 7 years of service in the L, as the draft class of 2003 would.
It seems the idea of taking the marquee NBA franchise from essentially a position of an expansion franchise to a juggernaut is also a key component for the franchise located next to league office in one of the world’s five major cities. Resurrecting the flagship NBA team and raising banners in MSG for the world to see is a vast base of any player’s legacy. With D’Antoni as its pitch man and the renowned Walsh constructing the team, consistently contended by those in-the-know as the league’s best, the Knicks are even more attractive.
Then, add the New York market which every pundit and various executives and players have been clamoring about -- the potential celebrity of NYC, the local, national, and international endorsement opportunities, the endless pockets of Cablevision, and Manhattan and the Garden.
When the Clippers’ horrid start made Dunleavy relent from the stance of only accepting the salary dump of Randolph sweetened by the accompaniment of a New York first rounder, the Knicks finally shipped off ZBo for cap space just hours after completing a separate trade that jettisoned Crawford to Oakland.
Both of the players played their value up thanks to D’Antoni, who has no objections to taking the hit on his coaching record. He clearly understands Walsh’s plan and expects to make the most of it in the final two years of his contract when elite NBA talent will be at his disposal. The prospects of being extremely bad for the rest of this season also provides the team with an excellent opportunity at a top-5 pick and another reasonably cheap young player to fit into D’Antoni’s system, potentially Ricky Rubio.
Optimism is purely based on the cap space. There are few tangible assets on the roster or in future draft choices, since they will not have a draft pick next year, because it will go to Utah as apart of the Marbury deal. The flexibility gained was what makes these deals a win in Walsh’s eyes, but not giving up any other assets in the salary dumps in order to gain the maneuverability was exactly what was wanted. The previous salary-dump trade talks with Memphis and the Clippers reportedly involved the Knicks relinquishing at least one first round draft choice, which Walsh was unable to accept. But at the same time, he was also unable to accumulate any young talent or draft choices for their best players in either trade. As solid as Harrington can be, his acquisition to the Knicks is to be on someone else’s roster at the start of the 2010 season.
Remember, these moves are only the beginning. Walsh will make at least one more trade during the season, perhaps as many as three more. Although the Knicks will undoubtedly want something more than expiring contracts for Lee and Nate Robinson, they should pack their bags. Walsh will not be giving either an extension this summer and will not match any offer that would do so, since matching offer sheets on their contracts would roll over their base-year compensation tags into the ’10 summer when the free agency signings begin.
Even more cap space could be created by trading Eddie Curry to another team. Curry is hardly considered an asset and will be tough to move, since he has not played yet. He will have to prove that he is in the condition to play before he can be moved. The Bobcats are rumored to be interested, and moving Morrison and Carroll as a package together fits both teams’ desires. However, Charlotte would most likely want one of the few Knicks assets remaining: David Lee or draft choices.
Do not discount the possibility of Curry being moved at some point. Guys who can score in the post are a rarity, and Curry is a load when motivated. Additionally, his contract only runs through the 2010-11 season, as does Jerrod Jeffries’ deal, making them both contracts perfect for sign-and-trades for perhaps a third star to join the two other potential max-players. If either of them can prove they can play at all, as Crawford and ZBo did, they will be both be jettisoned as soon as another team is interested.
If they cannot or teams balk at taking both or either prior to the 2010 summer, they will be highly valuable as being the salary component part of sign-and-trades. Or they can take another team’s salary dump for other teams wanting flexibility, as the Knicks just did, by simply having these expiring contracts at hand.
The Knick fans can be exulted with optimism after the long suffering years of the Scott Layden and Isiah years, but only because there is a fresh start coming in two years. In the meantime, they will stink. However, the direction is clear: Get as many talented, refined stars as possible with a goal of three but no less than two in 2010, and fill the rest of the roster with draft choices, MLE signings, biannual exceptions, et al. There will be no more patchwork and taking mercurial but talented players with huge contracts who have worn out their welcome from (multiple) other teams.
It’s like being an expansion team in New York with a full cap to offer free agents, but required to play games for two seasons, first.
By John Looney
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