Offseason Grades: New York Knicks
The Point Forward will grade every team’s offseason over the next few weeks. Click here for the complete archive.
Additions: Andrea Bargnani, Metta World Peace, Beno Udrih, Jeremy Tyler, Tim Hardaway Jr. (No. 24 pick in the 2013 draft), C.J. Leslie
Losses: Jason Kidd, Steve Novak, Chris Copeland, Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace, James White, Earl Barron, Quentin Richardson
Other Moves: Re-signed J.R. Smith, Pablo Prigioni and Kenyon Martin
What Went Right: Necessary retention and some bargain signings. New York’s prior spending undercut its flexibility this summer, leaving little alternative but to re-sign several free-agent role players. A player such as Smith, for example, could simply not be replaced. With no cap room and minimal cap exceptions with which to work, New York would not be allowed to sign any player even vaguely in Smith’s range of pay or production. That gave Smith and his agent all the negotiating muscle needed to strong-arm the Knicks into a three-year, $18 million contract via early-Bird rights just days before the 27-year-old shooting guard — who struggled in the playoffs after winning the Sixth Man Award — underwent two knee surgeries.
Though the Knicks spent more on Smith than they would have liked, that’s still preferred to the thought of losing him outright. His departure would have spelled trouble for a team that is overly reliant on Carmelo Anthony’s shot creation as it is; New York struggled in the postseason when Smith failed to generate offense, which only serves to highlight the cost of potentially losing him. Flaws and all, Smith was too valuable an offensive asset for the Knicks to simply let walk, and thus it’s something of a victory that New York bit the bullet to bring him back.
The Knicks also benefit from the return of 36-year-old point guard Pablo Prigioni (who will be paid $1.6 million this season after being re-signed with a portion of the mini mid-level exception) and 35-year-old power forward Kenyon Martin (who re-signed for the veteran minimum of $1.4 million), both of whom represent a good value at their respective price points. They might well be the best budget signings New York could have made under the circumstances, as other low-cost possibilities wouldn’t have had such form-fitting games or any baseline experience with this Knicks team.
Valuable, too, are World Peace and Udrih, two newcomers signed to affordable deals using what remained of the Knicks’ resources. World Peace, 33, isn’t the lockdown defender he once was, but he ranks as New York’s second-best defensive option (behind Iman Shumpert) on the perimeter. He also can swing to guard a very different set of players than Shumpert, as World Peace’s height and strength make him more effective in defending larger opponents both inside and out.
Udrih, 31, should help the Knicks as a solid ball handler and shooter, albeit one who only further fuels New York’s defensive troubles. He’s capable enough to create offense in a pinch, though his slow-footed game lends itself mostly to pull-up jumpers and conservative passes that don’t really challenge the defense. Still, his contributions should register on a team in need of another stable creator, particularly because New York’s best stretches last season came when two point guards could help space the floor and move the ball to best work off Anthony. Udrih can play such a role, even if he isn’t dynamic enough off the dribble to give New York’s offense any kind of new direction.
What Went Wrong: The costly, nonsensical acquisition of Andrea Bargnani, who addresses not a single one of New York’s needs. Even the one thing that Bargnani, 27, supposedly does well is a bit of a mirage; the former Raptor made only 32.3 percent of his three-pointers in his last three seasons (the league average was about 35.5 percent in that time), submarining some of his value as a stretch 4. Otherwise, he’s a horrid rebounder and reluctant defender, which in total makes him a lesser version of big man Amar’e Stoudemire, whose flaws already compromise the Knicks strategically.
Teams can specifically address individual liabilities, but New York is set to struggle as its most burdensome defenders — Anthony, Stoudemire, Bargnani and, at times, Smith — are arranged as a compounding problem. The addition of another big man in Bargnani suggests that Anthony will spend more time back on the wing and less at power forward, increasing the potential for the Knicks’ worst defensive players to share the floor together. That’s especially bad news because center Tyson Chandler is coming off a down year as far as rectifying his teammates’ mistakes, juxtaposing an overmatched interior defender with a potential nightmare in coverage.
Things could get tricky on the offensive end as well. New York will now draw on four players — Anthony, Smith, Bargnani and Stoudemire — who tend to stop the ball when it swings their way, which doesn’t bode well for the flow of the offense. Anthony is more or less entitled, given his astounding combination of volume and efficiency, but a system built to feature him won’t have as many opportunities for Stoudemire and Bargnani — neither of whom plays intuitively off the ball or has the skill set to serve in a facilitating role. There’s enough talent between them to avoid an abject disaster, but New York’s offense seems likely to take a step back because 1) Anthony’s incredible efficiency through career-high possession usage could be challenging to sustain, and 2) he no longer has the kind of floor-spreading, ball-moving supporting cast that made the Knicks so successful. That’s not all Bargnani’s fault, but his arrival should only complicate matters for coach Mike Woodson.
On top of it all: To acquire Bargnani from Toronto, New York sacrificed a 2016 first-round pick and two second-round picks while taking back an extra $3.7-plus million in salary for each of the next two seasons. The real cost of that salary influx, though, comes in the amplified luxury-tax hit that follows. Given how far above the tax line the Knicks already are, obtaining Bargnani – as opposed to keeping Novak and Camby — will increase New York’s 2013-14 tax bill by almost $10 million, bringing the bottom-line cost of this transaction to some $13.6 million in the first season alone. The cost will be even more severe in 2014-15, as New York’s payroll balloons to $89.8 million just in time to suffer the brutal multiplier of the repeater tax.
Grade: C-. New York’s free-agent signings will help prevent things from drifting totally out of control, but the Bargnani deal is one of those rare transactions by which a team sacrifices assets, loses money and arguably worsens its on-court potential.
Salary data courtesy of Sham Sports.