Friday, November 13, 2009

Will the Knicks get LeBron? Or Wade? Or even Bosh?

The New York Knicks' 1-8 start this season begs the question: Why would any free agent want to come to New York in the summer of 2010?

Plays like the ball slipping out of Al Harrington's hands on his way up for a dunk against Atlanta seem to summarize the struggles of the Knicks over the past few seasons. Nonetheless, there are still some reasons for players to want to play in New York.

One is the opportunity to play at the World's Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden. The prestige and history of the Garden along with an opportunity to play on one of the world's largest stages would be enough to attract any superstar, right LeBron James? Right Dwayne Wade? How about you, Chris Bosh?

The second reason is obvious: Money. The Knicks have just over $27 million worth of contracts on the books beyond this season committed to six players: Eddy Curry, Jared Jeffries, Danilo Gallinari, Jordan Hill, Wilson Chandler and Toney Douglas.

The salary cap this season is $57.7 million, down from $58.68 million for the 2008-09 season. Assuming a similar cap number next season, the Knicks will have enough money to offer one maximum contract, not two like is widely believed. Max contracts start at 30% of the salary cap, which would be $17.31 million.

Unless the Knicks get rid of Curry's $11.28 million contract or Jeffries' $6.88 million cap hit, they cannot afford to bring any two-man combination of James, Wade and Bosh to the Big Apple without pulling off a sign-and-trade or getting one to accept a non-maximum contract.

A third potential reason for free agents to want to sign with the Knicks is the fact that they do have some decent young talent to work with. Douglas has scored 60 points in his last three games, while Gallinari is averaging over 15 points per game and showing the aggression that was missing last season when he was dealing with back issues.

Add in the 12 points and 6 rebounds you get every night from Wilson Chandler and this year's first-round pick Jordan Hill, and the Knicks have some exciting young players. None of them will become superstars, but adding a James, Wade or Bosh to the mix would certainly go a long way to seeing this team become competitive again.

The Knicks also play an up-tempo style of basketball under Mike D'Antoni, another potential attraction for big-name free agents to come to New York. Too bad they are so pathetic that, even in a run-and-gun offense, they are just 14th in the NBA in points scored at 99.8 and allow almost 10 more points per game than they score.

Which brings me to the major reason not to play for the Knicks. They are TERRIBLE, and some of their better players (Al Harrington, David Lee, Nate Robinson and Chris Duhon) have expiring contracts. Harrington and Duhon are already gone, but if the Knicks elect not to re-sign Lee or Robinson, the cupboard will be pretty bare, not that it's anywhere near full at the moment.

I know everybody wants LeBron or Wade, but I find it unlikely that either of them will come to New York right now. James has postponed all free agency talk until after the regular season so he can concentrate on the task at hand: Leading the Cavaliers to a championship.

He recently said he cares about winning more than he cares about a maximum contract, whatever that actually means. Unless he pairs up with Wade or Bosh, winning seems less likely in New York than it does in Cleveland.

Same goes with Wade, who has already won a title in Miami and has his team sitting at 6-2 and in first place in the Southeast division. The Heat have plenty of up-and-coming talent with Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers in just their second seasons and look to be a team on the rise for the next few years.

Bosh has already nearly ruled out playing in New York, so it may be time for the Knicks to move on to lower-level targets in the free agent pool. The player that really catches my eye is the Hawks' Joe Johnson.

Johnson is a complete player, averaging 21 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists per game this season. He is not a me-first superstar that commands the ball, but rather a team player who is talented enough to get his in the flow of the offense.

Other notable free agents available are Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Manu Ginobili and Tracy McGrady. Stoudemire and Boozer are attractive options for the Knicks, considering their lack of rebounding (outside of Lee) and a need for an interior defender.

Signing Stoudemire would also reunite him with D'Antoni, as the two spent nearly five seasons together in Phoenix. Stoudemire's affinity for the up-tempo style D'Antoni has implemented in New York has led many to believe him and the Knicks may be a good fit.

If the Knicks can't afford to pay out two max contracts, why not re-sign Robinson, Lee or both? It's a possibility that shouldn't be ignored, as both are good players who would help the Knicks maintain some depth in their rotation.

In the end, all the chips will fall into place once James and Wade make their stay-or-stray decisions. There is still a whole NBA season to be played, and there are a lot of different scenarios that can play out. If LeBron wins a title, will that make him more inclined to stay in Cleveland or leave and try to bring a championship back to the Garden? Same goes with Wade. And what if they don't win?

Right now, it's just too early to tell what will happen. But all those Knicks fans banking on signing two superstars this summer should temper their expectations. Otherwise, you're just setting yourself up for disappointment.

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