Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Offseason Skinny on the Knicks

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Let's assume Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni will return to the Knicks as team president and head coach this season.

Let's also assume, given the drama that's already unfolded this season, that the Garden probably isn't in the path of a giant meteorite that will force the perenially underachieving franchise to start over (again).

[SPRTS_NEWS1]Associated Press

A future Knick? Dwight Howard posts up against Amar'e Stoudemire.

Even so, it's pretty clear that this time next year, the decisions the team makes this offseason aren't likely to be given a gentleman's C. Either the Knicks will lay the groundwork for a potential championship dynasty or they'll produce another crushing drama of disillusionment.

Here's a look at three issues that will frame the team's agenda in the next six months:

FREE AGENCY: Most fans don't want to hear this, but the best of possible outcomes this summer is that the Knicks do next to nothing. No big ticket items. No free agent press conferences and certainly no one again declaring "The Knicks Are Back." The real prizes are in 2012 when Magic superstar center Dwight Howard, Nets point guard Deron Williams and Hornets point guard Chris Paul become available. Howard, who fancies himself an entertainer, would love New York and the Knicks would love his three-straight Defensive Player of the Year awards. If the Knicks could grab Howard, they'd have something the Heat and Celtics' don't: an elite big man in his prime.

To get Howard, they need salary cap space. With that in mind, the Knicks need to add size this summer, but at a bargain-basement rate. Samuel Dalembert may be perfect at the right price. Other inexpensive options include free agents Kurt Thomas, an ex-Knick, and 34-year-old Pacers defensive specialist Jeff Foster.

Big men like Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, Nene and Kris Humphries will cost too much for the Knicks' long-term plans. With Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony both making $18 million and Chauncey Billups making $14 million, salary cap flexibility is more important than making a splash this year. The dream would be to also get some complementary pieces on the cheap as well.

Carmelo Anthony said last week that players all over the league have told him they want to come play for the Knicks. Maybe that will save some cap space. The Knicks will likely bring back forward Shawne Williams, who has said he'll take a one-year deal. But except for Stoudemire, Anthony and Billups, no one else is safe.

THE LOCKOUT: A likely work stoppage this summer could benefit the Knicks. The best-case scenario is this: Frustrated with the superstar stacking that had buoyed the Heat, Celtics, Lakers and Knicks, the league gets a new collective bargaining agreement that encourages superstars to stay with their teams via contract incentives.

If Howard, Williams and Paul stay with their respective teams, the Knicks will stand next to the Heat as the only teams with more than one superstar still in the prime of their careers.

PLAYER DEVELOPMENT: If the Knicks are waiting for 2012, then improvement of the non-superstar Knicks is a key component. There are players who have shown flashes of brilliance—like guard Toney Douglas, who set a franchise record for 3-pointers in a game with nine in March. But at age 25, he struggles adjusting to different defensive looks. If he were more consistent, we'd be referring to the Knicks' "Big Four."

The nightmare scenario for the Knicks is if this year's rookie sensation Landry Fields isn't who they thought he was. What if Fields is really more of the playoff version (seven total points in four starts) than the regular season, in which he averaged nine points a game.

If Fields isn't a legitimate scoring option and if Douglas doesn't develop, the Knicks figure (once again) to be a flawed and shallow team with lots of free time during the playoffs.

Write to Kevin Clark at

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