I was less than 10 minutes away from hitting publish on an earlier blog post which went into grave detail about the New York Knicks failing to make a splash during an extremely frenzied NBA Free Agency Day 1. I likened the Knicks to the hopelessly unathletic kid in gym class who is habitually picked last. It was pretty fantastic. And then I received a breaking news alert that immediately made my 800 words irrelevant. Arron Afflalo and the New York Knicks agree to a two-year/$16 million contract with a player option on the final year. I reacted by fighting the air like Trey in Boyz N the Hood, but not because I didn’t like the deal. Instead, because my entire morning was wasted, and more importantly, Phil Jackson had made a liar out of me. Though the Afflalo signing didn’t happen on the first day of free agency, coming to terms before 9 am on Day 2 saved the Knicks from coming under fire for swinging and missing on anybody worthwhile. Bruised ego and all, I wasn’t too proud to admit, for once the Knicks solved a need with a logical solution. Is the acquisition of Afflalo going to singlehandedly take us to the promise land? No. But he’s an upgrade over both of last year’s options, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, and comes at a significantly better value, especially when you weigh the Cleveland Cavaliers paying an injury prone, offense deficient, defensive specialist in Shump. And compared to Smith, we can rely on Afflalo, who averaged 13 pts and 1 (sad) assist, to avoid devolving from an asset into a liability from one possession to the next. For those reasons alone, this move already makes sense. However, to remain objectively critical of this signing, I must acknowledge that Afflalo has missed a step defensively. He’s not as aggressive as he once was. Also, his three-point shot, what was a strength, has betrayed him too. During his time in Denver earlier this season, he shot 33%, but improved to 40% after being traded to Portland. But overall, the best part of this deal is that it’s short term and only $8 million. You really can’t beat it.
But now that Afflalo’s been added to the mix, and the Knicks have roughly $20 million still to spend, what’s next for them?
Well, they desperately need to add a big man or two to the roster. Greg Monroe was a Jackson priority, but he passed to join Jason Kidd’s Milwaukee Bucks. Next on the list, according to Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski is Robin Lopez. The 7’0, 255 lb. center comes on the cheap. He only earned $5.3 million last season. Also, Lopez, 27, is an around the rim guy with the majority of his shots coming from inside the paint. His post up moves are a bit weak, but the pros to his game far outweigh cons especially if we sign him to a short-term deal. Plus, there’s also the fact that between he and Brooklyn Nets’ Brook, Robin is the healthier twin. This matters for petty reasons. Obviously.
Another conversation that needs to occur is addition by subtraction. The Knicks current starting point guard is Jose Calderon and the general consensus among fans is that he needs to go. Last season, reports surfaced that Jackson attempted to trade the 33-year-old point guard but was unable to move the veteran who’s due to eat up $15 million of cap space over the next two seasons. Calderon was handpicked by Jackson to run the triangle, but fell short in every category. Aside from only playing 42 games, he averaged 9 points and 4 assists per game as a starter. He gave us nothing, except another reason to side-eye Jackson’s job performance as a general manager. And since we’ve seen all that we need from Calderon, the argument has been made that Jackson should offer Calderon a buyout. But what does that mean for the Knicks current cap situation? Does paying Calderon to go away allow the Knicks to play with more cash?
The short answer is…maybe. A buyout, all of it, still counts against the cap, unless the team and player negotiate different terms. So far, Jackson hasn’t proven to be much of a deal closer (I credit the Afflalo signing to Melo who made the call and convinced him to take less money for an opportunity for the two former Denver Nuggets to reunite in NYC), but he might be able to convince Calderon to accept less than $7.7 million he’s owed this season for an opportunity to hit the market and play for a contender. Regardless of the terms, if Calderon accepts the buyout and demands the Knicks cover the full remaining amount owed over the next two seasons, the Knicks have the option of exercising the CBA’s “stretch provision.” If they go this route, per CBA terms, the Knicks could stretch the $15 million owed over the next five years, so only $3 million hit the cap each year. Obviously, this solution presents a set of pros and cons that could be argued or rationalized either way. On one hand, if the Knicks waive or buyout Calderon this season, $4 million of cap space is immediately freed up, allowing the Knicks to spend more on free agents now. But on the other hand, Calderon would be on the Knicks books for the next five seasons despite not contributing a lick. Despite the salary cap ballooning to approximately $90 million next season, the Knicks don’t have a first round draft pick and would have to rely entirely on free agency moves to improve the team. In other words, they need every penny.
I think most Knicks fans would agree that Calderon is a burden regardless, and would opt to buy him out so we don’t have to look at him on the roster. And whether we release him or not, we still need a point guard (not named Jeremy Lin), to help bring rookie Jerian Grant along. Suddenly, landing someone seems a lot more doable with $24 million versus $20 million. Or, we can target someone like Aaron Brooks, 30, who’s affordable, his Chicago Bulls contract was one-year at $1 million, and averaged 18.2 points per 36 minutes and 14.1 per game in the 21 games he started in place of Derrick Rose, this past season. Oh, and did I mention affordable?
Generally speaking, aside from getting rid of Calderon, Knicks fans are mostly interested in acquiring talent that can immediately help Melo, yes, but also not break the bank or handcuff us for years down the line. Jackson won fans over with the Afflalo signing but he’s far from off the hook. Knicks fans recognize New York is not the most favorable destination for top free agents such as LaMarcus Aldridge, but also aren’t willing to settle for the last man standing either. As the market narrows, the pressure for Jackson to come through in a major way mounts.
What do you think of the Afflalo move and who should the Knicks prioritize next?