Even though they agreed to a rather unilateral choice of words that are quite clear in their intention, the NBA Player’s Association are trying to bend a CBA rule that they only just signed off to. Supposedly misleading terminology with regards to quite when a player’s “Bird rights clock” resets — as to whether it resets upon being placed on waivers, or upon clearing them — has seen an action brought that might change the status of some players, for example Chauncy Billups, heading into this summer’s free agency period.
There wasn’t any confusion about it until someone decided it would be really convenient if there was, but anyhoo.
If the action is successful — which it surely won’t be, but still — no one stands to gain more from this than the New York Knicks. Very, very few are ever claimed off waivers, yet the Knicks currently have two such players obtained in this way; not only that, the two were big contributors this season. Without Steve Novak and Jeremy Lin, an unsatisfactory Knicks season would have been an outright disaster.
If the NBPA’s “our bad, we didn’t mean that, can we have another go?” legal argument is successful, the Knicks will thus have early Bird rights on both Lin and Novak. They will then be able to spend an amount up to (and in fact slightly exceeding) the mid-level exception, without having to use their actual mid-level exception to do so, in re-signing them, as opposed to the barely-above-minimum contracts that non-Bird rights offer. If the action is successful.
However, if the NBPA’s claim isn’t successful, the Knicks are in a bind. They’ll now have these two key players as free agents, and likely a third, too, as J.R. Smith has a player option for next season. If he also opts out, he too will have only non-Bird rights, and can be re-signed for only 120 percent of this year’s salary, as-near-as-is $2.8 million. Failing that, he too will cost some or all of the MLE. And failing that, he’s leaving. The Knicks didn’t have very many key contributors this season, and yet three of them may be about to bail because the Knicks just can’t pay them.
This is all merely concerned with retaining the current team, though. This is before even talking about adding anything new to it, and any improvements. Taking away the MLE makes this harder, yet it is already difficult to do. The Knicks’ bizarre, unique cap situation calls for three enormous salaries, and almost nothing else above the minimum. When it comes to matching salaries for trade purposes, therefore, the Knicks are more than handicapped — they are submarined. They have as much as Toney Douglas can get them, which is not a lot at all. They don’t even have their first round pick any more. Nothing left in the cupboard. Not even Frederic Weis.
Does the financial clout of James Dolan and MSG get them anywhere? Up to a point, it does. Whatever keepers they can get, they know they’ll get theirs. And the clout itself can be a trade asset. Lack of salary matching possibilities notwithstanding, if a deal can be worked out, the Knicks’ deep and hitherto largely untapped resources can see them take back as much dead salary as they need to to make it work. Furthermore, the salary matching rules within the new CBA, significantly looser than before, lessen the amount that New York or any team needs to send out in order to make the base outgoing salary for a deal. And cash itself also has value; teams can send or receive a maximum of only $3 million per season in the new CBA, rather than per trade, They’ve already spent the 2011/12 money in the Chandler deal, but come July, they’ll be good to go again.
Outside of that, however, New York has scant little to work with. Without an MLE, they have almost naught. To get Amar’e, the Knicks trimmed all the fat. To get Carmelo, they gave up all their quality. And to get Tyson Chandler, they bled all their stones dry. Even down to the otherwise forgettable excess, like Bill Walker (on whom they had full Bird rights, and thus could have signed to a bigger contract for salary filler purposes) and Renaldo Balkman (possible expiring salary filler), the Knicks let it all go. Apparently Mike Bibby and Jared Jeffries were worth it.
The Knicks know they’re short of assets, and they know they need them, which is why Dan Gadzuric was signed through next season for $1.3 million unguaranteed despite only playing 13 minutes for the team. But that’s simply a trivial detail and a negligible asset. It barely impacts the problem. There is so much left to do, and yet it’s so difficult to do it.
New York needs at least two guards. If Lin leaves, they need three. They need big man depth, shooters (with or without Novak), and Landry Fields needs re-signing. The center position is sorted, but the rest isn’t. And that may even be true of the forward spots, where the supposed superstars lie.
Beyond any reinforcements, they need to completely reappraise what they have. Amare’s career-worst year coincided with one of Melo’s worst years, in a way that probably wasn’t a coincidence. The coach still has a mere “interim” tag, and the GM only just lost his. Indeed, the only real guarantee at this point is the return of the incumbent stars. For now, at least. And they don’t fit with each other.
There are no easy answers as to what the Knicks can do this offseason. This post certainly doesn’t provide any. Yet the Knicks’s current situation, an awkward one, is evidence of the importance of cap management, It doesn’t matter how much luxury tax your owners are prepared to pay if you haven’t the tools and exceptions with which to spend it.
Then again, it might all work out just fine. Would you rather have Steve Nash or Steve Novak? Well, then.