Knicks president Phil Jackson completed his starting five two days into the NBA free-agent frenzy when he inked shooting guard Courtney Lee on Saturday evening.
Three-fifths of the new starting lineup has come via free agency. And with that deftly accomplished, Jackson must now work on filling eight remaining slots so that the Knicks can field a complete roster that’s formidable enough to compete in the revamped Eastern Conference.
What Jackson has done so far is connect on solid doubles, instead of swinging — and missing — for the fences. For all the enticing talk there was about a Kevin Durant (who never even scheduled a meeting), a Dwyane Wade (who was simply using the Knicks to drive up his asking price) or an Eric Gordon (who accepted a lucrative deal to join Mike D’Antoni in Houston), Jackson was able to block out such noise and stay the course.
Consistently hitting doubles with the likes of center Joakim Noah, point guard Derrick Rose and Lee showed that Jackson’s plan is starting to come to fruition. All the aforementioned are upgrades over what the Knicks fielded last season.
By landing their most recent asset in the 30-year-old Lee, the Knicks got a less splashy name than Wade or Gordon for a discount. Wade is looking for upwards of $20 million per season, and Gordon inked with the Rockets for four years and $53 million. Lee, who will be on his seventh team during his respected career, was enticed by a four-year $48 million deal. Wade is obviously better, but the Knicks would’ve had to move heaven and earth to free up the required cap space. And Gordon may also be considered a better player, but Lee has proven to be more durable. The sharp-shooting Gordon hasn’t played more than 65 games since his rookie year, while Lee has missed just 40 games total during his entire career.
Sometimes just being accountable and available for your team is the real value. And Lee has provided just that, while the same can’t be said for Gordon.
Next on the docket for Jackson is filling out the roster. And speaking of being accountable and available, backup point guard will be the most important of the openings, considering Rose’s penchant for injury.
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Depending on whether the Knicks can renounce some of their cap holds on their own free agents, New York could have around $3 million of cap space remaining. When they hit the cap (the new adjusted number is $94.143 million), they’ll also have $2.8 million room in exception.
Jackson will have a decent pool of choices, which will include veterans like Randy Foye, Brandon Jennings, Greivis Vasquez, Jarrett Jack, Seth Curry, Aaron Brooks and Ramon Sessions, to name a few.
But reserve point guard is just the beginning, as the Knicks will have to decide on whether to re-sign restricted free-agent backups like forwards Lance Thomas and Derrick Williams, center Kevin Seraphin and combo-guard Langston Galloway.
New York will have to make cost-effective decisions soon, which is why they’ve initially put cap holds on those holdovers. They’ll be able to sign some once they hit the new cap ceiling, as a team is allowed to go over its salary cap to sign their own restricted free agents. But for someone like Williams, who may attract multiple suitors, the team may be best to renounce his rights, because they may not be able to afford his new pact anyway as they don’t have his Bird rights.
Jackson said he’s aware of their cap and roster situation, but feels he still has the flexibility to round out his squad and field a competitive team.
“We have people we are considering,” he said from Orlando during Summer League action, while also acknowledging they’re on a limited budget. “We are appealing to people’s better interest that we’re a team on the move. I think that helps. … We’re always trying to squeeze something extra out of it.”
- All contracts can be officially signed once the NBA moratorium is lifted, Thursday.
- The tax threshold will be $113.287 million, while the minimum team salary, which is set at 90 percent of the cap, is $84.729 million. The current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) allows three different mid-level exceptions (MLE), depending on a team’s salary level. The nontaxpayer MLE will be $5.628 million. The taxpayer MLE will be $3.47 million. And the MLE for a team under the salary cap will be $2.898 million.
- Thomas reportedly has interest from the Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Knicks have his Bird rights, and the max they can give him is a starting salary of roughly $6 million per.
- Jackson reasoned that in order to obtain more cap space, the Knicks could move a player or two. If there’s one veteran to keep an eye on, it’s big man Kyle O’Quinn, who will make $4 million next year.
- New head coach Jeff Hornacek said whoever the team adds to fill out the bench, there won’t be any added pressure, thanks to his own Big Three of Rose, Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis: “Hopefully the way our roster is shaping up, with those three guys, that we always have two of those guys on the court,” Hornacek said during a break in Summer League action. “It will take the pressure off of bench guys to make an open shot. You’re not going to be a real focus necessarily. So that always makes it easier for these guys to feel comfortable out there. If you’re trying to sub five guys in and have five bench guys as a group, it’ll probably be more difficult.”