Looking ahead, the Knicks’ summer business really starts on June 13. That’s when they’ll know for sure if Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak will be eligible for Early Bird Rights, and that will give them a better sense of how much they can spend in the offseason.
If the arbitrator favors the players’ union, the Knicks will be able to re-sign Lin, a restricted free agent, and they’ll have an extra $5 million mid-level exception to use on a legit free agent. But because it’s highly likely the league will win the case, the Knicks will only be able to re-sign Lin to the mid-level exception of up to $5 million. And Novak, an unrestricted free agent, would likely re-sign for the bi-annual exception of $1.98 million. Either way, they’re both near-locks to return next season.
If the Knicks don’t win the hearing with the league, here’s the problem: Currently, the Knicks are about $6 million above the salary cap, which means they’re only about $9 million under the “apron.” If they re-sign Lin for anywhere between $3 million and $5 million, they’ll only be about $7.5 million under the apron, which would then create a hard cap for the Knicks.
Then, if Landry Fields, a restricted free agent, re-signs for about $5 million (the maximum for a player with Early Bird Rights), the Knicks will only have about $3 million under the apron to spend on about three players. Think about that. About $3 million, three players. Veteran's minimum deals would suck that right up.
However, if Lin signs for about $3 million or less of the mid-level exception, that would enable the Knicks to avoid any hard cap and they could wheel and deal in the offseason. Basically, they would have more flexibility. They’d obviously prefer if Fields signed for less as well.
The second priority for the Knicks could happen on or before June 26. That’s the date that J.R. Smith has to tell the Knicks if he’s going to accept the team’s player option of $2.443 million or not. Depending on what he does, that will affect the Knicks’ apron and could therefore tighten their spending even more. If Smith opts out and the Knicks don’t re-sign him, they’ll be about $11.5 million under the apron (before Lin re-signs). But it appears likely that Smith will return to New York.
The third important date on the Knicks’ calendar is June 28, the day of the NBA draft. They have the 48th pick and could land a steal like they did in 2010 (Fields) and ’11 (Josh Harrellson) because the draft is one of the deepest ever from 20 to 50.
Some top second-round candidates include: point guards Scott Machado (Iona) and Orlando Johnson (UC Santa Barbara), shooting guards Darius Johnson-Odom (Marquette) and Kim English (Missouri), small forwards Jae Crowder (Marquette) and Kostas Papanikolaou (Greece) and big men Yancy Gates (Cincinnati) and Kevin Jones (West Virginia).
The Knicks don’t have much trade bait, but they could engage teams on draft night with three of their young talents, Harrellson, Toney Douglas and Jerome Jordan, to try to secure a late first-round pick. Three players that would fit in nicely with the Knicks and make an immediate impact include: Jeffrey Taylor (Vanderbilt), Doron Lamb (Kentucky) and Moe Harkless (St. John’s), who’s repped by Happy Walters, the same agent for Amare Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert.
The fourth and final key transaction date on the Knicks’ calendar is July 1. That’s, of course, when free agency starts, and they would be able to re-sign Lin, Novak and Fields at that time. Unrestricted free agent Jared Jeffries is a strong possibility as well.
July 1 is also when the Knicks will be able to start making trades, and the likeliest name to be shopped around is Fields. Many fans keep wondering about Stoudemire’s future, but Glen Grunwald doesn’t appear to want to break up the team’s Big Three. During a media conference call about two weeks ago, he and Woodson seemed adamant about building on how they finished the regular season, going 18-6, with the same core.
Overall, once training camp starts, expect mostly the same Knicks roster from this past season with about three new faces: a rookie and two free agents signed to veteran’s minimum contracts. One of the free agents will likely be a veteran point guard -- perhaps Gary Neal, Kirk Hinrich, Jonny Flynn or even Raymond Felton (who could even start over Lin).
The second could be a veteran big man. The most popular name right now is Lamar Odom, a New York native, who is reportedly interested in coming home. One other veteran who should be considered is former Knick Marcus Camby. He would complement Tyson Chandler very well off the bench, as their games are very alike.
While a veteran’s minimum deal sounds cheap, the value of at least two of them could be extremely high for the Knicks during the season.
You can follow Jared Zwerling on Twitter.