For this coming season, the Knicks can re-sign Jeremy Lin, Steve Novak and Landry Fields for up to $5.3 million each (the maximum amount allowed with early Bird rights), re-sign J.R. Smith for $2.8 million (a 120 percent increase from his previous year's salary), sign a player to the mid-level exception of $3.09 million or less, and then fill up their extra roster spots using $1.4 million veteran's minimum contracts.
The Knicks can go over that $3.09 million threshold, but it would force them into a hard-cap situation with very limited space to secure outside free agents. With more cap flexibility, they could make trades during the summer and next season that take on additional salary, but they will still have to pay tax if their team salary is above the $74 million tax line. (No transactions exempt a team from potentially paying tax.) Keep in mind that there is no restriction on trades; only with resulting salaries.
The Knicks would prefer to use that $3.09 million on a point guard. The top candidates are Steve Nash and Raymond Felton. Andre Miller will re-sign with the Nuggets and Jason Kidd seems to be wherever Deron Williams is -- in the Hamptons and on the golf course -- but definitely not in Madison Square Garden. C.J. Watson could be a sleeper pick because the Bulls may not pick up his team option, which they have until July 10 to decide to do. (That could change, however, if they don't match an offer sheet for Omer Asik.) Jameer Nelson, who declined his player option with the Magic, will likely be out of the Knicks' price range.
As for that $1.4 million amount, the Knicks' biggest needs are to find a shooting guard (starter or sub) and a big man off the bench. At the two -- for a player who could temporarily replace Iman Shumpert and bring 3-point shooting -- they could give consideration to Grant Hill and DeShawn Stevenson. Another possibility would've been Mickael Pietrus, but he's adamant about returning to the Celtics.
In the frontcourt, while the Knicks can re-sign Jared Jeffries for the veteran's minimum, they'd likely want more experience than Jerome Jordan and Josh Harrellson. Carmelo Anthony's former Nuggets teammate, Kenyon Martin, could be a possibility. Also, Martin's teammate with the Clippers this past season, Reggie Evans, may get a look. The Clippers are not re-signing either of them.
If the Knicks are able to pull off a sign-and-trade for Nash or another top free agent point guard, they could use their mid-level exception to sign a higher-tier shooting guard or forward/center. Those twos could be Randy Foye or Jamal Crawford, and one big could be Marcus Camby. However, he'd have to take the biggest pay cut out of any free agent to sign with the Knicks -- even at $3.09 million. He made more than $11 million last season with the Rockets, and he would be very serviceable to any team. Younger and seasoned bigs, like Brandon Bass, who played for the Celtics last season, will likely be in the $5 to $6 million price range -- more than what the Knicks can afford.
A top agent I spoke with said that many of them are working patiently with their clients during the free-agency process, and not rushing any decisions. Many are waiting to see how Williams (Nets or Mavericks?), Eric Gordon and Roy Hibbert dictate the market, while learning the ins and outs of the new CBA free-agent language.
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