Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Latest on the Knicks' free agency
By Jared Zwerling
Day 3 of free agency is almost in the books, and the Knicks haven't signed a new player yet.
But they are in hot pursuit of several.
The early focus in free agency for the Knicks has been J.R. Smith and Elton Brand. Regarding Smith, a league source said the Knicks were working "hard" to finalize a deal but nothing would be official until Friday. Smith is likely weighing other offers from the Bucks and Pistons, two teams with significant cap space.
J.R. Smith appears to be leaning toward staying with the Knicks.
According to a league source, the Knicks met with Smith on the first day of free agency. He has been the team's No. 1 priority this offseason, especially since the $5.58 million New York can offer with early Bird rights will dissolve if it's not used on him.
If Smith re-signs, it could be because of his close ties to the Knicks, the city (he's from New Jersey), and his longtime friends Carmelo Anthony and Mike Woodson, who's even his occasional golfing partner. The 2012-13 Sixth Man of the Year also has increased his marketing potential off the court in New York, having signed an endorsement deal with SK Energy in addition to making more paid appearances around the city.
Regarding Brand, the Knicks made a second phone call Wednesday to the 34-year-old New York native. The Knicks "really want him," according to a league source, to be a go-to post player and defender off the bench, especially as insurance behind Amar'e Stoudemire, who's coming off two injury-riddled seasons.
The Knicks have made a verbal offer to Brand, but the terms of the agreement are undisclosed at this point. He's likely to be offered the veteran's minimum of $1.4 million because the team would prefer to split its mini-midlevel exception of $3.18 million to sign both Chris Copeland and Pablo Prigioni.
Copeland has received a verbal offer from the Lakers, and he's awaiting one from the Pacers, according to a source. A source says Indiana might be working a trade to create cap space for Copeland. A source also says Cleveland is in play for Copeland and might be readying a multiyear deal. But the source said it's "too early" in the process for any indication on which way Copeland is leaning. Cope told ESPNNewYork.com late last week that he would still "really like" to return to New York. He shares, at this point, the same loyalty with Smith in terms of returning. As for Prigioni, he is leaning toward coming back to New York, but he hasn't made an official commitment yet.
In addition to Smith, Brand, Copeland and Prigioni, the Knicks are interested in Matt Barnes and Nate Robinson (the two share the same agent).
"Both players have notified the Knicks of their interest," a league source said. "They are waiting to see where the Knicks are."
The Knicks have targeted Barnes to fill their hole at small forward. In fact, Barnes could start for the Knicks at the 3, alongside Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert in the backcourt and Anthony and Tyson Chandler in the frontcourt.
The biggest question is: Could the Knicks sign Brand and Barnes for the minimum, and then split their mini-midlevel exception to lock up Copeland and Prigioni?
"Those players are exactly what they need," a league source said. "But I don't think they will get all those pieces."
While Kenyon Martin remains on the Knicks' radar, there has been no offer made to the veteran power forward. The Knicks also have expressed interest in big man Brandan Wright, but chances are he's out of the Knicks' price range. That also goes for big man DeJuan Blair.
A league source said, "The Knicks just have no money."
The Knicks also could save a minimum contract for one of their summer league players, depending on what position they don't add in the next week or so. That short list includes Jerome Jordan, C.J. Leslie, A.J. Matthews, Tony Mitchell, Toure Murry and Chris Smith.