2011/12 Payroll: $74.1 million
2011/12 (Projected) NBA Salary Cap: $58 million
Roughly: $16.1 million over cap
Highlights: Has there ever been a more difficult team to evaluate than this incarnation of the New York Knicks? Their point guard spot has been the subject of nearly as much drama as the current NFL officiating situation, their super athletic 22-year old shooting guard is dealing with a torn ACL, their small forward is one of the best scorers in the game but also one of the most routinely criticized, their power forward is a max player who has been unjustly marginalized and their center is well worth $14 million a season despite attempting just five shots per game. Their top reserves, both nearly a decade past their prime, were born in the early ‘70s and are signed through the 2015 season.
Though they have the potential to clobber any team on any given night, there isn’t much to applaud about this team’s assemblage. At $25 million over the next three years (with $15 million coming in year three), it’s becoming clear that it wasn’t Lin’s production, potential and generational marketing ability that prevented the Knicks from matching the Rockets offer, but fear that he simply wouldn’t mesh well with the Knicks veteran superstars. Raymond Felton might be the scurge of Knicks’ faithful, but his half-season performance as a Knick in the 2010-11 campaign suggests that he could be just what Stoudemire needs to resuscitate his career and he might be a better fit as a veteran distributor with the quickness and bulldog strength to defend better than Lin. Granted he shows up looking less like someone that went on a 2 month cruise.
A move that was never derided but hardly crashed the NBA Store website, the Knicks’ acquisition of Tyson Chandler last summer looks to be their best signing in almost a decade. Chandler changed the defensive culture in New York just as he did in Dallas (if only in terms of literal statistical improvement), cementing his status as the best defensive center in the league, superior even to Dwight Howard. The fact that Brook Lopez and Roy Hibbert will be making max money is one of the Knicks’ few financial comforts.
He doesn’t do much but shoot, but while he’s hitting 47% of his three-pointers, Steve Novak won’t be a burden at $15 million over the next four years. The same can be said of J.R. Smith, a more dynamic, if volatile scorer whose shooting prowess will come in awful handy for an offense dominated by two paint-oriented scoring machines. Smith could easily be making $7 million a year had he not left the country during the lockout, but the Knicks will milk his services for just $2.8 million this season.
Lowlights: Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire are phenomenal, yet flawed basketball players who negatively impact a basketball game when they’re on the court together. They could eventually learn to coexist in a productive manner but there’s no denying that he Knicks have bet the farm on a mismatched duo, giving each player 20 million plus over the next 3 years.
A 6-8/240 small forward with the size and strength of a big man and the handle of a guard who boasts arguably the best offensive arsenal in the league defined by dominance both in the mid-rage and the post. Yet, Carmelo Anthony has been a disappointment in the NBA. He’s averaged 24.7 points per game through nine seasons and made the playoffs nine times. But guess what? There is little proof that a team can ever win with him as their centerpiece. Melo’s got generational scoring ability yet after guiding the Nuggets to a Conference Finals appearance in 2009, he’s regressed as a competitor and teammate and has demonstrated why we basketball fans must consider maturity when we evaluate a player.
Though easy to knock, Stoudemire has done some admirable things in his career, from sticking with Phoenix until they exhausted their potential to signing with the Knicks at the perfect time while playing through injuries as consistently as any big man over the last ten years. Yet, Stoudemire has many faults, including his lack of defensive intensity and injury problems.
It will be hard to justify paying Jason Kidd $5 million when he’s 42 years old (he finished 47th among pont guard in PER at age 39), but this team is entirely focused on winning right now and they have the requisite firepower to shield Kidd’s increasingly glaring deficiencies…for now. His locker room presence could prove to be invaluable for the duration of his contract, though, especially to a fired-up Melo. The fact that he chose New York over Dallas is a clear positive. Marcus Camby is a carbon copy of Kidd in terms of age and contract, but he projects to be a much more valuable contributor. Camby is still arguably the best rebounder in the league (his average of 14.2 rebounds per 36 minutes last season tied a career high), while his shot blocking and scoring numbers are just slightly below his career averages.
Impressive as Kidd and Camby are as they near 40, all players eventually break down, and neither is immune to aging. Their presence holds weight, but I would be surprised if either produced a third of their contracts worth in two years.
The Future: As the Magic and Hawks have demonstrated, you can go all in with a worse hand. Still, they don’t inspire much confidence as a championship contender and have $80 million committed for the 2014-15 season. The 2001-2009 Knicks aside, I can’t recall many salary cap figures so remarkable. Payrolls are designed to decrease each year; the 2014-15 Knicks could have had the highest payroll of any team in 2012. There is no reason to think that the Knicks, prestigious as they may appear on paper, are even with the likes of Indiana, Brooklyn or Philadelphia, let alone Miami and Chicago.
With such a premium set on playing in major media markets, there is no excuse for New York not to have a bona fide contender year in and year out. With their current ownership group, the Knicks continue to be one of laughing stocks of the league and appear to have set themselves up for multiple years of first round playoff exits by once again overspending on an aging group of mismatched, secondary stars.