In Part I we talked about what each of the teams competing for free agents had to offer. In Part II, we went over what factors each of the Big Three (LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh) would contemplate. Now we continue onto the other big-name free agents and their likely mindsets.
Joe Johnson – Atlanta Hawks
As we discussed after the recent Knicks/Hawks game, JJ has a nice relationship with Coach Mike D’Antoni from their time together in Phoenix, plus the Knicks have somehow managed to look competitive this year in the three games he played against us. When JJ was on those D’Antoni Suns teams, although he was huge for them, at the time he was considered to be at best their fourth most important player (after Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudamire & Shawn Marion). Joe rightly felt he could be more, a centerpiece, and he wanted to be paid accordingly. Having achieved all that with the Hawks, he now has reached the point most vets get to: the main thing he wants now is the chance to play for a championship. He is even one of the few stars who has literally put his money where his mouth is and has stated he’d be willing to take a bunch less money to be on such a team.
Now don’t misunderstand: he knows he has a very good thing going with the Hawks and that they are a really, really good team. He’s not gonna just leave them to play on a mid-level Knick team. So ignore this quote in the NY Daily News:
There is a growing sentiment among opposing team executives that at the very least the Knicks will sign Atlanta‘s Joe Johnson, whose agent, Arn Tellem, orchestrated the Tracy McGrady trade to the Knicks and has been friends with Walsh for 20 years. It’s called a “wink-wink deal,” and even though it is against NBA rules, the practice does exist and is nearly impossible to police.
“I think that’s a done deal,” said one Eastern Conference GM.
I mean, yeah, if we get LeBron, it does seem like Joe’ll be almost sure to follow, but he ain’t coming no matter what. However, he was pretty frustrated that the Hawks made no move to improve at the trade deadline. With his point guard, Mike Bibby, getting older and less effective, plus his younger teammates now having finally seemed to peak, it’s unlikely this team can take the next step without more new blood. Unless they beat Cleveland or Orlando in the playoffs, JJ will look long and hard around the league. And it won’t be about money, it’ll be about what looks best.
Amar’e Stoudamire – Phoenix Suns
Like many others of his generation, Stoudemire must be chasing a dollar sign, trying to snag the biggest number possible. This summer, he can opt out of the final year on his contract with the Suns and sell himself to the highest bidder.[...]After Tuesday’s practice, Stoudemire said he’d love to stay in Phoenix if the Suns meet his number. No hard feelings or hometown discounts, just good business moving forward.
While this article focuses on Stat’s “Show Me The Money” approach, I can’t help but wonder if ego will feed into his decision too. And I don’t necessarily mean ego in the negative sense with which it’s usually associated. He’s said the right things (no hard feelings) and done the right things (re-committed himself to the game), but isn’t that what any business-savvy individual should do? But it’s gotta bother a dude to be shopped around for several years and to always be considered secondary to Phoenix’s Great White Centerfold of Steve Nash. If he’s offered the same amount of money from both NY & Phoenix, surely those things will play a factor. And if in fact we don’t get one of the big three, I think it might be rather appealing to Stoudamire to be the clear #1 guy here. Even if say he came here with Joe Johnson, Stat would definitely at least be co-star, rather than living in the shadow of Nash. Having never gotten that kind of respect, that kind of love, it could be huge for him. In fact, when there were rumors that he might get traded to Cleveland, initially Stat was supposedly less than excited (although he did get on board with the idea eventually). This lends further credence to the fact that maybe the kid who got kicked out of something like five high schools is looking more for some love rather than just a ring. And let’s be honest, even if he is after a ring, the Suns are past their time. He can keep them among the top 6-10 best teams, but they ain’t gonna make that next step. So why not start over in NY?
Carlos Boozer – Utah Jazz
If you wanna talk “Show Me The Money,” then we’ve got Carlos Boozer for ya. He convinced the Cavaliers’ former owner, Gordon Gund (a man who literally was near blind) that he had been playing so well that he deserved more money than the rookie contract he was on. Gund agreed and canceled that contract so they could sign Booze to a more reasonable say $5-$6 mill a year. As soon as he was released, Carlos signed with Utah for a bunch more money, and the Cavs didn’t have enough cap space to match it even if they wanted. It was an astounding betrayal considering the Cavs were trying to do an unusually nice move of giving a player a raise when they didn’t have to do so.
You could say, well, he was young, he didn’t know better, this was the first time he’d ever been offered so much cash, etc.. Except that this past summer he once again proved that money was the most important thing to him. After tensions grew between him and the Jazz, he was expected to use his opt-out clause to join a new team this year. However, as the deadline approached for him to exercise that opt-out, it became clear that the one team (Detroit) with enough $ to sign him to a similar huge contract was no longer interested in him at that price. If he left the Jazz, he would have to take a pay cut. Suddenly, Booze felt like the Jazz weren’t such a bad idea after all.
This season he’s played great for the Jazz (as he tends to do in the seasons when he’s healthy) and they’ve even said they’d consider re-signing him. And he’s said, sure, he might be interested in that too. No way. Because Booze didn’t opt out, the Jazz were forced to go over the salary luxury tax because they had to keep up-and-coming Paul Millsap. They’d love to keep Booze, but they won’t go over the salary cap to do it. To lower their tax amounts, the team even traded away their starting shooting guard for nothing (which rightly angered their superstar point guard, Deron Williams). In the end, whatever team pays the most will get the Booze. Maybe if there are similar amounts of money he might choose the team with a better future, but who knows. He’s probably the one free agent who if the Clips offered him the max, he’d take it without hesitation, not caring that the team’s been run more stupidly than an electronics store opening in an Amish village.
Paul Pierce and Ray Allen – Boston Celtics
Pierce has an early termination option, and between the amount of money he’s owed and the fact that he bleeds green, he basically ain’t gonna be a free agent. The only way he would opt out is if say management gets him to agree to less money so that they can afford another difference maker. Either way, he’s staying with the Celts.
As far as Ray Ray, he’s exactly the type of player that Isiah Thomas would sign if he was still in charge. So yes, we should avoid him like the plague. Jesus Shuttleworth is already on the downside of his career and his fall should only become steeper and faster. If he doesn’t stick with the Celts, he could be useful for a top team looking for one more piece (like the Jazz or Spurs), but he’s got no place on what the Knicks should be: an up-and-coming new team.
Stationary Stars: Dirk Nowitzki – Dallas Mavericks; Kenyon Martin – Denver Nuggets; Yao Ming – Houston Rockets; Michael Redd – Milwaukee Bucks; Peja Stojakovic – New Orleans Hornets; Kobe Bryant – LA Lakers:
All these guys have early termination options or player options. Journalists have used this to pump up the summer free agency frenzy of 2010, but let’s be honest, none of these guys are gonna exercise these options (either ‘cuz there’s too much $ on the table to give up, like with Redd, KMart & Peja, or ‘cuz they’re happy with where they are, like Dirk, Yao & Kobe).
Rudy Gay – Memphis Grizzlies
He’s the first guy on this list who’s a restricted free agent. Which means if he accepts a deal with us (or any team), the Grizz will have 7 (or is it 10) days to match that deal. If they’re willing to pay him the same amount that we offered him, then he has to stay with them. The danger with this (besides the fact that you could lose a guy even after he agrees to a contract) is that during the 7 (or 10?) day waiting period, you can’t try to use that money for anyone else. So during those days all the other teams get to go after the remaining free agents while you gotta just sit their with yer fingers crossed, hoping the Grizz won’t match.
Gay has been in the league the fewest years out of all these guys, so what he brings to the table is less clear. This is the first year that his team has been able to play .500 ball. And while he’s been great, the question remains how much of the success is due to him versus his talented co-starters of OJ Mayo, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol? More specifically, how big a contract does he deserve? He hasn’t shown himself to be a superstar who deserves max money, but before our recession, teams were actually giving players like him that much (or close to it). As this will be his first big contract (he’s still on his rookie contract), my guess is that he’ll go for whoever offers the most cash. And someone will offer him too much. And in order to have something to show for all the maneuvering Donnie Walsh has done, it might be us. The other big question is naturally whether Memphis will match whatever he’s offered. They had the opportunity to sign him to a big long-term contract last summer, but they didn’t. Which fits into their recent past of being kinda cheap. They’ve said they wanna keep him, but after this year, his value’s only increased. If he does get paid more than he’s worth, I’m saying the Grizz don’t match.
Manu Ginobili – San Antonio Spurs
My initial instinct was that of course Manu would stay with the Spurs, but there have been some odd news reports that’ve come out during the year, implying that might not be a 100% thing. But these comments, in addition to Ginobili’s responses to ‘em, also seem to imply that he’s still more than likely to not forget the Alamo. My other initial thought was to put him in the Ray Allen going-downhill category ‘cuz he’s been so injured in recent years, comes off the bench, and sports one of the bigger bald spots in the league. Then I saw him go up against the Knicks this past week with Tony Parker out. Manu started and not only still had it, but he seemed to play the game on a different level than everyone else there. He cut through the defense with ease, finding easy lay-ups for himself and wide-open shots for his teammates. The dude is still frickin’ amazing. The Spurs’ moment at the top may be over, but not his.
However, he’s the consummate team player who cares more about winning than his own stats (or needing to be “the man”), so he fits firmly in the camp of those other free agents who’d only come to NY if he thinks there’s a real chance for the team to be darn good. Sadly (for us), it keeps coming back to that. If we get LeBron or Wade to commit to us, we will have our pick of other great players who’ll be dying to play alongside them. However, in the far more likely scenario that we don’t get them, our options dwindle drastically.
Josh Howard – Washington Wizards: a nice solid player who’s undergoing surgery and has had a bit of a checkered past. He’s also had seasons were he averaged 17-19 points. His past behavior could result in him having to accept a smaller contract, say around $5-6 million, but if he can stay healthy (a big if in his career) he could be quite the steal for whoever gets him. The thing is that at SF, he kinda plays the same position that best fits our two big returnees (Gallo & Wilson Chandler). Then again, I hear that LeBron guy also plays SF, so who knows. Besides, under Coach D, Gallo & Chandler will go from playing SG to SF to PF in one possession.
Ray Felton – Charlotte Bobcats: a solid PG who has never seemed to get the respect that he should. With no other top prospects out there in the PG position, plus the fact that D’Antoni’s system seems to require a good PG (see Nash versus Duhon), I think he should be a top priority no matter who else we go for.
Brendan Haywood – Dallas Mavericks: a top flight-legit seven foot shot-blocking center. None of the other bigs we might go for (Bosh, Stat, Booze, or keeping David Lee) are real defensive forces, and all of ‘em would likely benefit from playing the power forward position rather than center. However, while Haywood’s known for defense, Coach D ain’t. So, alas, this might not be the priority for him/the Knicks that it should be.
Luis Scola – Houston Rockets: another restricted agent, making him tough to spring free. But Scola’s court vision, passing, and scoring ability would fit in great under Coach’s system. Plus with Yao returning next year, Scola would move back to his PF position where they’ve already got defensive stud Chuck Hayes and this new impressive rookie Jordan Hill, so Houston might actually let Scola go if his price doesn’t stay low.
Randy Foye – Washington Wizards: the final restricted agent on the list. He’s shown potential (heck he had enough potential during his college career that he was traded for Brandon Roy when the two of them entered the league together). He’s also shown a complete lack of consistency that has frustrated his coaches. Is he a point guard? A shooting guard? Who knows, but he could be an intriguing piece to try out if the Wiz let him walk.
Dressing On The Side:
Mike Miller, also currently playing for the Wiz, does a bit of everything: hits threes, rebounds, makes the assist. Donnie Walsh was rumored to be intrigued by Luke Ridnour of the Milwaukee Bucks. Besides Felton, Ridnour’s the only true pass-first PG on the list. Gossip has also stipulated that former Knick fave Marcus Camby could consider returning to the Big Apple. He’s not the young stud he once was, but he’d be a great veteran presence who’d be the first deterrent we’ve had around the basket since… well, maybe him. On the opposite end of the career/age spectrum is Tyrus Thomas of the Bobcats (after the Bulls recently gave up on him). Tyrus has shown tons of potential and is a blocking-machine, but he was frustrating enough that the Bulls gave up on him. Although the famously picky Larry Brown has seemed fine with Ty in Charlotte so far.
Lastly, there are our own two big free agents of David Lee and Tracy McGrady. Both seem interested in remaining Knicks, but Lee is the one we’re more likely to lose. He knows we’re gonna try to pursue the big guns first, but so does the rest of the league. Expect another team to offer him a nice contract early on before we’re ready, forcing our hand (and likely making us have to sacrifice him before we’re assured of getting anything else yet). TMac, on the other hand, will only get offered at best the mid-level exception, and he won’t be at the top of anyone’s list. And the teams offering him money will be from the same ilk as the Ray Allen contenders: teams looking for that final piece. Unless Tracy can show that he can consistently be healthy and productive, he’ll have to wait for teams to lose our on Allen and similar players.
Now we’ve just got to wait until summer comes and the fireworks start.
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