On Draft Night 2011, there were very few New York Knicks fans overjoyed by the first round selection of Georgia Tech combo-guard Iman Shumpert. A lot of people, myself included, believed there was better talent still on the board in that situation.
Funny things tend to happen over time, and Iman Shumpert not only became a fan favorite for his style of play and bravado, but he began to grow into one of the league’s best shutdown defenders along the wing. Now, however, the team will likely be without Shumpert until the All-Star weekend, if not longer, after he blew out his ACL during Game 1 in Miami.
Needless to say, with the increased emphasis the Knicks have put on defensive pressure, his absence is going to be felt. It leaves the team with a massive crater not only on their bench, but possibily in their starting line-up, and drastically undermanned against high-powered teams like the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics.
So, how do the Knicks go about replacing Iman Shumpert?
First, we as Knicks fans need to consider the type of financial opportunities that are present for the Knicks on the open market. Right now, the Knicks have their full Mid-Level Exception in play, with the status of that being up in the air depending on the Bird Rights rulings in the cases of Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak. Second, one needs to consider who will already be on the Knicks roster moving forward. No doubt Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler will be here. Same can be said about Amar’e Stoudemire. Landry Fields is a restricted free agent who will likely be brought back. Lin and Novak are both likely to return (at least that’s what the team is saying publicly). Josh Harrelson and Jerome Jordan are both under contract and also likely to remain Knicks. Toney Douglas is under contract, but his stay is a little more tenuous. That’s nine players ranging from probable to most likely being Knicks, leaving space for three more active players and six roster spots total.
The Knicks would probably like to bring back Jared Jeffries, being able to provide strong defense from the bench, and he, like anyone else, will cost money. J.R. Smith holds a player option going into next season, but its anyone’s guess as to what he’s really thinking, and if he declines the option, he could probably command more money on the open market. All this being said, let’s forecast the Knicks having a full Mid-Level in play to sign either a starting two-guard or back-up (depending on your evaluation of Landry Fields, that’s what the Knicks will be looking for).
Unlike the point guard market, the names that flood the field for potential fillers at the two-guard are vast. If the Knicks wanted to bring in a veteran defensive force, both Delonte West and DeShawn Stevenson will be available this season. Randy Foye is another name to watch as well, having finished strong with the Clippers towards the end of last season. Atlanta Hawks unrestriced free agent Willie Green could provide the most offense in short spurts out of the bunch, but he is more or less a J.R. Smith-lite. If New York wanted to be really adventurous and take a risk, restricted free agent Courtney Lee could be a very intriguing option, especially at the Mid-Level price range. Names like Marco Belinelli, Carlos Delfino, Nick Young and Leandro Barbosa will be out there, too, but may fall out of the Knicks price range or future plans.
Personally, I’m a believer in Courtney Lee, but he might be just out of the Knicks reach in terms of dollars and cents. He’s a guy that can be deadly from long range and play an aggressive defense, averaging over a steal per game in his career. Next for me on the list would probably be either Barbosa or DeShawn Stevenson, depending on what need I’m trying to fill. This is just my opinion, but I think someone could talk Leandro Barbosa into a one or two-year contract at the Mid-Level price to play for a contender like the Knicks in a starting role. He could thrive playing third fiddle to Anthony and Stoudemire, and has the experience of playing with Amar’e before. As for Stevenson, he’d be my choice if the team wanted to move forward with Fields starting and waiting on Shumpert to get healthy. He won a ring with the Mavericks last year and has a history of being a thorn in LeBron’s side. He had a miserable year in New Jersey last year, but he won’t command much financially and would be a low-risk, high-reward type play.
Missing Shumpert is a blow to the Knicks next season, but it isn’t crippling. There will be options moving forward in the 2012-13 season, and I’m interested to see the direction the front office chooses to go in.