With a critical decision looming tomorrow regarding the Bird rights of Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks may be forced to look exclusively at bargain free agent options to try and fill out important roles on their 2012-13 roster. In this regard, there are some intriguing names that could become figures in the Knicks rotation and play some key roles. For the sake of this article, we will look at six specifically, starting with which players will likely cost the Knicks the most money and space in their cap budget:
SF Carlos Delfino (2011-12 salary: $3.5 million)
Delfino is an interesting player on the free agent market. The Milwaukee Bucks used him last year in a sixth man role, where he did more than hold his own. Delfino averaged 9.0 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists a night in roughly 29 minutes of action. His first two years in Milwaukee, he actually averaged better than 11.0 points a night while shifting between the starting rotation and the bench.
Delfino would be an interesting option for the Knicks to consider, especially if J.R. Smith doesn’t re-up with his player option. He can provide an offensive spark, while not commanding a high volume of touches, and more than hold his own on defense (averaged 1.5 steals last season for Milwaukee). The one deterring factor would be price. Delfino is likely to at least equal his 2012 value on the free agent market this season.
PG Jonny Flynn (2011-12 salary: $3.4 million)
The former Syracuse Orange star has had some huge moments already in Madison Square Garden, just none as a professional. Once the sixth overall draft pick (immediately following the selection of Ricky Rubio), the star has faded on Flynn so badly that he was rather lost on the Portland Trail Blazers bench last season, and has already played for three different organizations under his original rookie contract.
There is virtually no chance of Flynn coming remotely close to matching last year’s salary figure after a year in which he averaged just 4.5 points and 3.3 assists. However, as a buy-low option, I’m completely intrigued by his skills. A return back to New York could be just what the doctor ordered, especially considering the expectations wouls be as low as they have been in a long time. There’s also his performance in the last game of the season when he put up 18 points and 11 assists against a Utah Jazz team that was fighting for a playoff berth. If you can buy into Flynn as a back-up point option that has started in the past, why wouldn’t you roll the dice on him?
C Aaron Gray (2011-12 salary: $2.5 million)
One thing the Knicks did not have coming down the stretch last season was a true back-up big man. They often used Jared Jeffries or Steve Novak at the four and five on their second unit, and the team found themselves undersized at pivotal moments in games.
Aaron Gray would be a nice fit on the Knicks bench that could see some minutes and give Tyson Chandler a breather. Gray will never be a scoring threat underneath, but he can guard the rim reasonably well and grab some much-needed rebounds when Chandler or Stoudemire isn’t on the floor. He averaged 5.7 rebounds a game, while only seeing 16.6 minutes of action each night. His 48-minute average would be a remarkable 16.6 boards a night, with an equally encouraging 4.9 offensive rebounds per 48 minutes. If Gray would settle for equal or less than his salary last year, he’s another name the Knicks should give a lot of consideration.
SG DeShawn Stevenson (2011-12 salaray: $2.5 million)
Deemed as “LeBron’s kryptonite” after his strong defensive performance against King James in the 2011 NBA Finals with the Dallas Mavericks, Stevenson’s play went pretty much unnoticed with a disappointing New Jersey Nets squad. Last year, Stevenson offered nothing offensively, averaging just 2.9 points on 28.5% shooting from the field. However, he can still bring the effort on the defensive end, and should obviously be rejuvenated by playing on a competitive team with the spotlight the Knicks will command next season.
He’s another guy like Flynn that didn’t play to his salaray last season, so he could be another buy-low option to fill the 8th or 9th rotation spot on the bench. If used correctly, Stevenson is still a useful piece, and will be cheaper than other defensive stoppers on the free agent market, like Delonte West.
SF Josh Howard (2011-12 salary: $2.15 million)
Once a budding star with the Dallas Mavericks, Howard has become a good option for teams to look at on their bench over the last few seasons. Playing around 23 minutes a night in Utah last season, Howard brought in 8.7 points, 3.7 assists and 1.2 assists. There isn’t anything Howard does to seperate himself from the field anymore, but considering his price value and the quality of play he can bring to the court each night, he’s worth a look. He shouldn’t be one of the first options the Knicks consider in the off-season, but if their other plans fall through, he’s better than most fall back options.
PG John Lucas III (2011-12 salaray: $900k)
Of all the players listed before him, Lucas is the only on this list that has absolutely earned himself a raise heading into next season. How much that raise will be will determine if the Knicks consider him off their bench. With Derrick Rose missing so much time to injury last season, the Bulls had to play C.J. Watson and Lucas more than they were probably prepared for, but both players proved their real value in the unexpected playing time.
Lucas flashed a strong ability to score, but never wowed anybody with his distribution skills. Should Lucas fall into the Knicks price range, he’s a good piece a a back-up point guard/potential swingman. However, how other teams evaluate Lucas and what they offer him may determine the Knicks course of action.