The New York Knicks really need back court help, especially at the shooting guard. Here are their options for the 2016 NBA Free Agency period.
By Kristian Winfield
The New York Knicks have yet to hire a head coach for the 2016-17 NBA season, but two things remain certain: the team will run some variation of the Triangle Offense and it desperately needs to improve its aged back court via the 2016 NBA free agency, specifically its shooting guard position.
New York signed Arron Afflalo last summer to a two-year deal worth $16 million, but an underwhelming season with the Knicks resulting in the veteran guard’s benching signals the 30-year-old may opt to test free agency this summer. Afflalo holds the player option of the second year of his contract. He can become an unrestricted free agent in June and sign with any team.
Starting Knicks guard Sasha Vujacic had a strong latter stretch of the season, including double-digit scoring in four of New York’s final six games. Vujacic, who signed a one-year deal worth $1.4 million last year, becomes an unrestricted free agent in June. It is unclear if New York will re-sign him in the off-season.
New York attempted to address its guard play by signing former Sixers combo guard Tony Wroten, Jr., but his complex contract will only guarantee for next season on Oct. 10 when Knicks president Phil Jackson has had a chance to look at his game after Wroten fully recovers from ACL surgery. The 6-foot-6 guard spends much of his playing time at the point guard, but has the size to compete at the two.
He will need to improve his career .231 three-point shooting to earn a roster spot after training camp.
The Knickerbockers are slated to have $18.9 million in available cap space this summer, a number that could jump to $30 million if both Afflalo ($8 million) and forward Derrick Williams ($4.6 million) exercise their player options and enter free agency.
A realistic scenario is Afflalo opting out and Williams staying on for the second year of his deal, which would give New York nearly $27 million to sign free agents this summer. A max contract is projected to be in the $26 million ball park.
So what should New York do?
The guard position is arguably the most important in the ever-evolving NBA, and the Knicks, whose back court (both stating and reserve) accounts for only 38.6 points per game, rank near the bottom of the league.
New York needs to improve, and if Afflalo opts out, the team will not have a true shooting guard on its roster.
Batum averaged a career-best 14.9 points per game with Charlotte this season. The widespread belief is he will re-sign with the Hornets.
Was told his camp knows Knicks and Raptors would offer max deal. Knows whats out there wants to stay in Charlotte. https://t.co/57NoG8ZHih
— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) May 14, 2016
Jackson has also been linked to Boston Celtics swingman Evan Turner, who is set to become a free agent this summer. Comcast SportsNet New England’s Chris Mannix said on NBC Sports Radio the Zen Master is heavily interested in pursuing Turner’s talents.
“I think the market for Evan Turner this offseason is going to be robust,” Mannix said on CSNNE.com. “The team that could be after him the hardest could be the New York Knicks. I’ve been told Phil Jackson is a big fan of Evan Turner. The Knicks will have money to spend. They need a combo guard who can handle the ball. I expect New York to make a run at Evan Turner.”
Turner averaged 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists for the Celtics this season. His ball-handling and play-making abilities on the wing are what Jackson envisions in the Triangle.
The 26-year-old guard’s perimeter shooting woes, however, taint his offensive attack. Turner shot only .241 from downtown last season and is a career .305 three-point shooter.
New York could also make a run at Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan, who is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent this summer. Toronto holds DeRozan’s Bird Rights and can re-sign the All-Star guard for more years and money than any other team.
The belief is DeRozan will either re-sign with the Raptors or his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, but New York and the Triangle seem to be a match for the slashing wing.
Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore also makes for an interesting Knicks prospect. The athletic three-and-D wing averaged 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists with the Hawks last season, and his game would drastically improve New York’s back court on both ends of the floor.
Bazemore, who turned 26 in July, has developed nearly every season he’s been in the NBA. Atlanta, who will likely lose both its bigs Al Horford and Paul Milsap to free agency, holds his Bird Rights and can offer him a better deal than any team.
It will be difficult for any team to pry Bazemore away from the Hawks.
With Frank Vogel entering New York’s head coaching search, the Knicks should give a good look at Lance Stephenson, who enjoyed his most electrifying playing days under Vogel in Indiana.
Stephenson, who was dealt twice last season, added firepower to a depleted Memphis Grizzlies team. A play-making, inside-outside guard, “Born Ready” could help New York on both ends, especially if the team adds Vogel as its head coach.
He averaged 14.2 points and 2.8 assists in 26 regular season games in Memphis this season.
Washington’s Bradley Beal has a Greg Oden-like injury history, having missed 81 games in his first four seasons in the NBA. That makes him a high-risk, high-reward gamble as a restricted free agent this summer.
The Wizards reserve the right to match any contract Beal is offered this summer. It will likely take a max or near-max offer to scare the Wizards away from matching, but New York could regret that contract if Beal continues to miss games due to injury.
Nevertheless, Washington’s 6-foot-5 guard is a marksman from downtown and has proven to be a capable scorer both with and without the ball. Beal averaged a career-high 17.4 points per game for the Wizards last season, shooting .449 from the field (another career-high) and .387 from downtown.
His 55 games played last season, however, were the least of his four-year career.
New York could land the 22-year-old guard via a risky max deal, giving the Knicks a potent two-three-four trio for years to come. If his injuries continue, it could be looked at as a blunder.
The Knicks could also play it safe and make a run at Charlotte guard Courtney Lee, who, like many others, has played himself into a pay raise.
Lee averaged 9.6 points with the Hornets last season, shooting .454 from the field and .378 from three. He also demonstrated his ability to score off the dribble throughout the season.
Lee will be 31 years old at the start of the 2016-17 season.
If Afflalo opts out, the Knicks will likely need to add two shooting guards to the roster this summer. DeRozan and Beal will likely return to their respective teams.
Turner is coming off of a two-year deal worth $6.7 million and is due a substantial pay raise. With the salary cap projected at $90-92 million, Boston’s swingman could command a salary in the $10-12 million range.
New York would also need to add a sharpshooter to its back court along with a Turner signing. Jackson could sign Lee, who is finishing a four-year, $21.4 million contract.
New York would then have the ability to start the 30-year-old guard and bring Turner off the bench as a ball-handler/play-maker, a la Lamar Odom. If Jackson opts to hire Frank Vogel as his head coach, Lance Stephenson could fill a similar role.
The Knicks could then re-sign Vujacic, who is known to be close friends with Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis.