Here are a few free agent guards who can thrive on the New York Knicks in Jeff Hornacek’s up-tempo system.
NEW YORK — It’s April 3, 2016. The Knicks are trailing Indiana in the third quarter and Sasha Vujacic has the ball in transition.
Vujacic stops. Indiana’s transition defense is solid. Its half-court D is concrete. He attempts to set up the Triangle, pointing and directing his haphazard teammates into position.
Indiana gets the stop. Eventually, it gets the win.
The New York Knicks will hire Jeff Hornacek as its next head coach, an imminent move first reported by Howard Beck of Bleacher Report and later confirmed by ESPN.com. It’s reported Hornacek won’t be glued to the Triangle Offense.
In fact, it is likely he will implement the up-tempo, early shot offense he ran for two-plus seasons as coach of the Phoenix Suns. Phoenix was a top-eight team in pace each season under Hornacek, averaging at least 98 possessions per game in his two-plus-year tenure.
New York ranked 24th last season and tied for 27th in 2014-15.
Hornacek put together a 101-112 record in Phoenix. He was fired midway through the 2015-16 campaign, leading a battered Suns roster to 14-35. If he overhauls New York’s offense, one thing will be certain: the Knicks will push the tempo, and it will need capable guards to do so.
New York is expected to have $18.9 million to sign free agents this summer. That number could jump to more than $30 million if both Arron Afflalo ($8 million) and Derrick Williams ($4.6 million) opt out of their contracts and become free agents.
A max contract at the projected $90 million salary cap is $23 million.
Rajon Rondo is a wizard with the basketball and is a magnificent shot creator in transition for both himself and his teammates. The 30-year-old floor general averaged 11.9 points, a league-best 11.7 assists, six rebounds and two steals per game in a resurgent season with the Sacramento Kings.
New York, as well as its second-year point guard Jerian Grant, would benefit from Rondo’s championship pedigree and veteran leadership. He earned $9.5 million with the Kings last season and, with the salary cap rising to more than $90 million, played himself into a pay raise.
Jeremy Lin is also expected to opt out of his current contract with the Charlotte Hornets to test free agency. He averaged 11.7 points per game as Kemba Walker‘s backup and is expected to command a salary Charlotte may not be able to match.
An October 2015 ESPN report revealed though Lin was open to returning, New York was not interested in bringing back its former sensation. That may change with Hornacek soon to be head coach.
The Knicks currently have Jose Calderon and second-year guard Jerian Grant on contract for next season. Tony Wroten’s contract guarantees on Oct. 1, and Langston Galloway enters restricted free agency in June.
New York is also in desperate need of a shooting guard. Arron Afflalo holds the player option on his contract. He can opt out and test free agency in June or stay for the second and final year of his deal worth $8 million.
The 32-year-old Vujacic also becomes a free agent this summer.
The best available shooting guards in this year’s free agent pool are DeMar DeRozan (player option), Dwyane Wade and Bradley Beal (restricted). Each would thrive given New York’s current roster, but the league-wide belief is both DeRozan and Wade will be retained by their respective teams.
Beal, on the other hand, told the Washington Post “I feel like I’m a max player and that’s what I’m looking for. If Washington can’t meet that requirement then I may be thinking elsewhere.”
A max contract this summer is projected to be in the $23 million ballpark. Beal averaged a career-best 17.4 points per game on a .387 clip from downtown last season, but has missed 81 total games in his first four seasons in the NBA.
The Knicks can only offer Beal a max deal if either Afflalo or Williams opt out.
Bazemore told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he “would love to return” to the Hawks, citing his personal development with the Hawks, the weather and the proximity to North Carolina, his home state. The 26-year-old wing averaged a career-best 11.6 points per game with the Hawks last season.
Bazemore is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) and can sign with any team regardless of Atlanta’s offer. Eric Gordon is also a UFA, but his scary injury history may cost him this summer.
Gordon has not played more than 64 games in a season since his 2008-09 rookie year. He missed more than half of the 2015-16 campaign with a recurring finger injury that needed surgery and missed 86 games between 2011 and 2012 with a right knee injury.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported the Pelicans attempted to trade Gordon at the 2016 trade deadline, but could not get a deal done.
Gordon earned $15.5 million last season and is in line to make near-max money in his next contract. New York could offer him an incentive riddled contract based on performance and number of games played.
When healthy, Gordon is a capable perimeter scorer with an impressive shooting touch. A contract where New York holds the team option gives the Knicks the ability to cut ties if Gordon’s injuries persist.
Green averaged career-best numbers (15.8 ppg in 2013-14) in his two seasons in Phoenix and was an integral part of the Suns roster that posted a 48-34 record. The 30-year-old swingman averaged only 8.9 points in 22 minutes with Miami this season and saw his role reduced after the team’s mid-season Joe Johnson acquisition.
Knicks fans would likely welcome Green’s high-flying acts. They would also welcome an additional scoring punch off the bench, something Thornton has provided much of his career.
Thornton never found his footing in Hornacek’s rotation, averaging only nine minutes in nine games played in Phoenix, but he has been a capable and high-octane scorer for multiple teams throughout his NBA career. New York could add the 28-year-old journeyman to fill its void at the back-up two.