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Schmeelk: Knicks Are Best Suited Going After Younger Free Agents

By John Schmeelk
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The draft is about the future, picking the best available player who can be a cornerstone for the franchise for years to come. Free agency, by its very nature, is more about the present. Teams will be picking between veteran players, from the ages of 25 and 35, with guaranteed and easily discernible NBA skills that are far more likely to translate to new surroundings.

The Knicks aren't alone in looking for help. Up to 16 teams could have $10-or-more million of cap space once roster decisions on option years and cap holds are made. Half or more of those teams could have more than $20 million in cap space. The Knicks will have anywhere between $26 and $28 million. That's not enough for two max players, but it would allow for three mid-level free-agent signings or two upper-end ones.

Much has been made about the possibility of saving some cap space to have enough money to afford a max contract in 2016 when the NBA salary cap begins to skyrocket, but that might not make a lot of sense when you look at the big picture. Every single team, including the ones on the precipice of a championship, will have some level of cap space -- except for those teams so far into the luxury-cap penalty that they would be over the newer, higher cap -- and the free-agent crop isn't that deep.

Aside from pipe dream candidates like Kevin Durant and restricted players like Damian Lillard, the best unrestricted free agents are Mike Conley, Joakim Noah, Al Jefferson, Al Horford and Nic Batum. They are good players, but their presence next year should not stop the Knicks from spending their money wisely this season if there are opportunities.

Considering the Knicks' current state, coming off the worst season in history and drafting a player a couple of years away from maturing, they would be best suited going after the younger group of free agents on the market. That will not only help them now, but also from 2017-18. Bringing in 30-plus-year-olds (I'm looking at you, David West) might provide some short-term benefit, but won't help the Knicks get to title contention.

The Knicks could make the best possible moves in free agency this year (assuming none of the HR targets come through), and still not be able to compete with a team like the Cavaliers. This is still a future game for the Knicks.

With their record last season and their current roster makeup, the unfortunate truth for the Knicks is that they are likely going to have to overpay more than other teams to get the players they want to come to New York. This actually makes some of the max players more of a bargain, since those players' values might actually surpass the current maximum contract designation.

Unfortunately for the Knicks, the chances of them landing players like Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love are extremely small. All are likely to either stay where they are, or -- in Aldridge's case -- join a team more ready to win. Even a player that giving the max to would be overpaying (that's you, Greg Monroe), it might be hard to entice that player away from a team more ready to contend.

The Knicks' best chance of making the most of their money is giving it to players that are still likely to improve in coming seasons. The younger players in free agency that fit that profile are, for the most part, restricted free agents. Strike Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green off the list right away because that's not happening. Other restricted free agents like Jimmy Butler and Brandon Knight might also be unlikely, but not impossible.

The Bulls just changed coaches and have been known to be unwilling to spend big-time money on players. Forcing them to match a max contract might not be a bad idea. Brandon Knight might not be a full max player, but forcing the Suns to ante up a serious contract for him would be prudent as well. Both are young, improving players the Knicks need.

The Knicks' needs are pretty simple. Between Jose Calderon, Jerian Grant and Langston Galloway, they have enough guards capable of handling the ball for the team to function. With the trade of Tim Hardaway Jr., finding a shooting guard who can stretch the floor and play defense would be ideal (Butler, Danny Green, Arron Afflalo). Adding a wing at SF (Wesley Matthews, Khris Middleton) to push Carmelo Anthony to power forward wouldn't hurt either, especially since Phil Jackson mentioned Anthony playing more PF during an offseason media session.

Where the Knicks need the most help, however, is in the paint. They are in dire need of both rim protection and post play. It is nearly impossible to find both those things in one player these days, so the Knicks will have to find two. Some post-player options include restricted free agent Brook Lopez, Monroe, Enes Kanter (who can't defend) and West. It's a short list, as post play is a lost art.

The list of rim protectors is longer and includes guys like DeAndre Jordan (though I still don't think he'll leave LA), Tyson Chandler (on the decline), Omer Asik, Robin Lopez and Kosta Koufos. The last two will probably end up being the most cost-effective options.

A wing who can shoot and defend, a rim protector and a post player: three things the Knicks need to add in free agency. They have between $26-$28 million to do it. Can they? It won't be easy, and Jackson will have to find the right mix of guys at the right prices to make it work in 2015.

On Tuesday, I'll focus on backcourt and wing players that are available in free agency.

You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports. 


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