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Schmeelk: Afflalo Is In And Monroe Is Out, And That's Just Fine For The Knicks

By John Schmeelk
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Knicks fans everywhere breathed a huge sigh of relief Thursday morning when the Knicks got their first player in free agency: Arron Afflalo. He is far from the perfect player coming off a bad offensive season (13.3 PTS, 42 FG%, 35 3P%) and a few seasons of deteriorating defense.

But in a market where Iman Shumpert received $10 million per year, Afflalo on a two-year deal worth $16 million (second-year player option) is an excellent bargain.

Afflalo will try to return to the form of his best season in 2014, when he shot 46 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range. Those types of offensive numbers would be more than good enough for the Knicks this season.  Defensively, if advanced statistics are to be believed, his defensive reputation far exceeds his effectiveness. The Knicks are betting that can change. We'll see.

Afflalo, in theory at least, is the three-point shooting, defensive-minded wing the Knicks needed to add in free agency. Even if he doesn't completely bounce back, the short-term value of the deal makes it palatable. It gives the Knicks valuable flexibility moving forward. If this season doesn't go well, and Afflalo plays reasonably well, the contract can easily be traded at the deadline for future assets. This is a short-term signing that does not hamstring them in any way. The $8 million also leaves the team plenty of money to spend in free agency.

Then the Knicks got some bad news: Greg Monroe chose the Milwaukee Bucks over the New York Knicks. As the only free-agent big man on the market (not counting Marc Gasol or LaMarcus Aldridge) who can be the type of post player the Knicks could play through in the triangle, they need to reassess their priorities for the position. Monroe was always going to be a liability on defense, specifically protecting the rim, and pairing him with Carmelo Anthony could have been a real problem.  That's why the Knicks never offered him a max contract, if reports are correct. Defense won't be a problem with the player the Knicks should target next: Robin Lopez.

With meetings scheduled on Thursday with Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan, the Knicks are shooting for the moon, but it isn't going to happen. The more realistic and feasible target is Lopez. He can play the pick and roll, protect the rim and rebound. He is an average offensive player and fills a nice role on any NBA team. He is only 27 and missed just 23 games the last three years. His best year came in 2014 for Portland, when he averaged 11 points, over eight rebounds and shot 55 percent. If Lopez has a starting salary around $12 million, the team can still get a fringe starter with their remaining money. ($8 million for Patrick Beverley, perhaps?)

Even if Lopez goes elsewhere, Kosta Koufos would cost less (but still make significant money with an $8 million starting salary) and Bismack Biyombo would slide into the $5 million range. They are defensive-minded bigs that can rebound the ball and fill a role on the Knicks' roster. Neither deal would be considered unreasonable and could be moved down the road in the right deal.

The Knicks' focus now needs to be to surround Anthony with as many good defensive players as possible. He can carry an offense, assuming he is over his knee injury. The Knicks haven't been able to generate stops for a decade. That needs to change if they want to be considered a legitimate playoff team.

The Knicks must continue to exercise the patience they did on the first day of free agency. The worst thing they could do is panic if they lose out on Lopez and the other bigs and throw bad money after a subpar player. Even if all the top free agents are gone they can still use their cap space the way the Sixers did on Wednesday: take on unwanted contracts along with future draft picks to relieve other team's cap issues.

Roy Hibbert or David Lee could fall into that category. So could Joe Johnson if the Knicks could figure out a deal that works under the salary cap. Just think about being on the other side of the Knicks-Rockets Jared Jeffries trade a few years ago, which did nothing but shed his salary. But it cost the Knicks a first-round pick.

There are still plenty of useful players available that can help the Knicks build for the future in different ways, whether it be in free agency or via trade. Their targets should be either players like Afflalo, with short-term deals that are movable, or long-term contracts for young players that will look like bargains when the salary cap almost doubles in two years. The Knicks might not turn themselves into contenders this year, but they can continue to build a solid foundation for winning down the road.

Schmeelk Snippets

- If anyone needed further proof that the Knicks sold low on Tyson Chandler, he just got a four year, $13 million contract a year after the Knicks traded him for a player they are trying to dump in Calderon, and a couple of young guys that might not even turn into rotation players in the NBA.

- The Spurs' deal with Danny Green, at four years and $45 million, might end up being the biggest bargain in free agency. The Spurs continue to show why they are the best at what they do.

- Kyle Singler's five-year, $25 million deal, on the other hand, seems like a big investment in a guy who might not even be a rotation player.

- The Grizzlies got a great deal on Brandan Wright, at three years and $18 million.

- Young defensive-minded wings that can score did VERY well: Jimmy Butler (five years, $95 million), Khris Middleton (five years, $70 million), DeMarre Carroll (four years, $60 million) and Green (four years, $45 million). Teams need two-way players to win and these guys fit the bill perfectly. Wes Matthews should be the next one off the board.

- Dan Gilbert promised LeBron James that he would spend money, and boy has he lived up to that promise. Kevin Love signed for the max, Shumpert got a ton of money, Tristan Thompson is about to cash in and soon James will re-sign. That will put the Cavs into serious luxury-cap penalty areas, but it looks like Gilbert is willing to live with that.

- The Nets got good market-level signings when they brought back Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young.

- I think Aldridge winds up in San Antonio, which would be a smart move for him. I think Jordan does something stupid and leaves the Clippers for the Mavericks, where he won't have Chris Paul getting him open dunks every game.

- The Suns are a team to watch that can still shuffle their roster, especially if they get Aldridge in a sign and trade.

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

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