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The Knicks' Three Year Plan

In perhaps the most blatant case of a coach being hired to lure a player since Ed Manning landed an assistant's job in Lawrence, Kansas, New York is openly talking about the possibility of signing LeBron James to play for Mike D'Antoni.  There are only a few problems with this scenario.  For one thing, it implies that the Knicks will do nothing to improve between now and 2010, in all likelihood guaranteeing two more horrible seasons unless D'Antoni is even better than we think he is.  For another, there are of course no guarantees that LeBron will become a free agent, nor that he would choose New York if he did.

But by far the biggest problem here would seem to be the math.  The Newsday article includes this line: 

As the roster stands, the Knicks will have just $28 million against the cap going into the 2010-11 season. It's the perfect storm; the best player on the planet is available and the richest team in the league has cap space.

A perfect storm indeed.  What could be better?  Too bad it's not even remotely true.

The $28M figure seems to come from Hoops Hype, though frankly I'm not sure how they arrived at their number.  ShamSports seems to be a much more accurate depiction of the situation.  The good news for New York is that the Knicks are actually all the way down to $17.3M in fully committed salaries for 2010 (that would be the 17.3M committed to Zach Randolph).  The bad news is that they are at $47.7M in potential salaries.

Here's the thing:  Eddy Curry, Jamal Crawford and Jared Jeffries have PLAYER options worth a cumulative $28M in 2010.  If the Knicks' plan is to ask them nicely to decline those options, I'd say they need a better plan.  There is not a GM in the league who doesn't think all three of those guys are overpaid, and they know it, and their agents' know it.  So those monies are as good as guaranteed on the books.

That brings the total to $45M - for 4 players.  The cap is currently $55.6M - if basketball revenues continue to increase, the cap should certainly be up to around $65M by the summer of 2010.  More than enough to give LeBron the maximum $18M or so he'll be due by then.

Oh, but wait a minute.  What about the young guys?  David Lee and Nate Robinson are two of the bright spots for the current Knicks, and likely to be at the center of any plans that D'Antoni puts together.  And they will be restricted free agents next summer.  If the Knicks want to keep those guys, there goes LeBron's max offer.  Not to mention Renaldo Balkman and Wilson Chandler, their lottery pick in June, and their lottery pick next June.  So this whole $28M thing is pure fantasy.  It's much more complex than that.

It doesn't mean it's not possible that LeBron could become a Knick.  What it does mean is that Donnie Walsh needs to pull off some pretty difficult deals between now and 2010.  Basically, he needs to get rid of Zach Randolph for expiring salaries.  Or if not Z-Bo, then two of the other three big contracts - Curry, Crawford and Jeffries.  And even then, it won't be easy to sign James, but at least it becomes a possibility.  Of course, there aren't many teams that want any part of those guys.  So he'd likely have to throw in draft picks to get any deal done.  That's helpful to Walsh in a way - if he doesn't have those picks, he doesn't have to pay them guaranteed lottery pick money, freeing up cash to sign LeBron.  Of course the bad news is that he could end up trying to lure LeBron to New York to play on a 20 win team with a roster populated primarily by undrafted free agents and D-League refugees.  And that won't be easy either.

The bottom line is, this will be an interesting situation to keep an eye on.  Hell, the Knicks have been so bad for so long and with no plan at all, what does Gotham have to lose?  A plan to be REALLY bad for two years on the off chance that they can sign LeBron is, I suppose, better than no plan at all.