Contrary to a popular July belief, though, NBA games aren’t played on paper. And while the Knicks may have a terrific team in this year’s annual NBA2K video game – particularly if injuries are turned off – it’s hard to see this team taking the tangible steps forward many expect with this new roster.
The Knicks seemingly came into this offseason hell bent on trying to put together a team that could be a title contender in 2011, as opposed to 2017. They sent out a package of players for Rose, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2011 who hasn’t been anywhere close to the same player since undergoing multiple knee surgeries. They immediately agreed to a contract with Noah, who has admitted he’ll never be the same after undergoing knee surgery two years ago and who played 29 games before a season-ending shoulder surgery last year. Noah’s deal will pay him an average of $18 million a year through 2020 – when Noah will be 35 years old.
Meanwhile, they declined to offer a contract to one of their nice finds of the past two years in Langston Galloway, a 24-year-old guard who showed a penchant for both hitting three-pointers and being a capable defender at either guard spot – the kind of commodity every team is looking for these days. They also shipped out 23-year-old Jerian Grant in the Rose trade, giving up on a first round pick after only intermittently playing him last season.
These are the kinds of players, in theory, the Knicks should have been keeping around Porzingis, a gifted 20-year-old center who appears to have star potential. New York would argue bringing in veteran talent will help with Porzingis’s development, but all it seems likely to do is clog up the team’s salary cap with money spent on aging, less-effective talent over the next few years.
Contrast that with the approach of the Boston Celtics, the biggest winners in free agency outside of the Golden State Warriors. Boston was coming off an iffy draft, and entered free agency armed with plenty of cash but no clear targets to spend it on. All the Celtics did was wind up with Al Horford, the second best unrestricted free agent behind Kevin Durant, a move that both delivered Boston the star it has craved for years and smashed the stereotype that no stars would consider the Celtics as free agents.
Now the Celtics head into next season armed with plenty of young players and draft picks to package in trades for another star, and they’ve maintained salary cap flexibility moving forward to go big-game hunting in the free agent market next summer. It’s an approach that allowed them to get better in the short-term, and in the long-term.
The Knicks could learn something about that. New York may well be better in the season ahead. But will that cost them in seasons beyond? It sure seems like it might.
But the Knicks and Celtics aren’t the only losers and winners from a wild opening few days of July.
Winner: Memphis Grizzlies – Not only did Memphis retain free agent point guard Mike Conley, but it also managed to lure forward Chandler Parsons from Dallas, winning a bidding war to sign the first free agent max contract in Grizzlies history. Memphis should still be a contender in the Western Conference.
Loser: Chicago Bulls – No, the Bulls didn’t ruin their future this summer, but neither the signing of Rajon Rondo nor Dwyane Wade make much sense with their current roster. It will be a fascinating season in the Windy City, though, with that pair in a starting backcourt next to Jimmy Butler.
Winner: Mid-tier markets keeping their stars – Yes, Durant decided to go to Golden State. But between Memphis keeping Conley, Toronto keeping DeMar DeRozan and Charlotte keeping Nicolas Batum, this was a free agent class that showed if players like where they’re at, and think they can win, they’ll be happy to stay.
Loser: Los Angeles Lakers – The Lakers couldn’t get a meeting with Durant, or even with Hassan Whiteside. So what did they do? Give a combined $34 million a year to Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. Deng was a strong signing, but that wasn’t the haul the Lakers envisioned when they went into this summer with a war chest full of money.
Winner: Dwight Howard – There was a serious question as to whether Howard would get more than a one-year deal, and if he’d come anywhere close to the $23.5 million option for next season with the Houston Rockets he turned down. Instead, Howard got that same number – on a three-year deal, no less – to go home to the Atlanta Hawks.
Loser: Indiana Pacers – Team president Larry Bird has wanted to play smaller, faster and score more, and this summer made several moves to ensure that will happen. What’s not clear, though, is if it will make the Pacers better. Indiana now has little shooting, should be worse on defense and fired a successful coach in Frank Vogel, making this, at best, an offseason full of risky moves.