By Liam Beatus
Part I of my off-season grades considered the first two, and arguably, the most important, moves the Knicks made this off-season. Let’s take a look at several other roster additions/subtractions that should not be overlooked.
Signing Joakim Noah to a 4yr/$72 million contract: B-
Big risk. On one hand, Noah is a high-motor, great defender, rebounder, and passer who adds a championship quality to any locker room. On the other hand, all of Noah’s statistics decreased significantly since the 2013-2014 season. He battled injuries his entire career and will be under contract until he is 35. Which Joakim Noah will the Knicks get? The 2014 Defensive Player of the Year or the aging veteran who only made two starts in 29 games last season. For a good-but-not-great-player, Noah’s 18-million a year is a big hit to the salary cap. If he stays healthy, the money matches its value and free agents will want to come for the Knicks—a new scenario for the Knicks.
Here is a quick player comparison from the last two years:
|Games Started||Points Per Game||Rebounds Per Game||Blocks Per Game||Assists Per Game|
Player A is Joakim Noah and Player B is Robin Lopez, whose stats look pretty good in comparison with Noah’s; yet most consider Noah to be a much better player. Lopez played some of his best basketball in one season at MSG, and the Knicks lost his durability by bringing in Noah. With the cap increase, Noah’s contract has the same effect on the cap that Robin Lopez’s did one year ago when Lopez signed for four years worth a total of $54 million. One can make a case that Robin Lopez will have more value for the duration of his contract than Joakim Noah.
Signing Courtney Lee to a 4-yr/$48 million contract: A-
At first glance, this seemed like an expensive contract for an average shooting guard, but this move fits Phil’s philosophy: bring in defensive-minded players. A solid defender, Lee shoots a reliable 38% from beyond the arc. Opposing teams will be forced to defend him on the perimeter, leaving space for Carmelo, D-Rose, and Porzingis to create their own shots. A back-ended contract that starts at 11.2 million-per-year and only rises to 12.8 million in the contract’s final season, barring any major CBA changes, this deal is team-friendly. Despite being traded five times in eight seasons, Lee is a veteran who knows his role and has averaged double-digit scoring every season of his career.
Signing Brandon Jennings to a 1yr/$5 million contract: B+
A low risk-high reward signing, the Knicks stand to reap benefits if Jennings stays healthy. Only 26 and a few seasons removed from scoring at least 15 points per game, he can be a scoring and passing threat who creates for himself and others. His speed and athleticism separated him from the competition. At his worst, he will struggle to find his role on the team or succumb to injury like he did last season. The Knicks don’t see him as the superstar Milwaukee once anticipated he would be. They expect him to provide a burst of energy off the bench and a backup in the event that Derrick Rose reinjures himself. My concern with this signing is simple: the Knicks’ backup plan for an injury-plagued star is signing another injury-plagued player to be his backup.
Signing Guillermo Hernangomez, Marshall Plumlee, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, and resigning Lance Thomas and Sasha Vujacic: C
Lance Thomas displayed his value as a vastly improved three-point wing and all-around player last season. If Hernangomez, the Knicks second-round pick in 2015, can get solid minutes, the seven-footer could bring his rebounding talents from overseas. This back end of the roster will not frighten any team, and shows the Knicks lack of depth.
Overall Grade: A-
In an off-season without draft picks, Phil Jackson did a nice job to revamping the roster and making the Knicks a playoff contender. If all of their star players stay healthy, this team could earn home-court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. If this fragile, thin roster struggles to stay on the court, the Knicks will miss the playoffs and will have two valuable trade assets on contract years (Jennings and Rose) who could help the Knicks gain draft picks in a year where they have a first-round pick. Warning: If the Knicks succeed in this get-rich-fast scheme, do not be surprised if Phil Jackson retires.