The New York Knicks are a team in win-now mode. With the acquisition of point guard Derrick Rose, along with the free agency signings of Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee, the Knicks have made themselves a team to keep an eye on. However, they could’ve taken an alternative route this off-season. That option would begin with passing on the opportunity to acquire Rose.
New York Knicks Had an Alternative Off-Season Route
The Case for Jeremy Lin
Everyone is aware of Jeremy Lin‘s tenure with the Knicks, better known as Linsanity, but his return to the Knicks would have nothing to do with his New York resume. Last season, Lin really came into his own with the Charlotte Hornets. While serving as Kemba Walker‘s backup, Lin thrived as the team’s sixth man and a spark plug off the bench. He also performed well in Charlotte’s playoff series against the Miami Heat, although they ended up losing the series in seven games. Lin was arguably the best utility guard in the NBA last season. He proved that he’s a legit starting point guard, one who can carry the scoring load if needed. While they opted to trade for Rose, who’s better than Lin when healthy, the Knicks would’ve been better off pursuing Lin in free agency. By signing Lin, they would’ve also been able to keep center Robin Lopez, who was dealt to acquire Rose.
Trading Robin Lopez was Unnecessary
When the Knicks acquired Rose, they traded away center Robin Lopez. Lopez, 28 years old, is a defensive force. He’s a player who you can build a defensive foundation around. He has also quietly developed a nice post game. Last season, Lopez added a hook shot to his arsenal, and as the season progressed, he became a reliable low post threat. His presence on both ends of the floor was instrumental, and his contract is still very team-friendly. In the 2015 off-season, the Knicks and Lopez agreed to a four-year, $54 million deal. That contract is a complete steal with the way that NBA contracts are being handed out nowadays. It’s also a bargain when you look at the deal that the Knicks just gave Lopez’s replacement, Joakim Noah.
The Joakim Noah Signing
The Knicks and former Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah agreed to a four-year, $72 million deal this summer. This would set him up to replace Lopez. However, Noah has multiple question marks surrounding his game – most notably, his durability. Noah only appeared in 29 games last season and has been quite injury-prone over the course of his career. He has also been classified by many as a player on the decline. While that notion is premature, his impact on the Knicks won’t be quite as large as Lopez’s impact was.
While Noah is a great defender, and categorized as a defensive anchor, he’s not an offensive presence. He can’t play in the post, or finish in the paint, as Lopez did. Lopez is by no means a lethal offensive weapon, but he has more upside than Noah. While they play similarly on the defensive end of the floor, Lopez has an above average offensive game. He can play in the post, has a hook shot, and is very durable. He has played, and started, in all 82 regular season games in three of the last four years. Lopez’s offensive ability, team-friendly contract, and durability make the Knicks look foolish for dealing him. If they kept Lopez and dealt away veteran point guard Jose Calderon in a separate deal, the Knicks would’ve had more cap space at their disposal. That would allow them to sign Lin, potentially along with Atlanta Hawks swingman Kent Bazemore.
Going into free agency, the Knicks had their sights set on signing a starting shooting guard. They did just that, signing now-former Charlotte Hornets shooting guard Courtney Lee. While Lee is a good, reliable “three-and-D” player, he’s not the player that Kent Bazemore has become. Bazemore, 27 years old, has become a two-way threat much like Lee, but he’s more explosive. He’s a more consistent shooter from the perimeter, a better scorer, and a high flyer. His defensive game is outstanding, as well. Bazemore has done a solid job guarding wing stars such as Paul George and LeBron James in the past. He’s always ready to guard the opposing team’s best perimeter threat. Bazemore and the Knicks would’ve been a great match. With contracts being dished out the way they are, both parties could’ve agreed to a four-year, $76 million deal. Bazemore and Lin would’ve been a very intriguing back-court duo. They could’ve helped the Knicks take the next step in their growth as a team.
The Knicks Panicked
The Knicks have definitely made themselves a better team. They’ve transformed their roster by acquiring a former MVP in Rose and inking Lee and Noah to four-year deals. However, their off-season strategy was a plan of pure desperation. Rose, when healthy, is an exceptional point guard, but his health is a big question mark. He’s a high-risk player who the Knicks are banking on to remain healthy. To add to the pile of risks, New York gave up a quality center in Lopez to acquire Rose.
Lopez was a very reliable and durable player for the Knicks. He played in all 82 games last season and was a two-way presence. By trading Lopez, New York lost a defensive backbone who fit well alongside both Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. His replacement, while also a good fit, has numerous questions surrounding his game. Joakim Noah is a defensive anchor and a New York native, but he’s been hampered by injuries. He appeared in only 29 games last season and has struggled to stay on the court throughout his career. The signing of Noah and acquisition of Rose led to the signing of Courtney Lee. Lee is a great fit next to Rose and Anthony, and he’s a solid player. Rose, Noah, and Lee will make New York a better team on both ends of the floor. However, the Knicks had an alternative way to go about their business this off-season.
The Alternative Option
If the Knicks had never traded for Rose, they would’ve retained Lopez. They also would’ve been in the market for a point guard. With two go-to scorers already on the roster in Anthony and Porzingis, the Knicks never needed a Rose-type guard. However, inking Jeremy Lin would’ve been a shrewd move for multiple reasons, none of which include his previous stint with the Knicks. Lin ended up inking just a three-year, $36 million deal with the Brooklyn Nets. The Knicks easily could’ve matched or topped that contract. Lin is a scoring guard, who can also balance that by finding his teammates. Additionally, he would’ve been a great fit next to Kent Bazemore.
Bazemore is a true two-way player in the modern NBA. He plays great perimeter defense, can play out on the perimeter, and is a high flyer. His upbeat style of play would’ve also gelled nicely with point guard Brandon Jennings. Jennings was another one of New York’s free agent signings this off-season; in fact, he was a steal. Jennings inked a one-year, $5 million deal to be Rose’s backup. He’s a scoring point guard, and like Lin, he’s a high energy offensive player. The Knicks’ off-season additions will make them a much improved team, but if they hadn’t traded for Rose, and opted to sign Jeremy Lin and Kent Bazemore instead, they would be a more fundamentally sound team.