According to multiple sources, the Memphis Grizzlies have put an offer on the table to the New York Knicks: Zach Randolph for Marko Jaric and Darko Milicic. From Memphis’ side, they would gain a scorer they sorely need since the departure of Pau Gasol. New York on the other hand would rid themselves of Randolph’s contract, and would be able to hand over the starting PF job to USA Select Team member David Lee. But how much does this help the Knicks in terms of future cap space?
In 2010, the year of multiple big free agents (LeBron, Wade, Bosh, etc.) Zach Randolph is scheduled to make $17.3M. Of the contracts they would be receiving, only Jaric would still be on the books for $7.6M. So the Knicks would shave off approximately $10M. According to Hoopshype, with Randolph the Knicks would be at about $45.5M. So one might assume saving $10M would bring them well below the cap which is currently set to $58.6M.
However Hoopshype doesn’t factor in players with team options, nor do they factor in players who get their contracts extended. If you add in Danilo Gallinari’s $3.3M, Wilson Chandler’s $2.1M, and this year’s #1 pick ($2M-$3M) the Knicks salaries creep up to $54M (with Randolph). Additionally the team may sign David Lee and Nate Robinson to contracts as opposed to letting them leave as unrestricted free agents. These two could well bring them in the $64M – $70M range.
So if the Knicks accept this trade now, they would be faced with a tough decision down the road. Option “A” would be to Let Lee and/or Nate walk in free agency without anything in return. This way they would definitely be in the range to grab a top free agent. But the team would be weaker and less palatable to free agents. Option “B” would be to accept the trade and resign Lee and/or Nate now in order to get them cheaper. Of course this would probably still put them over the top free agent limit in 2010. Option “C” would be to accept the trade and hope to trade one of the following players in the near future: Eddy Curry ($11.3M in 2010), Jared Jeffries ($6.9M), Marko Jaric ($7.6M), or Jamal Crawford ($10.1M). In this option, not being able to move one of these players could mean the loss of a free agent.
Donnie Walsh is also facing another dilemma. Is he getting enough in return for Zach Randolph? With Memphis’ cap situation, they could make the trade without offering Jaric. But obviously they gain fiscally by moving Marko’s contract. Walsh might be able to get the Grizzlies to accept an offer for just Darko or even to throw in something better (perhaps a future pick or one of their guards). If they hold onto Zach, the Knicks could get more in return from another team especially if his offensive numbers increase in D’Antoni’s offense. Additionally playoff bound teams may get more desperate to improve themselves as the season wears on.
If Walsh accepts this deal and lets Lee or Nate walk, he’d be getting little in return for these investments. However it could turn out that getting nothing for these players benefit the team the most if they are able to land a superstar player. That’s something New York has lacked since Ewing was in his prime in the mid-90s. Ironically getting the worse of these two deals, but improving the team greatly would be the opposite of Isiah Thomas’ modus operandi. Thomas was able to make every trade seem to be in his favor, but the team always ended up worse.
Personally I would take the deal, but I don’t think it’s a no-brainer. If he accepts, Walsh will have some tough decisions to make. In the present he’ll have added another player to an already crowded roster. There’s a reason no moves have been made yet, possibly to have leverage over a buyout of Marbury, Rose, and/or James. This trade could undermine any behind the scenes bargaining that’s already occurred. And in the future he’ll have to figure out what do if he can’t move a lesser Knick (Jaric/Jeffries) for a shorter contract to make cap space for Lee & Robinson.
[edited to reflect the #1 pick.]