With the Knicks finally poised for considerable salary cap space in 2010-11, the LeBron James countdown has officially begun. More than a year and a half before it’s possible, New York is already salivating at the chance to welcome James to the fold. But it’s no foregone conclusion that The King will join the Knicks. James says championship contention is his top priority, and we should take his word for it. If that’s the case, the Knicks have a long way to go to before they can secure James. Building a championship level supporting cast will be a difficult journey. And it’s one that must begin with the trade of Eddy Curry.
The Knicks will be expected to lure a second superstar to play sidekick to James. According to current salary commitments, the Knicks will have enough room under the cap to offer two free agents the max if they don’t re-up their current core of young players–Nate Robinson, David Lee–and pick up the team options on Wilson Chandler ($2.1M) and Danilo Gallinari ($3.3M). To keep their youngsters, and still sign two max FA’s, the Knicks must unload Eddy Curry’s contract ($11.2M) without taking on 2010-2011 dollars.
Curry has his flaws, but due mostly (or exclusively, really) to his scoring talents, he’s still an above average center in a league that starts Udonis Haslem, Zaza Pachulia, and Robert Swift at the pivot. Curry’s not playing right now, so a trade is highly unlikely. But we can dream of the day the Knicks’ league-leading pace will artificially inflate his per game numbers. Better yet, we can speculate on how exactly to get rid of him.
Mr. Curry to the Courtesy Phone
For the sake of argument, I’m assuming that teams that would want a player like Curry are in need of: (a) bench/low post scoring; (b) big man depth; (c) are playoff bound in 2008-09; (d) and won’t have cap space in 2010 anyway.
Also, for the sake of argument, I’m assuming that the Knicks are literally willing to give Curry away. If I were Donnie Walsh, I’d trade Curry for a sack of potatoes, as long as the tubers’ contract expired on July 1st, 2010. Of course, the Knicks could get lucky and find a team that’s willing to trade an unprotected first round pick for Curry, but for that to happen, they’d probably have to trade Isiah Thomas to the Clippers first.
None of the following deals are likely, but to prevent the absurd, I’ve omitted possible trades to teams like Chicago and Milwaukee that may need a player with Eddy Curry’s skill set, but don’t want Eddy Curry.
CHARLOTTE Nazr Mohammed & Adam Morrison for Eddy Curry
Off-court, Charlotte would prefer to unload Gerald Wallace’s contract. On-court, they need a center to move Emeka Okafor back to his more natural power forward position. Okafor’s defense can cover for Curry’s lapses, and vice versa. They’d be great platoon partners.
Charlotte won‘t make the playoffs this year, but they are looking to reorganize their team. Various rumors suggest they’re ready to give up on Morrison, and could use Curry’s scoring instead. The salaries match, but Nazr has 2010 money on the books, so the Knicks would only save about $4 million. The Knicks would decline Morrison’s option and renounce his rights.
With Nazr for Curry, they’d have an easier salary to unload in the off-season, and that $4 million in savings can help off-set the salary commitment for their 2009 first round draft pick.
NEW ORLEARNS Mike James & Hilton Armstrong for Eddy Curry
The Hornets are getting absolutely nothing out of James and Armstrong, with the former losing his rotation spot to Devin Brown and the latter doing his best impression of a lamp-post fifteen minutes a game. With front court depth a major issue heading into the post-season, the Hornets could jettison two players who don’t contribute for a third big man who can provide scoring punch when Tyson Chandler or David West take their breathers.
Curry has always been an embarrassingly bad rebounder, so it may come as a surprise that he could actually help the Hornets in that regard. Believe it or not, his career rebound rate is slightly superior to Armstrong’s. And Curry would do it while scoring twice as much. We focus on Curry’s flaws so often, we often forget how many teams play total stiffs just by virtue of them being the tallest guy in the gym.
The Hornets are playoff bound and will need some help to get past the Lakers. Curry doesn’t come cheap, but one wonders if they’d be willing to roll the dice with the man-child, picking him up to provide the front-court depth and second-team scoring they so desperately need.
DENVER Steven Hunter and Chucky Atkins for Eddy Curry
Like the Hornets, the Nuggets can trade two players who have spent most of the year in business suits for a productive big man. Considering they’ve played Renaldo Balkman at the pivot, they could use a center that puts the ball in the basket.
Hunter and Atkins come to the Knicks for blatant salary implications, while Denver gets another scorer. In fact, with Denver’s trade exemptions, they could acquire Curry without giving anything more than a 2nd round draft pick in return. But considering that Denver is reluctant to pay the luxury tax, the Knick could do them the favor of taking back some monetary flotsam in return.
Playing the Field
There are other deals that make less sense. Would Dallas trade Jerry Stackhouse and Antoine Wright for Curry? It would help their bench scoring, but eat up their 2010 salary cap flexibility. Maybe Atlanta could unload two unproductive point guards in Speedy Claxton and Acie Law for Curry. Washington could trade the Knicks two centers who don’t even play: Etan Thomas and Darius Songalia. But stuck in the Eastern Conference basement, and with a pair of intriguing, young bigs, would they bother? Would Sacramento shuffle about salaries, getting Shareef-Abdur Rahim and Mikki Moore off the books for Curry?
Knicks fans are dreaming of bringing James to New York in 2010. But unless the Knicks can unload Curry’s contract before then, it’s unlikely they’ll be in position to assemble the championship-level supporting cast James demands. Considering the cost of Curry, the Knicks will have to get creative to clear him in time for what could be a very special summer.