The attention is rightly focused on the big gun free agents, but it’s also fun to think about potential cheap free agency steals. The Knicks could use some bargains to fill out the rotation no matter how they fair with the bigger name free agents.
It’s not easy to know what offers various free agents will receive, but here are my (mostly subjective) rankings of the top players I assume may be had at relative bargain prices:
(Honorary mention #1 LeBron James… even at the max LeBron is the biggest bargain in the entire league.)
#2 Craig Smith
Should be among the most underrated free agents: he’s both productive and in his prime. Doesn’t have tons of upside, but is a relatively sure thing. Most other bargains are young with no history of production or old without much left. Smith has consistently produced on bad teams for both the Timberwolves and Clippers. He scores efficiently and is a fairly stout defender, though his rebounding is mediocre and he turns it over a bit too much. Craig is among the most productive undersized 4s out there and should be a solid 4th or 3rd bigman. Lack of a jump-shot probably turns D’Antoni off.
It’s hard to imagine Smith getting more than the $4 million Brandon Bass got last offseason. He’s only about 6’6.5” in shoes, so teams are likely to have their reservations. Additionally he only averaged 16 mpg, leading to an unimpressive per game line of 8 and 4. Guys without impressive per game numbers often get overlooked by conventional GMs.
#3 Ian Mahinmi
There’s very little track record, but Mahinmi comes in 3rd (2nd really) because it’s unlikely he costs much (Spurs declined a $1 mill+ option for next season), his very limited track record is impressive, and he’s still got big upside.
For some reason Gregg Popovich just would not play Mahinmi. The conventional wisdom is that the Spurs have a loaded frontcourt, but until they added McDyess and Blair last offseason that really wasn’t the case. So I assume there is some sort of b-ball IQ/work ethic/attitude/injury issue. A red flag since the Spurs are smart and Pops usually gets the most from good players. However the Frenchman is crazy athletic, only 23 years old, and stands 6’11.
In the 165 minutes he earned in 2010, he managed 22 pts, 11.3 reb, and 1.7 blk per 36 minutes, with a very healthy TS% of .667. Of course some of that occurred in garbage time, but it’s very intriguing nonetheless. In 07-08 he put up similar numbers in the D-League. He’s got the feeling of a Jermaine O’Neal level hidden gem.
If Mahinmi can get it together enough to get on the court, he might be a good fit at C for D’Antoni: basically, he’s an athletic freak who finishes strong at the hoop. Has the potential to be the interior presence the Knicks have been desperate for. Even if other teams bid up his services to, say, the $4-7 mill per year range, I would consider spending short-term dollars on Mahinmi before I spent long-term dollars on Rudy Gay, Joe Johnson, and some of the other big name FAs.
Plenty of question marks, but might have put it all together last season. The biggest question with Livingston is whether he can stay healthy. Once thought to have HOF potential, Livingston’s upside is now closer to solid rotation player. He’s not a good jump shooter, so D’Antoni may not love him, but he’d be a good backcourt partner for Douglas on paper. Livingston can run an offense, but at 6’7” he can defend shooting guards.
Shaun is a low-volume scorer and was efficient last season, but in fairness it was a small sample. (Despite having no 3-pt shot, he’s primarily a jump-shooter and shot well on jumpers last season.) Solid playmaker, but TOs are a big problem. Livingston’s biggest strength is versatility: he can play PG on offense and SG on defense, allowing him to complement a smaller combo-guard who plays the SG on offense and PG on defense. Toney Douglas is such a player. (Jaycee Carroll too.) Livingston might be had cheap, since the Wiz have filled up their backcourt. We’ll see if last season was a fluke or a sign of things to come… and that’s what you want to be saying about bargain bin free agents (not highly paid ones…).
Similar Player Comparison Unfortunately, to date, closer to Marko Jaric than Doc Rivers or Penny. If we’re talking minimum salary, a 25 year old Jaric is a good value. If we’re talking $4-5 mill per… not as much.
Wright is a 24 year old coming off a good season where he made $2.75 million. Should the Knicks have $3-5 mill left over perhaps he’s worth a look. If he ends up with no offer but the veteran’s minimum, then he’s a steal. There’s a lot of redundancy with him and Bill Walker, Wilson Chandler, and Landry Fields… so the Knicks resources are probably better spent elsewhere. I think Wright will be a solid FA bargain for someone, though.
Wright is similar to Wilson Chandler. Dorell is low-volume/medium-high-efficiency, while Wilson is medium-volume/medium-low-efficiency. Otherwise Wright was as good as or better than Chandler in terms of defense, shot blocking, stealing, rebounding, TOs, assists, etc (despite the prevailing homerism, Chandler is just not a very special player). Wright’s 3-pt shot took a huge step forward in 2009-10 after missing most of 08-09. He’s already shown the outside shot that we’re all hoping Chandler will develop by 24 years old.
Wright is a strong defender who I would also compare to Mickael Pietrus. He could fill the wing defense/ outside shooting role (Bowen, Bell, etc.) quite well (also MUCH better finisher than Bowen or Bell). Play either the 2 or the 3 depending on situation. A solid, well-rounded NBA rotation player entering his prime. Should Chandler be used in a sign-and-trade, Wright could instantly replace his production at a slightly higher cost. A change of scenery could do Wright some good. I bet San Antonio steals him for, say, 3-4 years $3 mill per.
#6 Ben Wallace
We all know Ben: big on defense, not so much on offense. Not a typical D’Antoni guy, but the Knicks were desperate for some interior D last season and might be again next season. Ben played for the minimum in Detroit last season, playing pretty well for an otherwise soft, underperforming Pistons squad. His DPOY days are over, but for the minimum there may not be a better interior defender. Detroit was 8.6 pts/100 possessions better defensively with him on the court last season and 1.6 pts/100 better offensively. Their rebounding went up on both sides of the ball, they blocked more shots, and teams had a harder time scoring 1-on-1. Wallace and LeBron have a relationship from Cleveland, no idea if that’s a plus or a minus… Of the washed up veterans, Wallace is probably my favorite (Maybe Kurt Thomas #2).