GM Glen Grunwald will have to be creative for Knicks in free-agency period

New York Knicks' new executive vice president and

New York Knicks' new executive vice president and general manager Glen Grunwald during a press conference before the Knicks-Clippers game. (April 25, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.)

Glen Grunwald is a man of few words, but the Knicks' general manager will have to be a man of many moves when free agency begins Monday.

Fifty-four wins, a No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and a trip to the second round was a major improvement from past years, but the Knicks want more next season in what should be a vastly improved conference.

The two-time NBA champion Heat will be the favorite again. The Nets acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from Boston in a blockbuster trade that probably puts them ahead of the Knicks now. The Bulls will have Derrick Rose back. The Pacers, who beat the Knicks in the conference semifinals and took Miami to seven games in the conference finals, could have a healthy Danny Granger or use him in a trade.

All of that puts the onus on Grunwald to make some creative moves. He has done so the last two offseasons, pulling off unexpected sign-and-trades for Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton, among other transactions.

But the Knicks, who have seven players under contract and drafted Tim Hardaway Jr. on Thursday, don't have as much flexibility as they did in those years.

They have only the $3.18-million mini-midlevel exception, which can be divided up on multiple players, and as many minimum contracts as they need to use to fill out the roster.

Keeping unrestricted free agent J.R. Smith and restricted free agents Chris Copeland and Pablo Prigioni are priorities. But the Knicks are expected to have competition for each.

The most they can give Smith is the average salary, which is expected to start at about $5.6 million next season. The Knicks likely will have to dip into the mini-midlevel to re-sign Copeland and maybe Prigioni, so that could hamper them even more.

"Crazy things happened the last couple years that I didn't think were going to happen, and they may happen again," Grunwald said. "We just have to let it play out. We have to be opportunistic. We have to be ready. We have to be ready for the players when they're ready to sign with us for what we can offer."

One of those crazy things was Houston changing its original offer to Jeremy Lin last summer, derailing the Knicks' plans to bring him back.

There are some big names in this free-agent class, including Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Monta Ellis, Josh Smith, Andrew Bynum and Al Jefferson. All will cost more than the Knicks can spend.

Because of the rules in the latest CBA, it would be nearly impossible for the Knicks to take back a signed player in a sign-and-trade anyway. But they can send out a signed player in this kind of transaction, which could be important if they can't retain Smith, Copeland or Kenyon Martin.

Free agents who might be in the Knicks' price range include Will Bynum, John Lucas III, Anthony Tolliver and Chris Wilcox. The Knicks could pursue Randy Foye, Dahntay Jones, Devin Harris, Carlos Delfino, DeJuan Blair, Jason Maxiell, Brandan Wright and Elton Brand if the price is right.

But the Knicks hope proven veterans whom they can acquire in trades will become available.

With the Celtics overhauling their team, Rajon Rondo could be on the market. The Knicks could try to put together a package for him, but other teams likely would be all-in for one of the league's best point guards and could have more draft picks and expiring contracts to offer.

Grunwald said he would like to keep the team's core together. The Knicks, however, likely would be willing to part with anyone not named Carmelo Anthony for the right deal.

"We think we need at least one more point guard," Grunwald said. "We have needs at the wing position and all the big positions. We've got our work to do now in free agency."

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