It's impossible to analyze anything the Knicks may do this offseason without a collective bargaining agreement in place. The NBA will likely have a different (or at least adjusted) salary cap system in place in the new CBA and only then will anyone know what real options are available to the Knicks who, as things stand today, are not expected to have cap space to spend in free agency.
And if the NBA goes to a hard cap system, as recently proposed (with a $45M cap), just forget it....
But if there is a mid-level exception (which some feel won't survive at least not in its current form) then the Knicks will have a much better chance in the effort to find a center to fit in a frontcourt with Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
There are two main targets happen to be restricted free agents: DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers and Marc Gasol of the Grizzlies. So even with the MLE, the ability to sign either is limited by the power of the "home" team to match any offer.
Gasol is an interesting situation. He has steadily emerged into one of the game's most versatile (and smartest) big men and the Grizzlies' playoff run only made his talents more visible. He won't blow you away with stats, but the intagibles -- passing, mid-range shooting, rebounding and shot blocking presence -- are all evident (and all the type of complementary tools needed for a center in Mike D'Antoni's system). He and Zach Randolph dominated the San Antonio Spurs and just pushed the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games.
The Grizzlies are often mocked as a franchise players can't wait to leave and New Yorkers certainly feel like Gasol would want to come running to Manhattan to enjoy the culture, the nightlife and the Garden stage (In March, he called New York "a beautiful city and very similar to" his hometown of Barcelona), not to mention the opportunity to team with two stars and perhaps make a run at his brother's collection of championship rings.
But Gasol seems to like Memphis, where he attended high school while Pau played for the Grizzlies, and carefully avoided talking about his free agent status when we were in town two months ago.
“When the time comes, we’ll see what happens and we’re going to study every situation by itself," Gasol said then.
A year ago the Knicks thought Rudy Gay might be a strong option as a free agent, but the Grizzlies pulled him out of play on the first day of free agency with a five-year, $80 million contract. And Memphis just gave Zach Randolph a four-year, $71 million extension before the playoffs began. At the start of the season, point guard Mike Conley was signed to a five-year, $45 million extension.
The next logical move is to re-sign Gasol and keep the core of this talented young team intact and that's something Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley has already said is the plan.
But he did leave the door open for Gasol to leave if he so desired.
"Marc will decide whether he wants to be here," Heisley said in an report by ESPN.com.
"We will aggressively go after him. He's a restricted free agent, so we can match whatever's out there. But obviously if Marc wants to leave, I'm going to have a different attitude than if he wants to stay. I hope he wants to stay. And after what we've done in the playoffs, I think he will."
Heisley can just match any offer and force Gasol to remain with the Grizzlies, but what he's apparently saying here is that if Gasol makes it clear he'd prefer to leave, then Memphis would arrange a sign-and-trade.
Jordan would also be a terrific fit because of his length, amazing athleticism (and vertical leap) and toughness. Like Gasol, it would also be up to Jordan to make it clear to the Clippers that he doesn't want to be there and perhaps motivate a sign-and-trade scenario. But what we've heard is that Jordan and Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin have formed a very strong bond and the Clippers' plan is to keep the two young pogo-stick bigs together as one of the league's scariest frontcourts for years to come (or for at least as long as Griffin wants to be a Clipper).
By committing to Jordan, the Clippers would consider moving Chris Kaman, who is an expiring contract at $12.7 million and not a temporary bad option for the Knicks. The only problem is, they don't have anything to send to the Clips for a salary match aside from Chauncey Billups. And that's not a move you make.