With all signs pointing to stability at the top of the franchise, anticipating Donnie Walsh remaining in place as team president, let's take a look at the Knicks as they go into the offseason:
Guaranteed salaries for 2011-12 season
Carmelo Anthony: $18,518,574
Amar'e Stoudemire: $18,217,705
Chauncey Billups: $14,200,00-*
Renaldo Balkman: $1,675,000
Toney Douglas: $1,145,640
Bill Walker: $916,000
Total guaranteed: $54,673,019
*-Team can waive Billups by Friday for a $3.7 million buyout. If they choose to, the total guaranteed sum, including the buyout number, would reduce to $44,173,019.
Non-guaranteed salaries for 2011-12 season
Landry Fields: $788,872
Andy Rautins: $788,872
Ronny Turiaf: $4,360,000 (player option)
No. 17 overall: $1,306,600 (rookie scale)
Let's assume the Knicks want to keep Fields, but Rautins may be a casualty of roster spots, experience and finances, especially with the first round pick on deck. Let's also assume Turiaf picks up his option, because with the uncertainty of what the new collective bargaining agreement will bring, it makes sense to lock in your money while you can.
That would give the Knicks, if Billups remains, eight players and a first round selection under contract come July 1 (or whenever a lockout ends) for a total of $61,124,491. Even if the current system remained in place, the Knicks would be a few million over the cap. Now you can get some of that back by dealing Balkman to someone for a second round pick, with $3 million cash to basically pay for his contract. But that's not going to get you much room to work with in free agency, let alone signing back a few of your own players, such as Shawne Williams.
*TO ALL MY AMATEUR CAPOLOGISTS: Yes, I know, there are cap holds to involve here for the unsigned players such as Williams, etc., or if those Bird Rights are waived then there are three empty roster spots to consider. I am only working with payroll, not cap space here, because we don't know what the new system will be yet.
If the Knicks waive Billups, you're looking at a $50,624,491 payroll, which would open up some room under the current system. But, again, it's impossible to speculate where that would put the Knicks under a new system because we don't know what it will be. Some reports have suggested an NBA hard cap would start around $45 million, which, of course, would mean the league would have to also include a rollback of all current contract so teams such as the Knicks (and Lakers, and Celtics and Heat, etc.) can fit and operate a full roster under that kind of a system.
Regardless, by waiving Billups you save $10.5 million and potentially open up some space. But in the process you also create a new hole to fill on the roster. The most critical need is at center, but when you're building a championship-caliber team, you don't go after a low-rent player just to plug a hole while creating another one.
There is a bit of a risk here, but one possible way around the 2011 cap space issue is to waive Billups now with a wink and a nod that you will sign him to a multi-year deal that makes up the money over time.
Looking at it logically, with Stoudemire and Anthony, you have about a four to five year window to win a championship while both are in their primes. Billups will be 35 at the start of next season and his presence is vital. If you let him walk just to save money, who are you replacing him with? T.J. Ford? Sebastian Telfair? Delonte West?
The Chris Paul/Deron Williams possibility remains in 2012 and perhaps if one of them, more likely Paul, is willing to follow Carmelo's script this offseason and force a trade, then obviously the best plan is to keep Billups at his bigger number and have him as a valuable expiring contract to use in a deal with New Orleans (you also had better find more assets, toute de suite, because Landry Fields is not going to cut it).
But let's consider what self-appointed assistant GM Carmelo Anthony said on Monday about the need for more star players on this roster:
"I don't really think we need stars. We have a good base with what we have with me and Amar'e and you go from there. You build off there."
In other words, hey that toast was great, CP, but we good here now.
Waiting another year doesn't appear to be an amenable option anymore. And after investing $165 million in two players, bringing in a cheap, inexperienced point guard to run the row is even less appealing.
Billups may have been working for his own cause here, but he made a great closing argument about his return:
"Quite frankly, I think it’s important to have someone at the position – especially playing with Amar'e and Melo – who has won and they have to respect the body of work. Because those two guys are Alpha males and if you are a young player you can feel dominated, but they know they can’t do that with me."
The center position needs to be the priority and some assistance from Billups via the buyout/re-sign for less in July scenario (Collusion? What collusion? He likes New York! *weak smile*), the Knicks may have a few bucks to go get one via free agency.
But, again, a new CBA still has to be drawn up and agreed upon before we can make any educated suggestions. Will the mid-level exception survive in the new system? If so, the Knicks can take advantage of that to go after a DeAndre Jordan or Marc Gasol, two restricted free agents who most likely will be kept by their "home" teams.
The problem is, the Knicks can't wait to see what the new CBA will bring to set up their strategy for the offseason. They have to make that pivotal decision on Billups by Friday.