In the week following a tentative agreement between the NBA and the Players to settle class action suits and reach the parameters of new CBA, fans of the Knicks have turned their eyes towards basketball again. Well sort of. Obviously pro and con articles arguing the reasons why Chris Paul may or may not become a Knickerbocker are as important to fans as on court basketball. If you’re like me and follow the pro and indy Knicks sports media circuit and blogosphere, you’ll certainly be in for a roller coaster ride. One certain to bring out the manic depressive in any Knicks fan.
On the one hand fans will run across articles that will insist that the Knicks are in a precarious position with regards to their hopes of landing Chris Paul- or any other superstar for that matter. Some writers will point to the Knicks lack of desirable assets — players or draft picks that incumbent franchises would desire — necessary to facilitate a trade Paul. Others will point to the reduced incentives presented to star free agents by way of the league’s former avenues of star migration– extend and trades and sign and trades.
The dour news on the Chris Paul front is sure to make any passionate Knicks’ fan frustrated and perhaps even apoplectic. But the wonders of a little imagination from inducing what we here at Knicksfanatics like to call OTP Peyote, can turn any Knicks’ fan frown upside down. In an instant the first and last bite at the apple afforded incumbent teams retaining rights to star free agents become loopholes (and the extremely difficult becomes possible). The power of a franchise free agent’s threats are multiplied. Incumbent teams won’t dare call a players bluff to earn about 25 million dollars less and one less year on a non bird maximum contract (* the new Bird contract will be five years and about 100 million dollars). Even a contract starting at 13.5 million over four years (40 million dollars less and one less year than the full bird contract) will not dissuade a franchise players threats to signs with the Knicks. Sure. Why of course the Knicks emptied the cupboard to shed cap space in advance to swing a trade for Chris Paul.
But isn’t a loophole that requires the cooperation of an incumbent franchise to trade a Star six months prior to free agency not designed to provide such franchises the first opportunity to negotiate a favorable transaction in return? Also, doesn’t a loophole that requires the cooperation of an incumbent franchise to sign a star player to a bird max contract to facilitate a trade to that Star’s desired destination not give that same franchise a second opportunity to obtain favorable value in return? Apparently the first and second shot at working a favorable deal can also work like a knot. A Gordian knot weaved into the language of a new CBA. A master knot that figures to become more difficult for star free agents to navigate when onerous tax penalties come into effect two years down the road.
For Knicks management the challenge on the road to Chris Paul will certainly require an innovative approach. Can expiring contracts (Billups and Turiaf) considered insufficient in any direct trade with the hornets persuade third party teams to surrender any modest assets in return for cap relief? Conceivably trading away the expiring contracts (of Turiaf and Billups) to help third parties shed cap space while still preserving their Amnesty as insurance could have some appeal. Yet, time would not be on the Knicks side as that avenue would expire at the end of the year.
Can a group of young Knicks (Walker, Fields, Douglas and Shumpert) facilitate a direct deal or produce early 2nd round or late first round picks to facilitate a transaction for Chris Paul? Could a compacted season where the gift of young legs (and the depth they provide) are at a premium afford the Knicks an opportunity to showcase and elevate the value of their young reserves. Surely no General Manager in their right mind (as has been speculated by some writers) would merely let potentially valuable producers (Fields, Douglas, Shumpert and Walker) just walk on manageable rookie scale contracts without attempting to get some sort of value in return.
Or could the the master stroke that loosens the Gordian Knot on the road to Paul result from a Machiavellian application of the Amnesty Clause on Amar’e Stoudemire. A move that should free up cap space for a Chris Paul and Dwight Howard heist at the Garden. Such is the brave new world that reverberates in the aftershock of “The Decision.” A world of mercenary stars, burned bridges, decimated franchises, trade fodder and dubious loyalties where perhaps only the most cunning need apply? Will the Knicks become like the monsters (in South Beach) that their Manhattan Project dares to defy?