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July 11, 2012
Free Agency
Recent Moves

by Bradford Doolittle

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While the world watches its collective Twitter stream for its constant flow of Dwight Howard rumors, there have been plenty of smaller deals agreed to in the last few days. These moves might not grab the headlines, but they do impact the NBA landscape. Not as much as a Howard trade might, but in our NBA world every move is has meaning.

So while we await final word of a Howard trade that will really alter the NBA terrain, let's look at some subtle more shifts in the league from recent moves. The boroughs of New York may be buzzing about the possible arrival of Superman in Brooklyn, but Manhattan's NBA entrant has been plenty active in recent days as well.

The Knicks Collect More Names

The Knicks' mantra is to sign brand-name players whenever the opportunity arises, no matter what the price tag turns out to be. On-court fit? Meh. That's for the coach to figure out. It's James Dolan's job to provide unlimited funds and the general manager's job to spend it. Isiah Thomas may (or may not) be long gone, but his methods live on.

The Knicks are assembling an old, expensive team that looks good -- but not great -- on paper and that has nothing but downside in its future. Five years ago, the group that the Knicks has assembled for nxt season would have been a contender. But players age, get injured and lose athleticism. It's a fact of life that New York never seems to learn.

I write these critical statements even though my projection system currently has New York tabbed as the second-best team in the East. That's kind of like being the fourth-place finisher in an Olympic event. It sounds nice, but with Miami's buffer in the East getting even bigger with the Ray Allen acquisition, a second-place projection won't win you anything shiny.

The projection is tenuous, anyway. The Bulls' down forecast is a one-year blip caused by Derrick Rose's injury. A Howard-to-Brooklyn trade would almost certainly bolt the Nets into a second-place outlook. Indiana is nipping the Knicks' heels as it is, and is likely one move away from leaping over them in the spreadsheets. Despite all the money the Knicks have agreed to dole out, they are likely no better than fourth or fifth in the conference this season, and it'll get worse with each passing year.

Marcus Camby has led the NBA in rebounding percentage in each of the last three seasons and he'll boost New York's middling performance on the boards. He'll help lighten the load of Tyson Chandler, who logged more than 33 minutes per game last season. With Chandler on the court last season, the Knicks grabbed 51 percent of available rebounds. That rate dropped to 48 percent when he sat. Camby should be able to keep New York in the black off the glass, while also keeping a rim-protector on the floor at all times.

Still, the price was awfully steep. Camby's actual salary, reported to be $13.2 million over three years, with the last year partially-guaranteed, is neither here nor there. What's troubling is that the Knicks gave up a young backup center (Josh Harrellson), a veteran backup point guard (Toney Douglas), a big-man project in Jerome Jordan, a reported $2 million in cash to cover Douglas' salary, and draft picks. Since you can only send out $3 million annually in cash via trades each year, New York now has only $1 million left to use in future trades. All of this for a 38-year-old backup center who was an unrestricted free agent.

New York has also agreed to dole out $9 million over three years for another 38-year-old backup in Jason Kidd, $15 million over four years for shooting specialist Steve Novak and somewhere between $5-6 million for two more years of J.R. Smith. That is one expensive bench.

As for the starting lineup, if as expected New York doesn't match the offer sheet that Landry Fields will sign with Toronto, the Knicks won't have a starting two-guard, nor will they have any viable sign-and-trade options left on the roster, with the possible exception of Dan Gadzuric. They surely wouldn't squander recovering Iman Shumpert, would they?

If Fields leaves, who will start beside Jeremy Lin in the New York backcourt? It may turn out to be Kidd, who played off the ball plenty in Dallas last season and has turned into a deadly stand-still shooter. New York will soon be trolling the veteran's minimum market to fill out the last three or four spots on its roster and a starting two may well be among that motley crew.

Let's not forget that over the next three years, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire stand to earn a combined $40.3, $44.0 and $47.7 million annually. Considering the expense of matching Lin's offer sheet with Houston and future exceptions that the Knicks will lose by being a tax payer, their options for adding talent over the next four years will very limited. Which would be fine if this was a championship roster. It's not.

Worst of all, given the more punitive aspects of the new C.B.A., the Knicks' future payroll bills may be at levels which would make even Isiah blush. After all of the bad, bloated teams, tanked seasons and broken promises, the Knicks are threatening to end up right back where they started.

The Hornets' Core Takes Shape

Eight months ago, the Hornets were a ward of the league and its franchise face was intent on forcing his way out of town. Since then, New Orleans has found an enthusiastic new owner in Tom Benson and may be developing one of the league's most exciting young cores.

We'll have more on this later in the week, but a future big three of top pick Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson could be one of the more promising groups in the NBA. Anderson will reportedly sign a four-year, $36 million sign-and-trade deal with the Hornets, who will send Gustavo Ayon back to Orlando, where he may end up starting alongside Brook Lopez in a revamped Magic frontcourt. (That's getting ahead of ourselves.) We've of course left out Austin Rivers, who right now doesn't project that well but has plenty of talent to prove us wrong.

A couple of things have to happen for this group to come together. First, New Orleans has to match the massive four-year, $58 million offer sheet Gordon is expected to sign with the Suns. That would seem like a no-brainer if Gordon hadn't been so outspoken about wanting out of New Orleans because of what he views as shortcomings to the Hornets' rebuilding program. Like Kevin Love in Minnesota, Gordon is another example of a player who ought to keep his mind on the court, not the front office.

The second issue concerns fit. How will a Rivers/Gordon backcourt work? How about an Anderson/Davis frontcourt? Anderson enjoyed a breakout season last year in Orlando, but struggled in the postseason without Dwight Howard around to draw defenses off of him. Now he'll be hoping that Davis can perform the same function for him in New Orleans. It'll be a fascinating frontcourt combination. Anderson may turn out to be a stretch-five on offense, though it will be up to Davis to guard opposing centers.

New Orleans may also be looking for a defense and rebounding center to add, so Anderson could end up playing a lot of three in a big front line. The Hornets would hope that the San Antonio-inspired defensive philosophy of Monty Williams combined with the paint protection provided by Davis and another shot blocker would paper over defensive shortcomings on the perimeter.

We aren't quite sure how the pieces will fit in New Orleans, but we can see a core of talent taking shape that looks far better than anyone could have guessed back in the dark days when the Hornets were forced to trade Chris Paul.

Quick takes

  • It's kind of uncertain why the Clippers insist on pairing Paul with a non-traditional two guard but by signing Jamal Crawford and bringing back Chauncey Billups, that's just what they've done. Nevertheless, on paper Los Angeles projects as a top-four team in the West and a club on the perimeter of the championship conversation.
  • Kirk Hinrich's return to the Bulls makes sense in lieu of Rose's injury, but you have to wonder if Chicago might have been better off waiting to see what the market offered Lou Williams, who agreed to a deal with Atlanta.
  • What are Rockets and Mavericks doing? It's tough to judge them at this point of the offseason, but there is no doubting this: Right now, today, they have skeletal rosters. Our projections have them as the two worst teams in the West, and the big names on the market are drying up fast.

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Follow Bradford Doolittle on Twitter.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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