Where will all the "the Knicks can't possibly get Chris Paul or Dwight Howard" people go when the 2012 NBA salary cap is set at $60 or 61 million? Marc Berman of the New York Post is reporting that number is entirely possible and maybe even likely, and that Knicks owner James Dolan is one of the key proponents of getting it done.
Right now the Knicks have just $44,154,703 in salary commitments for the 2012-13 season, and they owe that amount to three players - Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Renaldo Balkman. If the cap is set at either $60 or 61 million, the Knicks would already have enough salary cap space to offer a maximum salary contract to either Paul, Howard or Nets point guard Deron Williams, plus a little more left over.
If the Knicks choose to use the proposed amnesty provision on Balkman, they would clear another $1,675,000 in salary and have up to about $18.5 million to spend in the summer of 2012.
The question now becomes this: on whom will the Knicks spend all that money? To me, it comes down to either Chris Paul or Dwight Howard. Deron Williams is a terrific player and a top five point guard, but Paul and Howard are each clearly the best at their positions. (For those of you who would argue Derrick Rose over Chris Paul at the point guard position, I encourage you to read my thoughts on that here.)
My answer almost entirely depends on who will be coaching the Knicks in the 2012-13 season. If Mike D'Antoni is still around, you cannot possibly find a better fit than Chris Paul. The point guard is the most important position on the floor in a D'Antoni offense since it is primarily based off the pick-and-roll.
Paul and Amar'e Stoudemire would immediately form one of the most dominant pick-and-roll duos of all time. Paul is an expert at reading the defense and taking what is there out of the pick-and-roll, and in this Sebastian Pruiti post on NBAPlaybook, you can see just how good of a decision maker he is in those situations. (The part on Paul is toward the bottom)
Additionally, Stoudemire is one of the best finishers in the league off the pick-and-roll, especially off dives to the basket through the middle of the lane. He and Steve Nash ran this play to perfection when he was in Phoenix.
A quick look at his shot location chart shows that Stoudemire played a much more perimeter and mid-range based game last year. This is primarily because New York didn't have a proper pick-and-roll partner for him to work with for much of the season. He initially struggled to gain chemistry with Raymond Felton before finding a nice rhythm, and then the February trade necessitated changes to the offensive system to suit the strengths of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups.
There's no one better than Chris Paul at getting his teammates the ball exactly where they like to score, and that would make Stoudemire and Anthony even more dangerous scorers than they already are. Signing Paul would still leave a hole along the Knicks' front line and expose them to being beaten inside on the defensive end, but Mike D'Antoni would gladly make that tradeoff.
Alternatively, Paul would help shore up their perimeter defense as he is one of the best defensive point guards in the league. The Knicks struggle with dribble penetration by quicker point guards like Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo, and signing Paul would help combat that.
The real defensive game changer though is Howard. There's a reason he is a three-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year: he's hands down the best defensive player in the NBA and it's not all that close.
He blocks over 2.0 shots per game and alters countless others. He scares guys out of shot attempts altogether. He turns close and late games into jump shooting contests because guys won't challenge him in the lane. It's arguablethat no one has made a bigger impact on the defensive side of the floor since Hakeem Olajuwon.
Howard also improved his offensive game by leaps and bounds last season. He raised his points per game average from 18.3 to 22.9, mostly by perfecting a jump hook over his right shoulder from the left block and adding a counter-spin toward the baseline.
Howard gets a lot of points because of his ferocious offensive rebounding as well, which is an area the Knicks are extremely lacking. Howard's rebounding and defensive prowess makes him an excellent fit next to Amar'e, who to put it kindly, is not a very good defender or rebounder.
Howard's tremendous inside presence also tends to get opposing teams into foul trouble quickly, which both depletes their options off the bench and leads to more free throws in bonus opportunities.
In a system that is not so much geared around the point guard as Mike D'Antoni's, Howard has a better chance to impact games on both ends than Paul does, especially because the Knicks' biggest weaknesses are Howard's biggest strengths. If the Knicks could land Howard, and then get either Chauncey Billups or Steve Nash to take a short-term, low-money deal to chase a ring, that might be the optimal scenario.
Obviously, there is the now-infamous CP3 toast from Carmelo Anthony's wedding to consider. It's quite possible that this thing is already set in motion and that Chris Paul will be a Knick no matter what just like many think that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh landing in Miami was a done deal in 2008.
If the Knicks can pair Paul with a defensive-minded center on a low-salary deal to complement Anthony, Stoudemire and presumably, Iman Shumpert and Landry Fields, they'd have a really nice core to move forward with and could compete with the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls for years.
Paul and Howard are two of the 10 best players in the league, and to add either of them to Stoudemire and Anthony would give the Knicks as much firepower at the top of the lineup as any team in the NBA, including the vaunted Miami Heat.
Either way, the 2012 cap number is a huge development for the Knicks and their future, and all Knicks fans should hope Berman's sources have it right.