Free agency has begun, and while the Knicks are in the middle of the action because of Carmelo Anthony's uncertain future, they don't figure to be major players when it comes to other signings. Unless the Knicks make some major moves in getting out from under Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani's eight-figure contracts, the Knicks' most attractive asset will be the mini-Mid-Level Exception, worth about $3.3 million.
Currently, the Knicks roster is bloated with guards. With such depth in the backcourt, it seems the Knicks should focus on strengthening the frontcourt. Tyson Chandler is gone, Carmelo Anthony may be gone, Cole Aldrich might not return, Stoudemire and Bargnani are unreliable and susceptible to injury, and the statuses of guys like Lamar Odom, Cleanthony Early, and Thanasis Antetokounmpo are unknown, really.
So, with all that in mind, here's some intel on potential frontcourt candidates to receive the Knicks' mini-MLE. The likelihood of these signings vary, of course, and it's tough to know whether they'd even be interested in the Knicks. These players' candidacies are based pretty much solely on their talent and/or fit.
Pau Gasol, PF/C, UFA
Last Season: 60 games, 31.4 minutes, 17.4 points, 48% FG, 9.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.5 blocks per game
Previous Salary: $19,285,850
Background: Pau and Phil Jackson won two championships in three tries together with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010. Pau thrived back then by operating out of both the high and low post, shooting the midrange jumper, working with his back to the basket, and finding teammates on the perimeter and inside with his wonderful passing skills. He clashed with Mike D'Antoni in the past two years, however, because their styles didn't fit one another, turning Pau into kind of a loafing, whiny half-asser.
Why We Like Him: Pau was one of the top big men in the entire league during his championship run under Jackson. He's tailor-made for the triangle; he loves to play out of the post, he has finesse down low and in the mid-range, and his passing opens up opportunities for teammates when a defense doubles him. When engaged, he's not the minus on defense he's appeared to be in recent years. Playing for Jackson and Fisher in a new market and in a system he knows could be a late-career revival for him.
Why We Don't Like Him: Besides his personal quarrels with D'Antoni, Pau is 34 years old with a history of knee problems. Though the mini-MLE isn't exactly a long-term contract, if the Knicks keep Carmelo and try to get back into Eastern Conference contention, a less-than-100% Pau as Anthony's running partner won't get them to the top. His tendency to go into cruise control when things didn't go his way the past two seasons is troubling, too.
Likelihood: ESPN reported over the weekend that Pau was indeed Jackson's top target with the mini-MLE. A healthy, fully engaged Gasol would be a terrific addition to this roster, but taking a $14-million pay cut is a lot to ask of a 34-year old former All-Star and champion. It comes down to Gasol's willingness to take less money, desire to leave LA, and belief in what Jackson and Fisher are building. It's a long shot, but one worth pursuing, surely.
Josh McRoberts, PF/C, UFA
Last Season: 78 games, 30.3 minutes, 8.5 points, 43.6% FG, 36.1% 3FG, 4.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists per game
Previous Salary: $2,652,000
Background: McRoberts has bounced around to seven teams in seven years in the NBA. Suffice to say, his generally versatile skill set hasn't found a home anywhere. This past year with Charlotte, he had a solid season, starting all 78 games he played, and while he didn't put up very big man-y numbers, continued to show versatility for his size by stretching the floor and acting as a secondary distributor for their offense.
Why We Like Him: As mentioned, McBob is pretty versatile for a 6'10", 240 lb. dude. Four dimes per game is impressive for a big man on a low-ranked offensive team, and it's nice that he can knock down the three-pointer at a decent clip. With McRoberts on the floor, Charlotte boosted its offensive rating by two points, helping him earn a selective spot as a Bobcat/Hornet/Horncat with a positive net rating (an even 1.0).
Why We Don't Like Him: I mean, seven teams in seven years. Most teams have felt that he doesn't bring enough to the table to make him an indispensable part of their team. He's never rebounded like a big man (4.2 career average in 20 minutes per night, 7.5 per 36 career average), and while he shot decently from downtown last season, his percentages have fluctuated from 28.6% in 2012-13 to 43% the year before. His defense is unremarkable, too.
Likelihood: Though he's not the most exciting prospect, McBob has been linked to the Knicks in trade deadlines and free agencies past. Given his nomad-like career, his low salary last season, and that he opted out of his contract in Charlotte, the mini-MLE in New York seems like a relatively real possibility for him.
Trevor Booker, PF, UFA
Last Season: 72 games, 21.6 minutes, 6.8 points, 55.1% FG, 5.3 rebounds per game
Previous Salary: $2,350,820
Background: Booker's just been one of those dudes his whole four-year career in Washington D.C. He comes off the bench, plays some minutes, does some stuff, and then goes back to the bench. As Michael Lee reports, the Knicks have shown some interest in him to start free agency.
Why We Like Him: Booker is just kind of a solid power forward. He doesn't do anything exceptionally well, but in a reserve role, he can score a little bit around the rim and from midrange, and he rebounds decently. Per 36 minutes, he grabbed 3.5 offensive boards per game, which is a solid number, and probably part of his 72.6% shooting at the rim last season. According to Synergy, Booker was 51st in the NBA scoring offensive rebounds, putting in 1.16 points per possession. Defensively, he's alright at defending the pick-and-roll -- ranked 47th in points per possession allowed, according to Synergy.
Why We Don't Like Him: Booker doesn't bring a whole lot to the table. Though he's never played big minutes per game for his career, his per-36 numbers don't jump off the page, either -- 11 points, 9 rebounds, 1 block per game per 36 minutes. Good, not great. He also doesn't offer the ability to hit the three-pointer that seems to be crucial for many power forwards these days. As far as team defense goes, Booker doesn't bring much. Washington's 106.9 defensive rating with him on the floor was the third-worst of any player on the Wizards last year.
Likelihood: Michael Lee did report the Knicks were interested, but they were just one of several teams, and "interested" doesn't indicate much. But considering he's fairly young and has never earned a big salary, he's within the mini-MLE range. But it's tough to imagine the Knicks using their most valued spending asset on a power forward who can't spread the floor or defend very well.
Patrick Patterson, PF, RFA
Last Season (SAC & TOR): 65 games, 23.6 minutes, 8.5 points, 46% FG, 36.4% 3FG, 5.3 rebounds per game
Previous Salary: $3,105,302
Background: Pat Pat has hopped around a bit since being drafted in 2010. After being traded from Sacramento to Toronto early in the season, however, Patterson developed a nice role as a forward off the bench with the Raptors. He excelled even further in the playoffs, playing 28 minutes per game with nearly 11 points on 54% shooting to go with 6.7 boards per contest.
Why We Like Him: Patterson's about 6'9", so he can't really play center minutes unless D-Fish wants to mess around and go super small. But Patterson's skills would blend nicely with the Knicks and in the triangle. In Toronto, he knocked down threes at a 41% clip, and he became a good spot-up shooter and pick-and-pop man, hitting threes at 39.6% and 41.2% clips in those plays, respectively, according to Synergy. He also ranked 39th in the NBA in post-ups, scoring .90 points per possession, and he shot a very solid 48% from 10-16 feet, a frequent shot in the triangle. Patterson's offensive production helped him lead the Raptors with a 109.5 offensive rating and a team-best 9.9 net rating. He also ain't shabby at defense, either, allowing just .75 points per possession defending post-ups (55th in the NBA) and finishing second on the Raptors with a 99.6 defensive rating (three points better than their team average).
Why We Don't Like Him: There's not much to actively dislike about Patterson, but if there is a nit to pick, it's his inconsistency. He's always had patches of good play, followed by minor slumps in which he doesn't seem like much of an impact player. His inconsistent three-point shooting for his career also isn't an encouraging trend. He shot 44% from downtown in 2012-13 with the Kings and then followed it up with 23% in 2013-14 before being traded to Toronto where it jumped up again. He also doesn't solve too many problems for the Knicks as he's too slow to play small forward, too small to play center, and doesn't protect the rim. He'd fight Stoudemire and Bargnani for minutes at power forward at times.
Likelihood: Patterson being a restricted free agent doesn't bode well for the Knicks. He was effective for the Raptors last season, and though they might not want to match an offer too high for him -- especially given the crop of forwards they already have in place -- $3.3 million isn't exactly a back-breaker. But with Masai Ujiri helming the ship in Toronto, the Raptors aren't likely to sit still, so perhaps if there's a major roster change, Patterson could become available.
Mike Scott, SF/PF, RFA
Last Season: 80 games, 18.5 minutes, 9.6 points, 47.9% FG, 31% 3FG, 3.6 rebounds per game
Previous Salary: $788,872
Background: Mike Scott saw a giant increase in his role from his rookie year to his sophomore year in the NBA, going from 40 games to 80 games played, 9 minutes to 18 minutes per night. He came off the bench for a fairly shallow Atlanta team last season, acting as a spark when they rested the starters, becoming something of a fan-favorite along the way.
Why We Like Him: Scott's numbers don't blow anyone away, but his streaky play has shown glimpses of what he can do. His per-36 numbers last season project him as an 18 & 7-a-night forward, and when given playing time, he produced for Atlanta. In January and February, Scott averaged 22.4 minutes per game and 12.5 points on 41.8% three-point shooting. He's also a solid athlete, capable of finishing at the rim, which would be a welcome addition for the Knicks. His streakiness and explosive athleticism make him pretty suitable for an off-the-bench energizer role, and when he puts it together, he can be lethal. He dropped 30 off the bench against the Knicks in February and then impressed folks in the playoffs with 17 points in 23 minutes in Game 5 against the Pacers.
Why We Don't Like Him: That same streakiness makes it hard to trust Scott with big minutes or a big role, though. He scores well inside of the arc, but he can fall in love with the three-pointer, and his 31% mark from downtown means he's off more than he's on. According to Synergy, Scott's a very solid post-up player, scoring .97 points per possession, 23rd in the league, but it was only his fifth most frequent offensive play, opting for plays like spot-up jumpers, cuts, and pick-and-rolls more often even though he was less efficient in them. Scott is also a weak defender, ranking 319th overall in defense, according to Synergy, and earning a -6.3 net rating on the court for the Hawks, thanks to a 107.6 defensive rating.
Likelihood: Scott's a restricted free agent on a team that seems to like him, so it'll be hard to pry him away from the Hawks. However, $3.3 million per season would be a big pay increase for him, and though Atlanta can match any offer he receives, as a smaller market team who doesn't roll in the profits, they may not want to spend that much on a bench forward. Given his youth, ability to post up, and ability to get hot from deep, Scott could actually be a solid target for the Knicks with the mini-MLE.
Kris Humphries: An obnoxious big man who has consistently rebounded and defended, and finished around the basket pretty well each of his last few seasons. He'd be taking a big pay drop-off from $12 million to $3.3, but he's not going to earn eight-digits again, anyway. He's not an ideal triangle candidate, but he'd get minutes at center on this team.
Channing Frye: Frye is what he is at this point: a big dude who shoots well, rebounds poorly, and generally defends lackadaisically (though he's OK defending the post). For the Knicks, he'd bring the ability to act as a big man and provide needed floor-spacing. However, given that he just opted out of a $6.6 million contract in a good situation in Phoenix, he's probably not realistic at $3.3 million in New York.
Spencer Hawes: Another long shot because he's okay at offense, has had fairly big salaries in recent years, and is tall. He's turned into a dynamite three-point shooter (41.6% last season), is versatile on offense, and is a decent rebounder. Ranked 434th in overall defense with the Cavaliers, though, according to Synergy, and really enjoys shooting the ball.