In Robin Lopez, New York secured a building block of an eventual good team*. By signing Arron Afflalo, they made a low-risk, mutually beneficial commitment they could eventually keep, replace, or trade, perhaps with equal ease. In failing to, say, sign Marc Gasol, or add a maximum-contract big man AND a top-tier wing, the Knicks confirmed that New York is not Mecca, Phil Jackson is not a shaman, and anyone who expected anything but a healthy, gradual rebuild was mistaken.
All of this is okay with me, and I've been pleased since midnight Wednesday to see the Knicks work methodically and sensibly, and not get hysterical when the snubs most of us expected came to pass. You've gotta Afflalo before you run, as they say.
The Derrick Williams signing was where things turned juuuust a little bit, but only because of the contract. Because the Knicks aren't going to be very good this season, they can afford space and minutes to a renaissance project or two. Four seasons of Derrick Williams suggest he will not apply his skills to productive basketball-playing, but because of his age and draft position, he deserves a chance. And if he decides not to suck, he fits into a position of need.**
Must you pay a guy $5 million -- that is, not pay someone else that $5 million -- to give him a chance? Do you give that guy the option to earn another $5 million even if he continues to suck? Even in this summer's market, I reckon not; I think you offer that person near-minimum money to save his career, keep any options under team control, then comfortably move your attention to elsebody if another team outbids you.
But again, that's just the contract, and the level of excess here is minimally harmful. Williams is, I think, the kind of signing the Knicks should seek, up to a point. Take a couple flyers -- not just with money, but with minutes. Test the scouts' eyes and the coaches' hands. Let the rookies spin. See what you have in Cleanthony Early and, one would hope, Thanasis Antetokounmpo. Give...I dunno, John Jenkins a try. See if Xavier Henry's legs feel better. See if Justin Holiday would prefer regular minutes to a good team. Jeff Withey. Toure' Murry. Carvis Basmip. I'm just reeling off young free agents I think might be okay here. That last name might not have been real. Giving an addition like any of the above meaningful money is setting the bar too high to retain them should they blossom, but ... well, the "meaningful money" option just left with Derrick Williams. Don't have to make that potential mistake twice.
The Knicks can and probably should add another hardy veteran, and they can and probably should retain a handful of players from last year's roster -- something Joe's gonna bring up soon -- but they might as well give out some golden tickets, too.
** Derrick Williams' struggles up to this point are fascinating. Stats say he's been among the worst defensive players in the league, which, given his habitus, means he must REALLY not want to defend. And his shot chart is unlike anything I've ever seen. Why the hell is a right-handed player who hits almost nothing from anywhere so amazing on the left side of the rim? Williams may not be any good, but he is going to be interesting.