During the 2013-14 NBA season, Nuggets fans were hoping that the New York Knicks disaster season would stay that way. The reason Nuggets Nation was hopeful for the Knicks demise? Simple, Denver was to receive the more favorable draft pick between the two teams - with the worse pick going to Orlando, as part of the Andre Iguodala, Dwight Howard, Arron Afflalo, and Al Harrington mega trade.
Everything was going according to plan as of March 2nd, 2014. The Knicks were a horrendous 21-40 and in serious running to gift the Nuggets a pick in the 3-5 range of the 2014 draft. As Nuggets-luck would have it, the Knicks reeled off eight straight wins from March 3rd to March 21st. In fact, they finished the season 16-5 and improved their once 21-40 record to 37-45 or one game better than the dang Nuggets (36-46).
It was somewhere in that eight game win streak that Jeff Morton sent me a text with the following phrase: Don't outsource your tanking.
Well said. The Nuggets were not gifted a prized pick in the 2014 draft. Instead, they kept their own pick and selected Doug McDermott for the Chicago Bulls with the 11th pick, as part of a trade that would net the Nuggets Jusuf Nurkic, 16th pick, and Gary Harris, 19th pick. There is no doubt that Denver lucked into Nurkic and Harris, but they almost came away with a really really good pick.
Consider the following... The Bucks finished the season with a league-worst 15 wins, the 76ers 19, Magic 23, Jazz 25, and the Celtics with 25 wins, too. Had the Knicks maintained their losing ways for the final 21 games of the '13-14 run, Denver might have wound up with the 4th or 5th pick in the draft last season. They would have been able to choose from: Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart, Dante Exum, Julius Randle, or others. Call me crazy, but I think I'd rather have Nurkic and Harris over any one of those guys - except maybe in Smart and Randle's cases. Maybe.
Why do we bring all this up? Because Nuggets fans again will be rooting against the Knicks this season, or we should be (shouldn't we?), in hopes of being able to utilize a pick-swap with the New York based professional basketball squad. There are zero protections on that pick-swap owned by the Nuggets. So, if the Knicks come away with the 2nd overall pick in the 2016 draft and Denver's pick is 4th overall ... then the Nuggets can take the 2nd pick, and the Knicks would then get the 4th pick (which they have to send to the Toronto Raptors because of the Andrea Bargnani trade!).
So, as we are now in the NBA's free agency period, what are we supposed to do? The Nuggets have 14 players under contract (you can read up on that in the article embedded above) at the moment, including Emmanuel Mudiay and a placeholder for Nikola Jokic, and they need to re-sign Will Barton and are interested in retaining Jameer Nelson's services. You can only have 15 players on your roster during the season, so the team needs to make some moves.
But free agent moves are not likely to come, so maybe we turn our attention to rooting against the Knicks? Did you know New York only has five guys under guaranteed contracts for next season?
1.) Carmelo Anthony: $22.4 million
2.) Jose Calderon: $7.4 million
3.) Cleanthony Early: $845,059
4.) Kristaps Porzingis
5.) Jerian Grant
And they have two players with non-guaranteed deals:
1.) Langston Galloway: $845,059
2.) Ricky Ledo: $947,276
That's just seven guys! They will need to sign 5-8 more players for the coming season (heavy emphasis on eight!), if they keep Galloway and Ledo on the books.
Perusing Posting and Toasting.com, I gathered the following guys on the Knicks' shopping list at the outset of free agency:
1.) LaMarcus Aldridge: a long shot for NY, but hey...they are NY.
2.) Greg Monroe: believed to be the front-runners for the former Georgetown Hoya.
3.) David West: could be a likely signing, but a backup plan.
4.) Arron Afflalo: he may definitely sign with the Knicks, and watch his career waste away.
5.) Al Faroqu Aminu: improved game over last couple seasons, but fills a specific role and plays SF, like Melo.
6.) DeMarre Carroll: coming off a great season, plays same position as Melo.
7.) Nemanja Bjelica: Euroleague MVP, rights owned by the Timberwolves, skilled PF believed to be triangle fit.
8.) Danny Green: he probably wants to get paid, but it'd be hard to leave the Spurs.
9.) Robin Lopez: with Portland in a bad place, Side Show Bob might be on the move.
Look at those name above (more names will surface as time goes by). There are four power forwards, two shooting guards, two small forwards, and one center. Yes, the Knicks need all the help they can get, but they won't be able to sign both Aldridge and Monroe. They might be able to get Monroe, West, and Afflalo ... maybe Aminu and Bjelica too. But they'd have to trade for Bjelica, with the Wolves.
Let's say they head into the season with the following roster:
PG: Calderon, J. Grant, Galloway
SG: Afflalo, Ledo
SF: Melo, Aminu
PF: Monroe, Porzingis
C: Lopez, Player X
Is that a playoff team in the East? The Brooklyn Nets grabbed the 8th seed with a 38-44 record, last season. Couldn't the Knicks, with 70+ games from Melo and not 40, improve their 17 win season by 21 measly games? That's not a bad starting lineup, with guys in AAA, Melo, and Monroe that have been used to trying to carry offenses in the recent past. But that bench is horrific. They need to ink guys with experience that can still play, easier said than done. And with the money owed to Melo, they have to spend wisely this summer to get as many quality guys as possible.
If the Knicks are forced to overpay for one big name this summer, with LMA or even Monroe, that bodes well for Nuggets Nation. It was difficult for the Miami Heat to surround LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh with quality role players during their title runs, as the Big-3 took up most of the salary cap. How difficult would it be to surround Melo and Monroe with quality role players, when your two "stars" would have such glaring holes in their respective games?
It's going to be an interesting free agency period for Nuggets fans, but not for all the right reasons. And that's because the Nuggets will soon be receiving the last gift of the Melo trade - the 2016 pick swap with the Knicks.
We're back to rooting for what Jeff Morton has cautioned against: outsourcing our tanking.