Setting the Stage for the Knicks Offseason

The Knicks are back to being squeezed by the salary cap

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images
    Lin's salary will decide much about the Knicks offseason.

    It's been almost a week since the Knicks' season came to an end in Miami, which means it is high time to stop licking wounds and start looking forward to next season.

    With Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire in place, that means looking at who will be surrounding them as the Knicks once again try to slay the dragon that has kept them from winning a championship since 1973. As it always seems to be with the Knicks, the answer is complicated.

    The easy thing to do would be to bring everyone back and hope that a training camp, with no Mike D'Antoni, makes the team a better version of the one that finished the year 18-6. The rules of the salary cap make that difficult if not impossible.

    Problem number one is that the team does not have "Bird rights" to either Steve Novak or Jeremy Lin because they were claimed on waivers. If they had the rights, they could re-sign both players without worrying about fitting them under the cap.

    The NBA Players Union is currently asking an arbitrator to look into extending the rule to players who were claimed on waivers because, in their view, it isn't any different than if the players were traded and they keep the rights in that situation. That view makes a lot of sense, which probably means it is doomed to failure.

    That leaves them with just a $5 million midlevel exception and a $1.98 million biannual exception to use to sign the two players. Assuming Lin takes the former, Novak is likely to find a better offer than the latter after leading the league in three-point shooting last year.

    Problem number two is that J.R. Smith has a player option for next season. He's indicated a desire to pass on the option to become a free agent or sign a bigger deal with the Knicks, although reports that he's broke might make him decided to simply take the $2.43 million and keep on shooting to his heart's content.

    That would be the best outcome for the Knicks, because they don't get cap space back if Smith passes on the option. Throw that in with a favorable arbitrator ruling and you're in pretty good business.

    And if all that fails? Then it comes down to Lin being willing to take less money, which is as unlikely as it is unwise on Lin's part.

    We like to mythologize players who take less money to play for a team because it feeds the little kid inside us who still thinks sports are games instead of business, but the truth is that very few of those players are making that decision before they've made any money. Lin was on waivers twice last season and then ended the year in a suit because of knee surgery -- two things that would make him insane to consider much other than the biggest possible payday now.

    There's going to be an argument that someone with Lin's marketing potential should take $3 million or so to play for the Knicks, so he could tap into the New York market for endorsement money. But that argument has failed so many times that we won't even pretend to make it. Lin's got a chance to strike while the iron is hot, and you only get so many of those in life.

    If Lin takes the full $5 million exception, the Knicks will have pennies to spend on other players. As Jared Zwerling and Larry Coon of ESPNNewYork.com set out in painstaking detail, that would mean saying goodbye to Novak, Smith (if he doesn't exercise his option) and maybe restricted free agent Landry Fields as well.

    That all sounds very depressing because it makes the future sound like the cap-clogged mess we just woke up from, one that doesn't even come with first-round picks in most of the next few years because of the Anthony trade. It's also depressing because it makes this year's dysfunctional ride to a gentleman's sweep feel even more like it was an actual window for the Knicks to jump through instead of a portent of better days to come.

    We'll find out this summer if that's true, but, for now, it definitely feels like there's more change coming to the Knicks than anyone might like.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.