Are Knicks Stuck Between Rock and a Pipe Dream?

Interested in Magic center, but signing him would preclude free agent in 2010

Knicks fans not content to root for Patrick Ewing to finally be part of a championship team may have another reason to watch the Magic and Lakers in the NBA Finals. According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, the Knicks are interested in Magic backup center Marcin Gortat with their $5 million mid-level salary cap exemption in the offseason.

Gortat doesn't get many minutes playing behind Dwight Howard, but has shown some good defensive and rebounding skills in limited opportunities. It's hard to extrapolate how going from 12 minutes per game to 28 or 30 would affect his contributions, but it would seem like Gortat's skills fit the needs the Knicks have from a center. It doesn't hurt that he was originally drafted by the Suns while Mike D'Antoni was with Phoenix either.

So signing Gortat might help the Knicks become a better team in the 2009-10 season, but that's not reason enough for them to pursue the deal. Signing Gortat, or any player, will make it harder for the Knicks to land one of the big-ticket free agents after next season. That's been the whole point of everything the team has done since Donnie Walsh and D'Antoni took over operations, and changing gears at this point seems like a strange change of direction. After all, the Knicks may have had a better shot at making the playoffs this season if they hadn't dealt away so many players for salary cap relief.

And that's not the worst of it. In a pre-Finals chat last week, NBA commissioner David Stern said that as the league's revenues recede so will the salary cap. Unless the Knicks can find a very quick way to dump Jared Jeffries and Eddy Curry, here's betting that they can't, that means they can't bring back both David Lee and Nate Robinson. That's not the worst thing in the world, especially if Robinson is the guy leaving town, but it does mean that it will be very difficult for the Knicks to make a marked improvement in the win column.

And all of that is presented with full knowledge that the Knicks could have all their ducks in a row while still winding up short of the free agent haul that they've been dreaming about for the last year. Still, though, a play for Gortat or any other free agent available for the mid-level is not going to vault the Knicks into contention, so it is better to remain focused on the brass ring.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to and in addition to his duties for

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