Knicks Move On From LeBron, Rebuild Around Youth

As soon as LeBron  made his decision to "take his talents to South Beach" a two-year plan to acquire him in free agency plotted by GM Donnie Walsh and head coach Mike D'Antoni came to an ultimately unsuccessful conclusion. 

For the better part of the past decade New York has suffered as a result of poor management and burdensome contracts that had left the organization devoid of financial flexibility.  The popular belief in the media has been that Walsh has only tore the Knicks down in the hope of cashing in on a loaded 2010 free agent market.

That certainly was the most ideal outcome.  

However, believing that the Knicks have simply tore down their roster without any thought of developing players for the future is fiction.  

The Knicks started building a young core with the drafting of Wilson Chandler (23), Danilo Gallinari (21), Toney Douglas (24) over the course of the past 3 seasons. However in their bid to free up cap space to sign a second max salary player this summer the Knicks had to trade future draft picks and also 2009 No. 8 overall pick, Jordan Hill to Houston.  Also thanks to Isiah Thomas' trade for Stephon Marbury, the Knicks were also without a first round pick in this year's draft.

As a result the Knicks have had to get creative in order to add to their trio of draft picks.  The same day they traded Hill to Houston last season, they sent Nate Robinson to Boston in exchange for Bill Walker, J.R. Giddens and Eddie House. House is no longer with the team and Giddens hasn't shown much since his arrival, but Walker (23) was a revelation last year.

Walker was projected as a lottery pick  in 2008, but after suffering his third major knee injury in a workout with the Warriors he dropped into the second round.  Walker shot 51.8% from the field in 27 games for the Knicks after being acquired and most importantly, in fitting in with Mike D'Antoni's system, he showed an ability to stretch the court by shooting 42% from the three.  

These were all players that Walsh felt the team could build around for the future and would also complement James, Wade or any other star that may join the team by spacing the floor effectively.  

Enter Amar'e Stoudemire (27).

Is he worth the 5-year $100 million deal he signed?  No.  Did they overpay?  Yes.  Did the Knicks acquire a legitimate star in the league that has the ability to dominate a game inside?  Yes and more than anything, New York needed to acquire a player this summer capable of commanding a defense's attention and taking over a game.  If nothing else Amare's presence will create much better looks for the Knicks' perimeter sharpshooter.

While Stoudemire's signing provided the team with a much needed offensive spark, the Knicks still lacked, the requisite length and athleticism to operate in D'Antoni's uptempo system and still needed to address depth issues up and down the roster, particularly at the point guard and center position.

About ten minutes after James announced his decision, Walsh had the organization moving on and addressed many of those roster issues by completing a trade with the Golden State Warriors.

The Knicks signed and traded David Lee to a 6-year, $80million dollar deal and shipped him to Oakland in return for Anthony Randolph (21), Ronny Turiaf (27) and Kelenna Azubuike (26).  Turiaf provides the Knicks with a big man who has a knack for blocking shots and will complement Amare well inside.  Azubuike is recovering from a devastating injury to his patellar tendon that saw him miss all but 9 games last season, but when healthy is an efficient scorer.  

Randolph, while an unfinished product, is the most intriguing piece the Knicks acquired and has tantalizing potential. At 6'10 he can simply do things on a basketball court that few others can replicate.  He's a good rebounder, active defensively, can handle the ball and has been working on his mid-range game. 

Randolph played in only 33 games last year after suffering an ankle injury and also suffered from a lack of playing time under Don Nelson.  If he can ever put it all together and maximize his physical gifts, he could pair with Amare to give the Knicks one of the most athletic frontcourts in the league.  

A day after that trade was consummated the Knicks then agreed with point guard Raymond Felton (26) to a two-year, $15.8 million deal.  Felton had a solid year for the Bobcats, splitting playing time with D.J. Augustine while posting a career high 39% mark from the three point range.  Felton is one of the fastest players in the league and has experience playing in D'Antoni's system from his high school days when he played under D'Antoni's brother.  

The Knicks then made their most recent addition of the off-season and agreed to a deal with Russian center Timofey Mosgov (24) to a three-year in which only the first-year is guaranteed.  Mosgov is viewed as Russia's best center prospect and has been listed as one of the top European players available over the past 2 years.  While still raw, he is 7'1, is extremely athletic and strong and helps bolster the Knicks' frontline.  

The most impressive part in all of this has been that Walsh has continued to maintain cap flexibility while upgrading the roster.  With Eddy Curry's $11.3 contract expiring at the end of the season, the Knicks are set-up to have room for a max player signing in both 2011, when Carmelo Anthony will be a free agent and in 2012 when Chris Paul will enter the free agent market.  

Obviously as was the case this summer, having space for a max contract player, doesn't automatically mean you'll be able to sign him, but it does give you a chance.  It also allows the Knicks to make trades without having to match salaries.

Building around a young core of Gallinari, Randolph, Chandler, Walker and Douglas while adding in veterans like Stoudemire, Felton, Azubuike and Turiaf who are entering their primes is a smart strategy for a team still 2-3 years from developing into a title contender.  As it stands the Knicks will be able to develop their young players while competing for a lower seed in the Eastern Conference this year. 

The last two seasons under Walsh were all about getting under the cap in an attempt to land James.  While that plan was ultimately unsuccessful, the team they didn't panic and spend the rest of their cap space for the sake of spending it in an act of desperation.  

Instead Walsh has been able to acquire a star big man, role players and talented young prospects that all fit into D'Antoni's uptempo system and address areas of need.  He's done this while maintaining future cap flexibility for the Knicks.  

Many critics will say that the Knicks' failure to land James or Wade means that their plan to get under the cap for this summer was a failure.  By being proactive and having a clear plan to execute as soon as the free agent picture cleared this summer, Walsh has guaranteed the Knicks have laid a solid foundation to build upon for future success.

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