By Chris Sheridan
NOTE TO READERS: This post was updated at 4:30 p.m. EDT Friday afternoon to reflect the surprising news out of the Board of Governors meeting that the NBA is now projecting the 2010-11 salary cap to be $56.1 million.
GREENBURGH, N.Y. - ESPN colleague Andrew Marchand covered the Knicks' day-after story Thursday, and I was there as well to get a reading on what the Knicks roster will look like when they enter free agency.
We all know what New York wants to come out of free agency with if Plan A succeeds (a certain guy from Akron is atop their wish list), and Donnie Walsh held his tongue all afternoon and never once mentioned any player from any other team by name.
But in order to drop as far as they can beneath the salary cap to make any max offers (next season's cap is currently projected to be $56.1 million), they have to clear away current players who continue to count against the cap (at a highly inflated percentage) until they are re-signed, traded, renounced or sign elsewhere as unrestricted free agents. Not including all-but-certain-to-be-castoffs Tracy McGrady, J.R. Giddens, Earl Barron, Jonathan Bender and Sergio Rodriguez, the Knicks have four players who conceivably could be used in sign-and-trade deals.
And to drop as far as they can below the cap, the Knicks must first decide whether they are going to do any sign-and-trade deals involving David Lee (who will be held against their cap at $14 million -- twice his salary this past season), Al Harrington (whose cap hold is $20.05 million), Chris Duhon ($12.06 million cap hold) and Eddie House ($7.2 million cap hold) as part of their overhaul.
Bill Walker, the only possible keeper acquired in the Nate Robinson deal, has a team option for $854,389 that the Knicks have until Aug. 1 to decide whether to exercise, and they'll have two rookies on their roster assuming they hold onto both of their second-round picks (they have their own, and the Clippers' -- the latter representing the, ahem, bounty Walsh reaped from his first trade as Knicks president, sending Renaldo Balkman to Denver.)
So when the calendar hits July 1, the Knicks will essentially have seven players under contract (six if Walker is renounced earlier than Aug. 1, a decision which coach Mike D'Antoni indicated will be determined in part by whether Walker starts shedding some weight).
The seven are Walker, Eddy Curry, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Toney Douglas and the two second-round picks. (It should be noted that Walsh said the Knicks might try to trade into the first round, depending on whether the 2010-11 cap will come in higher than the league has been forecasting. Now that we know that is indeed the case, the Knicks may be more willing to spend $3 million to acquire a first-round pick, as they did a year ago when they purchased the Lakers' pick and selected Douglas).
The combined salaries for those seven players will be $18.6 million, and since league rules mandate that every team must always have at least 12 players counting against the cap, the Knicks -- if they renounced every single one of their free agents -- would have to carry five phantom players with cap holds of $473,604, the league minimum salary for next season, which would increase their committed payroll to nearly $21 million.
So if the salary cap is set at an even $56 million, simple math tells us the Knicks will have $35 million in room.
That is a significant number, because the maximum starting salary New York will be able to offer to LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire or any other max player will be about $16.5 million. And $16.5 million times two equals $33 million, which means the Knicks should have an extra $2 or so million to spend on additional free agents and/or first-round draft picks.
Sorry to make your head spin with all that capology, but it's something Knicks fans need to grasp to realize how the system works, and how critical Friday's news was that the cap will be coming in relatively high. Had the cap been set lower than $54 million, Walker may have needed to be cut (which would add an additional $381,000 of room), or Douglas and his $1.07 million salary might have had to be traded.
(Another important note: Gate receipts help determine where the salary cap is set, so Knicks fans should be rooting for every single playoff series to go seven games, which would mean there would be ticket revenue from 105 postseason games added to the cap calculation equation. Conversely, if every series were to end in a four-game sweep, there would be only 60 games worth of gate receipts).
One other important note: Should Plan A fail, or should the Knicks go after one max player and two $6-8 million players, they will have one trick up their sleeve. Those two $6-8 million players would be able to sign contracts with 25 percent "unlikely" bonuses for making the playoffs -- a type of bonus that two other heavy-hitter cap room teams, Miami and Chicago, do not have the luxury of offering.
Again, apologies for all the higher math. But since it has been 14 years since the Knicks were under the salary cap, it is worth a refresher course on this stuff.
This strategy is not only a gamble, it's somewhat of a prayer -- a reality D'Antoni demonstrated by bending down on one knee when he was asked what his recruiting pitch would be.