Before everyone gets too far into the discussion of whether the Knicks should go after Samuel Dalembert, thereby sacrificing a significant portion of their 2012 salary cap space and removing the possibility of signing Dwight Howard, Chris Paul or Deron Williams in the summer of 2012, let's take a step back.
The collective bargaining agreement expires June 30, and Dalembert would not become a free agent until July 1. Nobody knows what the rules of the new labor agreement will be, and the proposal delivered by the owners to the players last week (which was not received warmly by the union) includes the elimination of the mid-level exception the Knicks would need to use to sign someone of Dalembert's caliber.
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Also, Sacramento Kings owner Joe Maloof has said retaining Dalembert (and guard Marcus Thornton) would be an offseason priority. The Kings, who expect to be about $26 million under the salary cap, have the option of signing Dalembert to an extension between now and June 30.
For argument's sake, let's include Dalembert among the top five centers who could possibly become free agents this summer (the rankings are mine) and take a closer look at their individual situations:
1. Nene. The Denver Nuggets center has an early termination clause in his contract, and most around the NBA expect him to exercise it. The Nuggets also have the option of signing him to an extension before the current CBA expires, but he would be the most sought-after big man on the market if he chooses unrestricted free agency -- and thus would be beyond the Knicks' financial means because they have no salary cap space.
2. Tyson Chandler. With the season he is having as the Mavericks are still playing in the postseason, it would make little sense for Dallas to let him leave. That would force them to hand over the position to Brendan Haywood, perhaps the worst free agency signing of 2010 (apologies to Johan Petro) when Mark Cuban signed him for six years and $55 million.
3. Marc Gasol. The Memphis center will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Grizzlies will have the right to match any offer. You think they would refuse to match after Gasol just helped them upset the No. 1-seeded San Antonio Spurs? Didn't think so. And again, he would command a salary that would be beyond the Knicks' means (mid-level, if such a thing exists).
4. DeAndre Jordan. Here is a guy who might accept mid-level money, but he, too, is a restricted free agent, and even the Clippers are smart enough to know that his athleticism and shot-blocking is a perfect complement to Blake Griffin along the front line for the long-term -- especially with Chris Kaman's monster contract coming off the books in 2012.
5. Dalembert. If those first four guys are off the market, Dalembert would emerge as the No. 1 free-agent center if you eliminate Yao Ming and Greg Oden because of their medical conditions. The laws of supply and demand traditionally benefit 7-footers in the NBA, and Dalembert would likely be able to find a team willing to pay him more than the projected mid-level number of $6 million.
So, who else is out there?
Here, alphabetically, are the centers due to become free agents (an R denotes a restricted free agent, a PO denotes that the player has an option to remain under for the 2011-12 season):
Louis Amundson (PO), Hilton Armstrong, Alexis Ajinca, Tony Battie, Kwame Brown, Brian Cook (PO), Jason Collins, Erick Dampier, Francisco Elson, Melvin Ely, Kyrylo Fesenko, Jeff Foster, Dan Gadzuric, Aaron Gray (PO), Hamed Hammadi (R), Spencer Hawes (R), Chuck Hayes, Ryan Hollins (PO), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (PO), Jared Jeffries, Solomon Jones, Nenad Krstic, Jamaal Magloire, D.J. Mbenga, Nazr Mohammed, Shaquille O'Neal (PO), Josh Powell, Joel Przybilla, Theo Ratliff, Jason Smith, Etan Thomas, Kurt Thomas and Ronny Turiaf (PO).