In just under a month, NBA basketball will return to our planet, rendering it inhabitable once more. If you're too busy rejoicing to mind the details, I can't blame you, but those details began to emerge over the weekend, and the outlook for this year's Knicks team is coming into focus. While there won't be a full schedule until the lockout is officially resolved, we do have a sketch of how things will look. The season will begin on Christmas Day with a triple-header of games, the first of which is expected to be Knicks–Celtics. After that, there will be 65 more games packed quite snugly into the remaining months, with limited inter-conference play and occasional back-to-back-to-back game nights. The regular season will end April 26, followed by the beginning of the playoffs two days later. But we're getting too far ahead of ourselves. Both business and basketball have been locked out, and the former needs some time to operate before the latter can begin. We're about to have an "off-season" that lasts just a few weeks. League-wide, it's going to be a blur of transactions. For the Knicks, it might be a bit calmer.
On December 9, training camp and free agency will commence simultaneously. That overlap might be a little awkward, but here's who's definitely going to be there for the Knicks:
Those folks are all signed up for the coming season. Landry Fields and Andy Rautins need to be locked into the remaining years of their rookie contracts, while this year's first round pick, Iman Shumpert, still needs to sign his. Josh Harrellson and Jerome Jordan — big men drafted in each of the last two second rounds — should both be in camp as well (Jordan has been loping around for teams in Serbia and Slovenia since being drafted in 2010).
While Harrellson and Jordan aren't sure things, the other ten guys pretty much are, and paying those folks will already put the Knicks just over the projected salary cap for this season. They're also dead set on preserving cap space for 2012, when Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, and a number of other desirable bros will become free agents. All together, that means the Knicks' chances of reeling in a meaningful free agent right now are slim. Though they're being written about, you're unlikely to see Jamal Crawford returning or Samuel Dalembert patrolling the paint for the Knicks this season. Even the mid-level exception, an asset that will be preserved in the new CBA, will likely get pocketed.
So, beyond the folks listed, the Knicks will probably look to fill out their roster with one-year contracts paying the veteran's minimum salary. Targets for such contracts will surely include some of last year's guys. Derrick Brown, the long-limbed forward who signed in the middle of last year but hardly played, is a restricted free agent; the Knicks will have the option to match any offer Brown receives. Outside of Brown, a number of last year's guys are unrestricted free agents and may be willing to return for the veteran's minimum. Shawne Williams expressed interest in coming back earlier in the summer, while Shelden Williams, Roger Mason, Jared Jeffries and Anthony Carter will all be considered as well.
Looking outward, New York will contend only for those in the shallow end of the free agent pool. The Post named a few veteran centers, including Kwame Brown, Tony Battie, Theo Ratliff, and Aaron Gray as potential cheap options, though pursuit of any of those fellows will depend on the outlook for Harrellson and Jordan (not to mention competition from other suitors). If Carter and Mason are allowed to walk, the Knicks might also seek some back-court help, as the depth behind Chauncey Billups and Landry Fields amounts to Toney Douglas, the newcomer Shumpert, and whatever Andy Rautins has to offer.
So, after a relatively quiet off-season in 2009 followed by massive spending in the summer of 2010 (and the season thereafter), the 2011 "off-season" should be a return to deference and waiting. Thankfully, with everything accelerated and miniaturized by this lockout, that wait won't be very long.