Ranking the Top Free Agency Fits to Pair with Carmelo Anthony Next Offseason
As of now, the team will have roughly $14 million in cap space, but the working assumption is that Phil Jackson will find the necessary roster moves to open up room for a maximum salary.
In choosing Anthony as his centerpiece, Jackson could be limiting himself a bit in constructing a roster. Despite being an elite scorer, 'Melo has never dominated on the other end of the floor. His tendency to hog the ball at times also could lead to potential worries if the supporting cast is lacking.
Building a winner around Anthony isn't impossible. But it's a task that requires planning, and simply jumping at the biggest available name wouldn't help New York's cause. In this case, the fit means everything. And there are several names among the star-studded free agent class that stand out in this regard.
Among the max-level guys available a year from now, we've ranked the ones who would fit best beside Anthony on Derek Fisher's Knicks.
6. Roy Hibbert
Disastrous 2014 postseason performance aside, Roy Hibbert will still garner legitimate free-agency interest once his Indiana Pacers deal expires next summer. His status as elite rim protector would help alleviate several defensive issues the team could possibly face, though he isn't the type of scorer a triangle center typically is.
Hibbert will be 28 next summer, and depending on his performance this season, could be a somewhat affordable option for Jackson, possibly leaving New York with some spending room.
Adding Hibbert would help recreate the type of nucleus New York found success with in 2012-13 by placing a strong defensive backbone under the rim behind Anthony. According to NBA.com, Hibbert's opponents shot only 41.4 percent at the rim last season, which was the second-best mark in the NBA among players who faced at least five shots there per game.
He's not nearly as effective on the offensive end, shooting under 47 percent for his career, and his lack of effectiveness on the boards for a man his size is concerning. With sound roster-filling, a Hibbert signing could be justified at the right price. But if he's the marquee name New York comes away with in 2015—after years of planning—something's gone horribly wrong.
5. LaMarcus Aldridge
The Knicks have been down the "pairing Carmelo Anthony with a scoring, ball-dominant power forward" road before. And without comparing LaMarcus Aldridge to Amar'e Stoudemire, it would be difficult to make this teaming work.
According to NBA.com, Aldridge averaged 67.6 touches per game with the Portland Trail Blazers last season, while Anthony came in at 69.2. Both players generally need the ball in their hands to dominate and tend to operate out of the same spots in isolation. Both players' most frequent shot location falls between 16 feet and the three-point arc, according to Basketball-Reference.
But the temptation to pair Anthony with a scorer of Aldridge's caliber, on the surface, is enticing. Per NBA.com, Aldridge averaged more points per half-court touch, with .55, than Anthony did at .52. He's coming off a career-worst season in terms of field-goal percentage, but also his first double-digit rebound campaign.
Labeling Aldridge as a one-trick pony may not be fair, though. According to 82games, he held his opponents to effective field-goal percentages under 50 and to below-average PERs. During the regular season, Blazers opponents scored four points per 100 possessions while Aldridge sat, and that number ballooned to five in the playoffs.
Still, for two players who rely on scoring to make an impact—and who do it in very similar ways—joining forces wouldn't be in either star's best interest.
4. Kevin Love
Yes, we are talking about a would-be 26-year-old Kevin Love teaming up with Carmelo Anthony in his prime. But for the same reasons mentioned in regards to Aldridge, this pairing wouldn't be the best move New York could make.
Of course, this is assuming Love isn't a Cleveland Cavalier by this time next summer.
By all metrics, Love is one of the best young players in the league today and players like him rarely even hit the free-agent market. When they do, teams typically do whatever they can to reel him in. But with Anthony already on board as the cornerstone, Jackson's front office should understand the dangers of locking up more than $40 million annually in two scoring forwards.
Love has hauled down more than 12 boards per game over his six-year career, including 12 percent of all available offensive rebounds and 30 percent on the defensive end. His PER was near 27 this past season, and his win shares total over 14.
But the goal now is to build a lineup, rotation and team around Anthony's skill set. Using almost all available cap space on a player who won't improve the defense or solve long-term point guard issues doesn't accomplish that.
3. Goran Dragic
Part of the challenge Phil Jackson will face next summer is determining which players will best complement Carmelo Anthony's skills instead of simply plucking the brightest names off the market. After the team does its research, it should find that adding a point guard—namely Goran Dragic—could be the best route.
One noted flaw in Anthony's offensive game is his knack to occasionally disrupt flow and hold onto the ball. This could be eased or even eliminated by the mere presence of a strong point guard—someone who 'Melo respects and trusts, either by virtue of personality or performance—who can take matters back into his own hands and redirect the offense when stagnancy is an issue.
In Dragic's case, the numbers speak for themselves. In just his second season as full-time starter, the 28-year-old put up 20 points and six assists on 51 percent shooting, including 41 percent from distance. He was half of the Phoenix Suns' dynamic backcourt with Eric Bledsoe, but when Dragic was off the floor, Phoenix's offense dipped 10 points per 100 possessions.
During his breakout 2013-14 campaign, he turned it over at a career-low ratio while posting a career-high usage rate.
His success from beyond the arc makes him a prime floor-spacer for Anthony and certainly valuable in the triangle. Looking back at Anthony's career to date, he's enjoyed the most success when he's been lined up with a legitimate option at the point—think Chauncey Billups with the Denver Nuggets and most recently Jason Kidd in New York.
Adding Dragic to the mix long-term would not only add supreme talent to the roster but also help accentuate 'Melo's individual talents.
2. Marc Gasol
For the same reasons that a Kevin Love-Carmelo Anthony duo would have its difficulties, Marc Gasol teaming with 'Melo in New York would almost be a best-case scenario for the Knicks.
Over six seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies, the 29-year-old has evolved from Pau Gasol's younger brother into one of the league's best centers. He signed a four-year extension before the 2011-12 season that has delayed his free agency but expires after this coming season.
With the Knicks, Gasol wouldn't have to change much to fit into the triangle. According to Synergy, he put up a respectable 0.9 points per play in post-ups and 1.07 PPP as a roll man. During the 2012-13 season, he was the 15th-most efficient scorer in post-ups at 0.96 PPP and 23rd-best league-wide as the screener with 1.19 per play.
Defensively, he's everything a team needs at the center position—especially the Knicks, whose 2015 roster currently consists of Anthony, Jose Calderon and J.R. Smith, among other defensive liabilities. During his Defensive Player of the Year 2012-13 campaign, Gasol allowed just 0.66 PPP in the post. In an injury-plagued 2013-14 season, that mark was a still-respectable 0.79.
Gasol isn't a dynamic scorer of Anthony's brand but a consistent one nonetheless. On the other end, he'd be the eraser needed at the rim on a presumably defensively challenged Knicks team. If New York comes away from 2015 free agency with a core of Gasol and Anthony, it's one that could put them in a position to contend throughout the decade.
1. Rajon Rondo
Factoring everything into the equation, Rajon Rondo should be the Knicks' primary target next offseason.
There was wind of Anthony pressing for Rondo to change colors last summer, when Marc Berman of the New York Post reported that 'Melo wanted New York to make a play for the point guard in a trade (despite having nothing of value):
Anthony told friends after the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trade to the Nets, he figured the Knicks would make a play for point guard for Rajon Rondo. Anthony believes Rondo would be the perfect piece and would be super motivated in New York to attempt to knock off Garnett and Pierce.
Next summer, though, the Knicks won't need trade assets—only cap room, which they'll have plenty of.
Last December, in a USA Today feature, both players' high school coach at Oak Hill, Steve Smith, hinted that Anthony has been pulling some strings for months now:
No, I think he should be fine. He took a long time off and he’s rehabbed the right way. Whether he stays in Boston or not who knows. I know, talking to Melo, he’s recruiting Rajon to come to New York. Melo thinks he’ll come, too. You never know about that stuff though. I think either way, Rajon will be fine.
Providing Anthony with Rondo would be giving him the perfect co-pilot: a point man he can trust to make decisions. More importantly, he'd be a voice in the huddle who wouldn't hesitate to call out another star if the ball keeps sticking.
The only reservation Jackson could have about a Rondo signing stems from beyond the three-point arc, where the 28-year-old has shot just 25 percent for his career and has hardly improved over his eight NBA seasons. But—at least in the short-term—Coach Fisher could run a backcourt pair of Rondo and Jose Calderon, who is a 41-percent shooter from three.
Rondo would have an impact on the defensive end too, where in 2011-12 (his last full season), he held his opponents to an effective field goal percentage of just 41.4 and a PER under 11, according to 82games.
Rondo has a history of orchestrating a star-studded offense in a power market, and with the Knicks, it would be his chance to be one of the stars.