6 Free Agents the New York Knicks Should Target in 2017 NBA Offseason

Sara Peters@3FromThe7Featured ColumnistMarch 24, 2017

6 Free Agents the New York Knicks Should Target in 2017 NBA Offseason

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Here we are again, New York Knicks fans. High hopes inspired by last offseason's haul of big names and proven talent have fallen off a cliff, crumbled into dust, blown away and sunk into the East River, where so many things go to die and be forgotten.

    The front office has a chance at redemption this summer. Four members of the Knicks backcourt—Derrick Rose, Sasha Vujacic, Ron Baker and Justin Holiday—are entering free agency, giving management the chance to invest in sturdy, young mid-level players or splash out on an old Banana Boat.

    Luring anyone to the so-called "Mecca" (which hasn't witnessed a conference championship in a generation) won't be easy. The front office is now notorious for disposing of players quickly or simply trashing them on Twitter. Head coach Jeff Hornacek didn't make the point guard sales pitch any easier when he hinted this week that the team would perhaps run the "full triangle" next season, per ESPN.com.  

    Yet, the Knicks cannot be deterred by such matters, because they have an empty backcourt and a desperate defense to fix. Besides, players have been wooed by nice presents and empty promises before. 

    So who should get the champagne-and-roses treatment?

Re-Sign Ron Baker and Justin Holiday

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    As I said a few weeks ago, the Knicks should aim to re-sign two of their four soon-to-be free agents: Justin Holiday and Ron Baker. 

    Justin Holiday is one of the few things about the Knicks defense that works. He's an ideal three-and-D backup to Courtney Lee and can be counted on to nail the momentum-shifting triple or pick a star's pocket in clutch time

    Holiday quietly does the hustle-and-help defensive work and has one of the best defensive ratings on the squad (second only to Vujacic). He can unleash all sorts of offensive pain as well, from three-pointers to driving tomahawk dunks. The 28-year-old is also the only Knick to suit up for all 72 games.  

    As for the rookie Ron Baker, Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek put it best Jan. 16, per Newsday's Roger Rubin, when he said: "Ron just competes. He’s in the right spots almost all the time."

    The Knicks would miss Baker's court vision and ability to lead a team out of a deficit, not to mention his hurly-burly drives to the basket. 

Jrue Holiday

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    While he doesn't have quite the feline agility of Derrick Rose, New Orleans Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday (brother of Justin) also makes athletic drives from the arc to the iron. Additionally, he has a much prettier jump shot, particularly from deep (36.2% 3FG this season), which was on full display during a 33-point, 10-assist storm on the Cleveland Cavaliers Jan. 23. 

    Holiday is also an excellent distributor. He's logging 7.2 assists per game this season and led the league in dishes a few years ago. That passing ability would serve him well in the triangle, and at age 26 he may hate it less than some of the older point guards on the market.

    Just as important, if not more for the Knicks' purposes, he's a superb defender. Holiday ranks 11th in the league in defensive win shares. He averages 1.6 steals and 3.3 defensive rebounds per game.

    The Knicks might be able to lure 26-year-old Jrue with the promise of playing with his older brother. Justin told the New York Post's Marc Berman March 3, “If we can play together, that would be a dream come true, and we’d be successful doing it."

    Of course, the Pelicans could try for the double-Holiday, too. If so, The Big Easy, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and a team that's won five of its last six might be more tempting than The Big Apple, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and a team that's lost five of its last six.

    He could be the starting PG the Knicks are looking for, worth the cap-inflated raise he would no doubt get over the $11.3 million he made this season in New Orleans.

Andre Iguodala

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    Andre Iguodala is one of the best sixth men of his generation, not to mention an NBA Finals MVP. Even if the Knicks decide to build around younger players, the 33-year-old veteran utility swingman would be worth a contract, particularly given the recurring injury troubles of Lance Thomas.

    The two-time All-Defensive Team honoree is 22nd in the league in defensive-win-share percentage, which is one of the best among bench players. He averages one steal per game and nabbed four in the heated win over the Oklahoma City Thunder Jan. 18. 

    Iguodala only averages 7.0 points per game, but he shoots a reliable 50.9 percent and can splash out for big scoring performances when his number is called.

    The Golden State Warriors will likely want to keep Iggy in the Bay Area, but they have quite a few other free agents to re-sign this summer—including Stephen Curry, who's unrestricted, and Kevin Durant, who has a player option. Golden State paid Iguodala $11.1 million this season, and although the salary cap is about to rise again, it may not be much more generous than that.

Tim Hardaway Jr.

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    I was not sad to see Tim Hardaway Jr. go when the Knicks sent him to the Atlanta Hawks on a surprise draft-night trade in 2015. Everyone was tired of seeing him pout and grumpily stomp to the bench every time Derek Fisher yanked him for making a half-dozen defensive mistakes in 30 seconds. 

    So it is with genuine astonishment that I find myself suggesting the Knicks try to coax Hardaway back to New York this summer. 

    It isn't Hardaway's 14.2 points per game or 36 percent shooting from downtown that makes him interesting. It's not even the way he single-handedly annihilated a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Houston Rockets Feb. 2, scoring 33 points in the game, 22 in the fourth quarter alone.

    No, it's Timmy Jr.'s defense that. He's holding defenders to 3.4 percent below their shooting average and has the same defensive win share (0.038) as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Hassan Whiteside, players known for their D. He's gone from liability to asset.

    For Hardaway, who has blossomed in Atlanta, it would probably be a mistake to leave the Hawks. For the Knicks, it would be a mistake not to offer a contract, and give Hardaway the chance to tell them what they can do with it. 

George Hill

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    Thirty-year-old veteran George Hill may be having the season of his career, averaging 17.1 points on 47.3 percent shooting. He might even have found the best place to showcase his talents with the defensive powerhouse that is the Utah Jazz.

    However, the team's top priority this offseason will be re-signing their top gun, Gordon Hayward, if he decides to opt out. That could leave Hill in the cold.

    The Jazz have the 28th-ranked offense in the league in terms of points per game, and although the team's exemplary first-ranked defense has them hanging at fourth in the West for now, a bad playoff run could push Utah to shake up the roster and let Hill, who made $8 million in Utah this year, walk.

    If so, the Knicks could certainly use Hill's ferocious defense. Hill has the fifth-best defensive win share in the league and has a knack for dismantling opponents' best game faces.

Get off the Banana Boat

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Who else could the Knicks look at? Certainly there's Carmelo Anthony's extraordinarily talented future Hall of Fame Banana Boat crewmates, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul. Yet, sinking money into these players right now, when their durability is so questionable—Paul has already missed 21 games this season, Wade 15—would be dangerous.

    Trying to force the triangle on Paul would be a laughable endeavor and adding an "all mid-range all the time" shooter like Wade to a squad that's already lacking three-point scoring wouldn't necessarily be smart either. 

    Jeff Teague is a possibility after the experiment with the Indiana Pacers has fallen flat, but Teague's style is quite similar to Rose's, which has already proved to be a bad match. 

    Management could also continue to expand its burgeoning frontcourt. If the Knicks persuaded some young starters to consider a backup role, the Philadelphia 76ers' Robert Covington and Washington Wizards' Otto Porter would be excellent candidates that would give a jolt to the D.

    Regardless of whom they chase this offseason, New York better start stocking up on chocolates and diamonds and rehearsing the harmonies on its best slow jams. This team will need all the help it can get.

    All stats are from NBA.com/stats and up-to-date as of March 24. All contract info is from basketball-reference.com