While the New York Knicks are technically still alive in the 2014 playoff race, their real focus should be on the summer of 2015.
The Knicks have been in salary cap hell since 2010, but will finally see some relief next season. Contracts of those like Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani will come off the books, freeing up more than $50 million in cap space. This comes at a great time, considering the level of talent set to hit the free agent market.
Assuming the Knicks are able to re-sign Carmelo Anthony, New York will need to find a second or even third star player to keep Melo happy. Since the Knicks are extremely low on trade assets like draft picks and young talent, the 2015 free agent class is their best bet to add a star player.
Here are the top five players new team president Phil Jackson should pursue.
5. Goran Dragic, PG, Phoenix Suns
Dragic has a player option for the 2015-16 season worth $7.5 million. With the way he’s played this season, he’ll almost certainly opt out to score a bigger deal.
The Knicks haven’t gotten solid point guard play since Jeremy Lin‘s magical run back in 2012. Dragic, 27, is averaging 20.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists for the surprisingly good Phoenix Suns.
Dragic excels at driving to the basket and either finishing or finding an open teammate. Next to a playmaker like Dragic, Anthony would find himself with even more open looks.
4. Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Gasol would be a welcome addition to a Knicks team ranked 25th in defensive rating (via NBA.com/stats).
Not just a defender, Gasol can score from multiple areas of the court and is one of the game’s best passing big men. He’s a proven playoff warrior, averaging 17.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.2 blocks in the 2013 postseason.
Having a low-post scorer like Gasol would allow Anthony to play an inside-out game that he simply cannot do with Tyson Chandler right now.
3. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, Portland Trail Blazers
Now 28, Aldridge is having a career year for Portland.
The former University of Texas star is averaging 23.4 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists for the upstart Blazers. Having another skilled offensive forward would help take the scoring pressure off Anthony and give him a good pick-and-roll partner.
After potentially spending his first nine seasons in Portland, Aldridge may be ready for a change of scenery. New York would certainly offer him that.
2. Kevin Love, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves
If New York wants more star power, they should look no further than Love.
An offensive powerhouse, putting Love and Anthony on the same team together may be unfair. Just 25 years of age, Love is putting up 26.4 points, 12.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.5 three-pointers per game.
The Timberwolves average 113.4 points per 100 possessions with Love on the floor, compared to just 98.6 with him off (via 82games.com).
1. Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston Celtics
This one has been in the works for awhile now.
Rondo’s high school coach, Steve Smith, told USA Today in December 2013 that Anthony has already been speaking to the Celtics’ star, saying: “I know, talking to Melo (Carmelo Anthony), he’s recruiting Rajon to come to New York. Melo thinks he’ll come too.”
Rondo and Anthony would be perfect together, for the simple fact that one really likes to pass while the other loves to shoot. Rondo has led the NBA in assists twice (2011-12 & 2012-13), while Anthony takes the most shots per game (22) of any NBA player.
While there stands to be plenty of attractive free agent targets, Rondo should be first on the Knicks’ list.