In the midst of Steve Novak and J.R. Smith lighting the Madison Square Garden nets on fire with their flaming hot sauce last night, AY texted me: “Are we going to lose Novak in the offseason?” Honestly, I’m not a Larry Coon-esque capologist, but it appears that the answer is a resounding “yes.” In all likelihood, it appears that the Garden crowd will be missing at least one fan favorite next season. As great as it was to watch Novak rain bombs on the Celtics’ stupid faces all night (I can’t stand those smug assholes), we almost certainly just watched the Marquette alum play his way right out of the Knicks’ price-range.
You see, the Knicks are pretty thoroughly capped out for next season, having approximately $53 million dollars of salary tied up in Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Carmelo Anthony. As a point of reference, the salary cap this year clocked in around $58 million, so the Knicks will have to fill out the roster with players already under contract (J.R. Smith (player option), Shump Shump, Toney Douglas, Josh Harrellson, and Jerome Jordan), whose Bird Rights/Early Bird Rights they already own (Landry Fields), and minimum contract
corpses veterans. “But, wait!” you say, “what about the mid-level exception? Surely that will entice Novak to sign with us!” Not so fast.
There is one very important player who was left off the list above — Jeremy Lin. As reported during the frenzy of Linsanity by the New York Times, the Knicks are actually in a position to outbid would-be competitors for Lin’s services simply by offering the Harvard-grad the full mid-level exception (under the Gilbert Arenas rule, free agents with service time of two years or less can only be offered the average NBA salary, which is less than the mid-level exception). Of course, if Lin eats up the mid-level exception, the ‘Bockers would only be able to offer Novak the veterans’ minimum, which is usually around a million dollars.
It probably goes without saying, Steve Novak is not a minimum salary player anymore. He is still relatively young (28 years old), has good size (6’10″ — so he can masquerade as a stretch-4), and, most importantly, has an elite and coveted NBA skill in his long range shooting. Other comparable players who are not on their rookie deals make significantly more than the veterans’ minimum: e.g., Kyle Korver (~$5M/yr through 2013), JJ Redick (~$6M/yr through 2013), Matt Bonner (~$3.5M/yr through 2014), and Dorrell Wright (~$4M/yr through 2013). Considering the way Steve has been stroking it this year, teams will likely be willing to pay him a few million dollars a year to come to their city, rock some awesome hair gel, and stretch the floor for 82 games a year. Simply put, the Knicks don’t have that type of money to throw at Novak and he will likely walk.
The only faint glimmer of hope is that Lin’s knee injury makes him less attractive to suitors and the Knicks can split their MLE between the two players, but the chances of that happening are slim to none. Even if Lin’s torn meniscus raises some eyebrows about his future on the court, he has proven himself to be an extremely valuable marketing commodity off the court. The gate and advertising revenue from having Jeremy Lin on your roster will probably make up the difference between his on-the-books salary and basketball-playing value if he falls short of expectations. Lin knows this, the Knicks know this, and above all else, Lin’s agent knows this. Lin has earned the right to demand the full mid-level exception and will likely receive it.
The irony of all this is that the Knicks finally did something efficient and smart — making great personnel moves from the scrap heap — but will pay the price because these cheap players are going to get too expensive to keep. Of course, the Knicks are in this predicament because they followed their normal blueprint of throwing buckets of money at available free agents, but those signings were mostly somewhat justifiable (Tyson Chandler is a revelation, Stoudemire is overpaid but breathed life back into the franchise, and Carmelo Anthony is a max player in this league, albeit an extremely flawed one). At least they’ll be able to re-tool through the draft to find cheap replacements, right? Ohhhhhhh, riiiiiiiight….No picks this year. Great.