by: Boris Tsalyuk   12/8/2011

The Knicks are in great shape for the summer of 2012 when Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and perhaps Deron Williams (if he opts out of his current Nets Deal) are set to become unrestricted free agents. As it stands, the team only has three players currently under contract for 2012:

1) Amar'e Stoudemire - $20 million

2) Carmelo Anthony- $19.5 million

3) Renaldo Balkman - $1.7 million

Once rookie first-round pick Iman Shumpert inks a deal in the next week or so, he will be the fourth player locked in and the team has an option on guard Toney Douglas. That's it. Everybody else comes off the books.

This should give you a pretty good idea of how much turnover you're going to see on this roster by next season. It also means the Knicks won't be big players in the free agent signing period, which starts Friday.

The Knicks don't have the 2011 money to pitch the top free agents that will be seeking long-term deals. While they look to be under the cap, the Knicks only want to commit to one-year deals so their options will be limited. 

Listen, the Knicks are not going to trade for Chris Paul or Dwight Howard now. It won't happen because it can't happen. New York doesn't have nearly the assets that teams like the Lakers and Clippers so seeing the words "Chris Paul Traded" flash across the screen on ESPN would be bad news for Knicks fans. You want the Hornets not to trade him, and instead allow him to hit free agency in a year. In that case, he is very likely to sign with New York, where it is well documented he would love to play.

Right now the Knicks are focusing on bringing in a tough, defensive minded center (see below) and developing their young guards to compliment the stars up front. The shortened season is great for the Knicks since they will rely on two players, again, more than any team in the league. Carmelo and especially Amar'e can save their bodies some for playoff time.

The other difference in 2011, clearly, is the fact Anthony and Stoudemire will line up alongside each other from Day One. If healthy, this team has a chance because of those two names. But to really contend, they'll need some help, and some luck.  

SIGN A CENTER

There are really two options here because it's very unlikely either Samuel Dalembert or Aaron Gray, who was really solid against the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs last year, take a one year deal to come to New York.

Jeff Foster from the Indiana Pacers would be a better fit and the 34-year-old is going to be available for a one-year deal. His minutes have really declined the past two seasons but when healthy, he’s still a beast on the boards and can defend in the paint at a high level. The 6-foot-11 250-pound Foster came on strong at the end of last season and played quality basketball in the first round of the playoffs. Inking Foster and putting him in a rotation with Ronny Turiaf may be the Knicks best bet at the center position, at least while Jerome Jordan develops.

It is critical for New York to have decent play at this spot because you need to keep Amar'e away from playing center. This is as much about protecting your biggest investment and prize cog as it is getting an impact player.

The other option for the Knicks at the position goes by a familiar name – Kurt Thomas. The former Knick is the oldest player in the NBA, but he still contributed nearly 23 minutes a game for the Chicago Bulls, last year’s top seed in the East. Knicks fans already know very well what you get with Thomas – energy, defense, and rebounding and overall physical play. He can still knock down a jumper from the elbow, too. But Thomas is more likely to re-sign with the Bulls and chase his elusive first title then re-up with the Knicks.

CHASING HILL?

Team could certainly use a solid two guard with playoff experience. Landry Fields choked down the stretch last season after the Knicks gave him a major vote of confidence by holding on to him while giving up other valuable pieces (Gallinari, Chandler) in the Carmelo trade. Hill’s wife is recording artist Tamia. Maybe the couple decides New York is the right place to be for both of their careers. The chances of his happening, though, aren’t good. But Dolan has more reign now and we all know he loves to chase name players. Hill, though, would actually be a strong acquisition if the Knicks can reel him in because he’s technically sound, defends well, can score the ball when you need him to (especially as a third option) and is a seasoned veteran with good basketball IQ and savvy.

I hope the Knicks bring in Hill, add a quality center and stay away from the Paul discussions. If this happens, they are a 50-win team in an 82 game schedule. We won’t play a full year, but the NBA salvaged 66 games so let’s make the best of them. Cheers until Sunday when we examine early free agent signing moves. Countdown until the greatest Christmas Day NBA showcase of all-time is underway.

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