Great news: the Knicks may not have played Chris Copeland early enough in the Pacers series to win it, but they played him just long enough to convince the Pacers to steal him away.
I kid, but apparently the Pacers have made Copeland an offer. It is unclear if the offer is larger than one the Knicks can match, but even matching is complicated for the Knicks.
The Knicks can match offers for their restricted free agents, Copeland and Pablo Prigioni, out of a pool of mid-level exception money, totaling around $3.1 million. That means there’s a non-zero game with keeping both of them. The more they need to offer Copeland, the less they can offer Prigioni.
The Knicks have reportedly offered Prigioni a two-year deal, prioritizing keeping the backup point guard, which makes some sense. Other than Raymond Felton, they don’t have a point guard on the roster, and with the MLE likely to be split between Prigioni and Copeland, they’d need to get that backup point guard with a veteran’s minimum contract. I’d feel better about this prioritizing if I didn’t see Copeland’s minutes likely absorbed by Andrea Bargnani, who is like Copeland in reputation, but alas, not in actual performance.
But look: splitting the MLE in two, and signing guys for the vet minimum, isn’t particularly different. $3.1 million divided by 2? $1.55 million. Vet minimum checks in right around $1.4 million. This is the salary cap reality, when a player doesn’t have a vested interest, like Andray Blatche, in taking less money.
But unlike last season, when the Knicks had the right to match any Jeremy Lin offer, they can simply be outbid by teams without such restrictions, whether on Prigioni, Copeland, or even J.R. Smith (whose max offer from the Knicks is higher, thanks to Early Bird Rights, but still only around $5.5 million per season for four years).
Blatche took less money, but in returning to the Nets, also took less playing time. He wanted to stay in Brooklyn.
Let’s hope the Knicks build up that kind of goodwill with Copeland, Prigioni and Smith. Because money alone might not get it done.