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Mailbag: Can the cap-strapped Knicks be fixed?

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Amar'e Stoudemire, who is due $21.7 million this season, is averaging 3.5 points in four games.

How would you fix the Knicks?
-- @dannnnger

There is going to be no drastic fix for this season. The problem for the Knicks has everything to do with Amar'e Stoudemire's chronic injuries, which were predicted with painful accuracy by the Suns in 2010. They refused to re-sign Stoudemire to a long-term deal because they believed he couldn't play another five to six productive years on his bad knees. They shied away, but New York paid him anyway -- mainly because the Knicks had devoted two years to creating cap space and then were left with no one else to sign after being outmaneuvered by their former coach Pat Riley, who grabbed all three of the top free agents.

The Knicks had all of this money and no one but Stoudemire to take it off their hands. They received one strong year from Stoudemire, and his numbers have been in decline ever since (3.5 points in four games so far this season). This is not a criticism of Stoudemire, who has done everything he can to provide a return on their investment. Instead, it's an indictment of the Knicks' clumsiness in 2010.

In September, the Knicks fired general manager Glen Grunwald, who had nothing to do with the signing of Stoudemire. Last season, Grunwald produced 54 wins (their most in 16 years) and their first playoff-series victory since 2000 despite Stoudemire's lack of production.

The Knicks have the second-most-expensive team in the NBA, at a cost of $123 million in payroll and luxury taxes. But one-fourth of their payroll is eaten up by Stoudemire's $21.7 million salary, for which they are receiving little return. If they could remove Stoudemire from their books, in reflection of his contributions on the court, their payroll would drop to $66.3 million. To put it another way, the Knicks' effective payroll is at the same level as that of lesser markets like Denver ($67.3 million) and New Orleans ($65.2 million).

DOLLINGER: Knicks tumble to No. 26 in Power Rankings

Here's another perspective. The Knicks are paying $57.2 million to three stars -- Carmelo Anthony, Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler -- which is more than the entire payroll of the 76ers (who lead New York in the early-season standings). While Chandler is recovering from a broken leg over the next month, however, they'll receive star production from Anthony alone.

The funny thing about this is that Anthony is going to take the blame during the Knicks' struggles. It may be true that Anthony will never lead a team to the championship, but the Knicks' current problems are not his fault. In fact, he is their only star who is currently doing what he is paid to do. The up-and-down J.R. Smith, the overpaid Andrea Bargnani and veterans Metta World Peace and Kenyon Martin aren't going to get it done.

This is the roster that the Knicks are going to have to live with for the next two seasons. In 2015, the contracts of Stoudemire, Chandler and Bargnani will expire, leaving the Knicks with max cap space even if they hold on to Anthony and Iman Shumpert. The best thing the Knicks can do is to avoid making a shortsighted move to try to save a roster that can't be rescued as long as Stoudemire is hurting. I imagine that's the advice that Grunwald would be offering, if he were still in charge.

Can you explain why the Blazers should not trade LaMarcus Aldridge to Houston for Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin (for salary reasons), Chandler Parsons and maybe a draft pick? I'm not saying anyone has made the offer, but it makes a lot of sense for both teams. Houston obviously, and Portland is not going to really contend with Aldridge as its best player. So build with two 7-footers and a young team.
-- Stephen, Hood River, Ore.

That deal would make sense for Houston, Stephen. It would leave the Rockets close to championship contention because Aldridge would complement Howard offensively while giving the Rockets an All-NBA trio (including James Harden) in their 20s.

But I don't see why Portland would want any part of that deal unless Aldridge was forcing it (which isn't happening right now). Maybe you're right that the Blazers can't contend as long as Aldridge is their No. 1 star. But how does dumping their best player make the Blazers a better team? The Rockets you named are very good role players, but role players all the same. The goal for the Blazers will be to add another star to their core of Aldridge and Damian Lillard, as opposed to weakening the current one.

Which player has been the biggest surprise so far this season?
-- @strattonz29

Is Eric Bledsoe the Suns' franchise PG?
-- @HandsomeCheetah

Bledsoe is the surprise of the league so far, but the sample size (a popular NBA phrase these days) is small. Let's see how the next couple of years go, because he's only 23 and figures to start more games this season than in his previous three seasons as a Clipper.

The focus of opposing scouting reports as well as the burden of big minutes are bound to make his life more difficult. Will the rebuilding Suns be able to keep up their winning pace, and will opinions of Bledsoe change if they start to lose? Bledsoe's fast start has raised all kinds of provocative questions. But let's not take anything away from his start -- it has been phenomenal.

Will LeBron James retire as the best basketball player ever or the best basketball player of his generation?
-- @JustinKoslowski

That is going to be the fundamental NBA question for the next five to seven years, Justin. The answer? No one knows. Not even James.

Are the Pacers the title favorites with Danny Granger still set to return?
-- @TheSameAntics

They are title contenders, for sure. Will Paul George be a go-to leader as the playoff games grow in importance? He has that potential, but it isn't assured -- LeBron didn't prove he had that quality until two seasons ago.

The Dwight Howard article was one of the stupidest things I've read in a long time. You're getting on Dwight Howard because of a game against the Lakers in early November? Are you kidding me? Who cares (besides you)? You writers are obviously bored and feel you need to create "stories" where none exist. Additionally, I'd chill out about Miami's victory over the Clippers. One lousy game in November that no one will remember a month from now, let alone in May/June (except for writers who have nothing better to think about it). Please find something more substantive to write about next time. Many thanks.
-- Anonymous

I agree it's early, but I was referring to a trend that has been building for a long time. It's not like Howard had been maxing out his talent with the Magic and Lakers in recent years; his recent loss against his former team was indicative of how his career has plateaued. Does that mean Howard can't win a championship? Of course not -- he's 27 and he has more talent than any other center in the NBA.

Enjoyed the article on Dwight Howard, but I strongly disagree with you on one point. Do you really think that Pau Gasol is buying in to the continued abuse from Mike D'Antoni? Snarky comments by the coach, inconsistent playing time and lack of a defined role. I'd bet dollars to donuts that Gasol would welcome a trade (Toronto?) ASAP.
-- Jimmy B, Ventura, Calif.

I don't know about that, Jimmy. Gasol's shooting has been poor, but his rebounding on a per-minute basis has never been better -- a reliable demonstration of effort that suggests that he's fully involved and trying to make the best of his contract year. All he has ever said is that he would like to remain with the Lakers amid incessant trade rumors and multiple coaching changes over the years.

If they were to be able to trade him to Toronto, the Lakers would be sacrificing their cap space for the likes of Rudy Gay and/or DeMar DeRozan. It's highly unlikely that the Lakers would settle for players of that level, as opposed to the superstar(s) they'll be hoping to recruit in the next year or two.

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