A big trade deadline day has the New York Knicks in position for a bigger score in July.
The Knicks acquired Tracy McGrady in a three-team deal and shipped Nate Robinson out in another trade, but the makeup of this season's roster is secondary.
New York was able to trade Jared Jeffries in the McGrady deal, removing $6.9 million from next season's payroll and putting the Knicks on the verge of being able to offer two maximum salary contracts this summer, when LeBron James can headline the free agent class.
"I think that's probably what everything the last few years has been about, getting cap room and setting ourselves up for the summer and trying to create a better atmosphere," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "There's a lot of things that we want to do, but a major component is creating as much cap space as we can."
Robinson went to Boston along with Marcus Landry for Eddie House, J.R. Giddens, Bill Walker and a future conditional second-round pick.
The Knicks already were in position to afford one max player, but the moves Thursday left them with about $32 million in salary cap space, tops in the league to use in July. Players such as James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would each make a little more than $16.5 million in the first season of a new deal.
"Let's put it this way, I think this gives us flexibility. A lot of flexibility in a lot of different directions," Knicks president Donnie Walsh said. "I know everybody is focused on individual players, but we're not. We're focused on putting together the best team we can. So that take a lot of different directions and we have a lot of time to figure out which way we're going to go, but it is a lot of cap space."
And they get a look at McGrady, a two-time scoring champion who has played only six games this season while recovering from microfracture knee surgery. Barely hanging on to fading playoff hopes, the Knicks will likely give him as much time as he needs to show he can still play.
"He's a great player. He didn't lose that," Walsh said. "We'll have to see where his physical condition is, but I've been told he's (been) playing."
Walsh said he didn't know if McGrady would make his Knicks debut Saturday against Oklahoma City. New York also got point guard Sergio Rodriguez from Sacramento in the deal. Walsh thought a potential Knicks-Rockets deal was in jeopardy Wednesday night before the Kings got involved.
"I think the Knicks are going to get their plan done, whatever it is," Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said. "They probably will be a much-improved team next year, but you never know. It gives us two shots at it, our pick and theirs, to maybe pick high in the draft."
Robinson's loss likely will be felt most in the short term. He was often a spark off the bench and the three-time slam dunk champion was a fan favorite. But he fell out of favor with D'Antoni earlier this season, being benched for 14 straight games at one point.
New York also was forced to give up rookie power forward Jordan Hill, the No. 8 pick last year, in the McGrady deal, and the Knicks are vulnerable if they strike out in free agency. They have only four players under contract beyond this season, and their first-round pick this year belongs to Utah, having been included long ago in the acquisition of Stephon Marbury from Phoenix.
Plus, the Knicks sent Houston a protected 2012 first-round pick and gave the Rockets the option to exchange first-round picks in 2011.
New York also sent Larry Hughes to Sacramento in the three-team deal. Hughes wasn't playing much anyway, and he might be playing even less for his new team. The Knicks revealed Thursday he has a fractured left ring finger and could miss four weeks.
Jeffries has played heavy minutes, and they are perhaps catching up to him. He lasted just six minutes in Wednesday's loss to Chicago before coming out with a sore right knee.
His agent, Andy Miller, said the knee pain has been an ongoing issue all season and has gotten progressively worse despite treatments, but said Jeffries will continue to play hard despite the pain.
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