With Thursday's trade for Tracy McGrady, the Knicks have accomplished what appeared highly unlikely when Donnie Walsh took over as team president less than two years ago: They've created room to recruit two elite free agents this summer.
The three-team trade sent Kevin Martin -- the most productive player of the nine in the deal -- from Sacramento to Houston, while leaving the Kings with Carl Landry, among others. But the most intriguing outcome is that the Knicks go into the Summer of LeBron with four players under contract -- Wilson Chandler, Eddy Curry, Toney Douglas and Danilo Gallinari -- worth a total of $17.8 million next season.
The Knicks won't realize all of that cap space unless they renounce their Bird rights to All-Star free agent David Lee, which is something they won't likely do. Even if they retain Lee, the Knicks should have enough space to offer a pair of contracts totaling around $30 million, which is an exceptional achievement when you consider the Knicks' obese payroll stood at $95 million two years ago and $83 million at the start of this season.
To make this deal work, the Knicks were forced to give the Rockets rookie forward Jordan Hill (a long-term project who was the No. 8 pick in last year's draft), as well as New York's No. 1 pick in 2012 (which is protected if in the top five). In addition, Houston may swap first-round picks with New York next year, unless that pick turns out to be No. 1 overall.
Inherent in these moves is the Knicks' ambition to devalue those lost draft picks by picking up two stars in free agency this summer.
The Rockets made out very well in exchange for McGrady's expiring $22.5 million contract, getting Martin as a solid 20-point scorer at shooting guard, in addition to Hill and the promise of the draft picks. They must swallow Jared Jeffries, whom the Knicks badly wanted to unload, but Jeffries' $6.9 million salary will expire after next season. (Houston also received center Hilton Armstrong from Sacramento.)
The Kings were feeling good about themselves as well after picking up the 26-year-old Landry, a Sixth Man Award candidate for Houston. Landry provides low-post scoring to supplement Kings young big men Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes. Joey Dorsey of Houston and Larry Hughes of New York also go to Sacramento.
The Knicks made three trades in all at the deadline, leaving them with 11 usable players, meaning they'll be looking for minor-leaguers and buyout candidates to fill out their roster. In the meantime, coach Mike D'Antoni will feel better about his ball handling now that he has received up-tempo point guard Sergio Rodriguez from Sacramento in addition to McGrady, who, if he has sufficiently overcome knee surgeries over the last two years, could emerge as a ball handler for New York over the last two months of the season.