DAY THREE OF FREE AGENCY SEES RAPTORS FIRE FIRST SHOT IN WAR FOR NASH

The biggest free agent prize has finally made up his mind and dominos are starting to fall all over the NBA free agency landscape. As the new cross-town rival Brooklyn Nets continued their makeover by re-signing their star point guard Deron Williams to a five-year deal worth $100 million, the Knicks continue to wait on the other star point guard in free agency, Steve Nash. However, a clever move by his Canadian suitors may move things along quicker.

The Toronto Raptors, Nash’s other top choice in free agency – along with New York, offered Knicks swingman Landry Fields a three-year offer sheet worth $20 million. The breakdown of the deal would pay Fields $5 million in this up coming season, $5.2 million in 2013-2014 and $9.8 million in 2014-2015. Due to his restricted status, the Knicks will have three days after Fields signs the deal to match it if they desire. The earliest Fields can sign the deal is July 11th, when the NBA’s free agent moratorium period is over.

If Fields signs the offer sheet from the Raptors (and I say if because nothing is official until inked names are on dotted lines), it would have a number of ramifications on the Knicks:

1. The Knicks would not be able to use Fields in any sign and trade scenario for Nash. If the Knicks match the offer sheet, league rules stipulate that when a team matches an offer sheet for a player, that player cannot be used in a deal with another team. Remember that the Suns are enamored with Fields.

2. If the Knicks continue with their pursuit of Nash, they will undoubtedly have to include Iman Shumpert as part of the deal.

3. If they do decide to match the offer sheet, they would have five players on the roster (Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Fields and Toney Douglas) making a combined $65.6 million in 2013-14 and $71.3 million in 2014-15 with the same group minus Douglas. Neither number includes Shumpert, who may or may not be a Knick depending on what happens with Nash.

Back to Nash, the Knicks will still be able to offer Nash a deal starting at $9 million per year if they replace Fields with Shumpert, in the scenario supposedly proposed to Nash by the Knicks this past Sunday. In a sign and trade deal with the Phoenix Suns, the Knicks would send Douglas, Shumpert, Dan Gadzuric, Jerome Jordan and Josh Harrellson to the Suns. The combined salaries of those players for next season is $6.6 million. The Knicks would send cash to complete the $9 million. Chad Ford says a deal could be worth as much as $42 million over four years. The Suns seem to be ready to move on from Nash, as they offered New Orleans guard Eric Gordon a four-year max offer sheet worth $58 million.

The struggle for the Knicks would be whether to send the promising Shumpert to Phoenix. With the Knicks in win-now mode, Nash could possibly put them in contender status and, with Shumpert out until January at best as he recover from his ACL injury, there is no guarantee Shumpert will be the same player he was last season, at least upon his return. However as I noted earlier, he is highly regarded within the organization.

For the Raptors, the move to offer Fields the offer sheet seems as if they were getting feelings Nash was leaning towards the Knicks. They essentially are willing to pay $20 million to take away a valuable trade chip from the Knicks. Also of note, the Dallas Mavericks will now enter the fray for Nash since they lost out on Williams to Brooklyn. And late into the night, Suns beat writer Paul Coro reported that the Los Angeles Lakers are now interested in Nash.

Now let’s say the Knicks can still make a deal for Nash, the Raptors would still be in position to offer Jeremy Lin a four-year, $40 million “poison pill” deal. As Hahn said today, they can go to Lin and offer the appeal of playing alongside his best friend (Fields) in a community with a huge Asian market.

As for Linsanity, he is scheduled to visit with the Houston Rockets tomorrow. Rumors were flying around Tuesday night suggesting the Rockets were prepared to offer Lin the same “poison pill” deal the Raptors could offer him if they miss out on Nash. However, Houston Chronicle writer Jonathan Feigen says those rumors are not true. The Mavericks are also expected to make a run at Lin if they miss out on Nash. However, they are also prepared to save their cap space and pursue Dwight Howard and Chris Paul next offseason.

And finally back to Williams and the Nets, all of their maneuvering has left them without the chance of adding Jason Kidd. It was believed Williams and Kidd were a package deal. However, Marc Stein of ESPN reports Kidd will decide on returning to Dallas or join the Knicks. He may also be waiting to see what decision Nash makes, just as the Knicks will continue to do on Independence Day.

If Nash ultimately decides he wants to come to New York, the Raptors can always rescind the offer to Fields and make life easier for Glen Grunwald, the Knicks GM. If he goes to Toronto and takes Fields with him, maybe some sort of deal could be worked out to bring Jose Calderon or DeMar DeRozan to New York. The Raptors will be looking to unload Calderon if they land Nash, possibly even using their amnesty clause on him.

All the Knicks can do now is wait to see what Nash wants to do.