Chris Copeland's agent, John Spencer, told ESPNNewYork.com on Friday that the Knicks are planning to give the rookie forward a qualifying offer for next season. Spencer also said his client "really wants to return" to the team.
"He loves the city, he's from Jersey and he wants to play as well," Spencer said. "There's no better bright lights where guys want to play other than New York, and he wants to try to find a way to stay in town."
This summer, the Knicks could make Copeland a restricted free agent by giving him a qualifying offer before June 30. That offer for next season would be for $988,872 (the second-year veteran's amount of $788,872 plus a non-Bird exception of $200,000). Pablo Prigioni is in the same boat financially. Even with a qualifying offer, however, the Knicks would still have to match a higher offer from another team.
Spencer confirmed that not only does Copeland want to "play and contribute" next season, but he also "wants to get paid." Spencer said Copeland believes he has earned his stripes playing overseas in five different countries and now proving with the Knicks that he belongs in the NBA. Per 36 minutes this season, Copeland averaged 20.3 points per game and shot 42.1 percent from 3-point range.
Spencer envisions Copeland's value to be in the $3.5 to $5 million range. Spencer compared his client to Steve Novak, who's in about the $4 million range, and said that because Copeland is more versatile offensively as a stretch 4, he'll be an attractive free agent. In fact, a source familiar with Copeland's situation said three teams at this point are interested in negotiating with him come July 1.
Other factors in Copeland's favor are his improved aggressiveness and defensive instincts. In the Knicks' Game 5 win over the Pacers, instead of watching shots go up, as he did more so during the regular season, he tracked the ball much better on the offensive glass. Then on the defensive end, he read passing lanes well, coming up with two steals and converting one of them with a transition 3-pointer. He also applied strong post-up pressure on David West.
In addition, Copeland's poise in the high-pressure environment of New York, growth under the tough-love guidance of Mike Woodson and the respect he's received from his veteran teammates will all help Spencer pitch for his client.
The Knicks' first order of free-agency business will be deciding on J.R. Smith. But even if the team offers him $4.91 million using an early-Bird exception, they could still use their taxpayer mid-level exception of $3.18 million to sign Copeland. That's if he declines the qualifying offer.
The Knicks would also have to evaluate Prigioni, Kenyon Martin and potentially Earl Barron for veteran's minimum deals. Barron is a younger big than the others the team had this season, and he's a skilled scorer and rebounder. In the draft, the Knicks might focus on a younger, explosive point guard with their first-round pick. Perhaps Shane Larkin?
With a few exceptions, the Knicks might not have to look too far this offseason to re-tool their roster. Copeland is in that mix, especially with assistant GM Allan Houston being "really high on him," as Spencer pointed out.
"I think he'll find a home some place, and I'm hoping that it's in New York," Spencer said. "It will be crazy if they let him go."
If they do, another team might get lucky.