The New York Knicks believe a new home will help Andrea Bargnani regain his old form.
The Knicks acquired the former No. 1 overall pick from Toronto, hoping he can rally from a poor 2012-13 season and help them remain among the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
Bargnani battled an elbow injury last season and his scoring average dropped to just 12.7 points in 35 games in what was his worst season since his second year in the league. But the Knicks sent three players and three draft picks to the Raptors, counting on Bargnani's outside shooting and hoping for improvement in his rebounding and defence.
"I think the opportunity here of a fresh start in New York — and he's very excited about that opportunity — will lend to him getting back on track to being the player that we all hoped he would be," Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald said Thursday during a conference call.
Bargnani was the top pick in 2006 and just three seasons ago averaged a career-best 21.4 points. But the Raptors made the playoffs only once since drafting him and were eager to rid themselves of the two years and about $22.2 million remaining on his contract.
The 7-footer from Rome shot less than 40 per cent last season and his 3-point shooting has hovered around 30 per cent for the last two years. He said that's because of his injuries, including a sprained right elbow last season.
"Last years were tough for me because I had so many injuries," Bargnani said. "I wasn't really able to play continuously during the season and that really affects your rhythm and your shape.
"I missed like more than half of the season, so it was definitely a huge factor in my last year's season. It wasn't a major injury, but it was very tricky and it forced me to stay sidelined for many games. So it was really bad."
He said he is healthy now and will play this summer for Italy in the European championships.
Knicks sign Smith, lose Copeland
The Knicks also announced the re-signing of J.R. Smith, the Sixth Man of the Year last season. They previously re-signed guard Pablo Prigioni but are losing Chris Copeland, who accepted an offer from Indiana that they couldn't match.
That leaves them with plenty of work to do to avoid falling back after a 54-win season in 2012-13 and their first Atlantic Division title since 1994. Grunwald said they have only 10 players under contract and are hoping to bring in a third point guard and some depth in the front court.
Kenyon Martin is being considered for the latter after playing well for the Knicks after joining them late last season.
"We're evaluating our options in that regard and certainly Kenyon is getting our full consideration as we look at all the options we have," Grunwald said.
For now, they have little more than the deal for Bargnani, which sent forwards Steve Novak and Quentin Richardson, and centre Marcus Camby to Toronto. The Knicks also sent the Raptors a 2016 first-round draft pick and second-round selections in 2014 and 2017.
That may be a lot to give up for a player who has averaged just 4.8 rebounds for his career. But the Knicks believe his offensive skills — he scored a career-high 41 points at Madison Square Garden in 2010 — will fit nicely with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire.
"We think that will cause other teams difficulties as they try to match up with us," Grunwald said.
Fans in Toronto turned on Bargnani toward the end, and he said he understood given the team's struggles. Now he stands as the big move for a Knicks team that watched the neighbouring Nets potentially blow past them with their acquisitions of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett from Boston.
With few options left for any more upgrades, the Knicks need this move to pay off with teams all around them improving after New York finished second in the East and reached the second round for the first time in 13 years.
"We wanted to again take another step forward this year and we felt that Andrea was a step forward for us, and not withstanding what other teams do, we have to get better," Grunwald said. "We made a big step forward last season, but obviously we're not satisfied."