With many veteran players, including Amar'e Stoudemire and Rasheed Wallace, expected to sit out the Knicks' first preseason game vs. the Wizards later tonight, the matchup will be a great opportunity for players like Mychel Thompson and Chris Copeland to strut their stuff. Both still on non-guaranteed contracts, each one is still fighting for a coveted roster spot.
After being signed earlier this summer, it appeared as though Copeland would have a leg up on all the other non-guarantees looking to make the team in training camp. On a Summer League squad in Las Vegas filled with former players' sons, coaches' sons, failed journeymen, and more, the 28 year old forward looked most like a capable professional basketball player Averaging 13.8 points and 4 rebounds per game, Copeland showed agility and good hands underneath the basket. He has the skills to help an NBA team.
But intrigue surrounding Wallace may end up snatching a spot from Copeland in favor of the returning veteran. By formally adding Wallace, the Knicks would have the likes of him, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, and Steve Novak (who played a bit of stretch forward last season), all coming off the bench. With so many deserving big men deserving of minutes already on the team, it will be difficult enough to distribute playing time.
So where does that leave Copeland?
Assuming Wallace occupies the 14th roster spot, the Knicks will have one fifteenth and final spot to award one of their non-guarantees, should they so choose. Though Copeland has shown the most promise, it's unknown whether the team really feels as though there's a need for him, given the other players already with secured spots.
Chris Smith, J.R.'s brother, could have been given the spot out of plain courtesy, but surgery that will sideline him up to 3-6 months may put that in doubt as well.
Perhaps a better shooter will end up securing the spot as a way of diversifying the roster just a bit more. Copeland has been working hard, has shown the most promise, and after paying his due for years overseas, is perhaps the most deserving. But a veteran forward seeking a second chance in Wallace may squeeze him out due to his position.
Though the Knicks can ultimately bring up to three players they cut from training camp into the fold with the Erie BayHawks, it's unclear whether or not Copeland will opt to go that route. An older NBA prospect, the forward's time to break into the NBA may be running out. It's possible he prefers returning overseas to cash in on a more lucrative contract than the D-League can provide.
As Thompson and Copeland gun for that final spot, there are pros and cons to adding either player. After being a part of the Knickerbockers all summer, however, perhaps the team will be motivated enough to give Copeland that chance. Grant him a spot on the NBA squad with a big league salary, and then go ahead and assign him to the BayHawks if the playing time simply isn't there at the moment. If they don't opt to give the forward a guarantee, the Knicks may end up losing out on his upside completely, in favor of a one-year run by Wallace.