One year ago, Chris Copeland and Pablo Prigioni were playing basketball overseas.
Copeland, a 28-year-old, was suiting up for Generali Okapi Aalstar of Basketball League Belgium. Prigioni, a 35-year-old, was wrapping up a decorated 16-year Euroleague career.
Neither player expected to play for the New York Knicks in 2012-2013. But when the Knicks opened the season on Nov 2 at Madison Square Garden against the Miami Heat, both began the game sitting on the home bench. Prigioni racked up three assists in 16 minutes, and Copeland played just two uneventful minutes.
But the pair of not-so-young rookies went on to make a solid impact for the Knicks in 2013. When injuries forced Prigioni into the starting lineup down the stretch, the Knicks won 13 games in a row. And Copeland averaged 8.7 points in just 15.4 minutes per game.
In the past week, New York has extended qualifying offers to both Prigioni and Copeland, making them restricted free agents.
The Knicks would be smart to bring back Prigioni with Jason Kidd gone. The Río Tercero, Córdoba native is an exceptional ball handler and has a high basketball IQ.
And, according to ESPNNewYork.com, Prigoni has expressed interest in returning to New York.
Bringing Copeland back may prove a bit more challenging. He has reportedly garnered interest from the Dallas Mavericks, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks, among others. The Knicks have just the mini-mid level exception to offer and may get outbid by other teams.
Copeland provided a spark off the bench for the Knicks last season, often stringing together points in bunches. He has the ability to create opportunities for himself off the dribble and is an exceptional shooter from long range.
But Mike Woodson refrained from giving Copeland significant minutes during the postseason. The coach was unhappy with Copeland’s defensive intensity, or perhaps he didn’t like the fact that Copeland was younger than 35.
New York should try to retain Copeland. With J.R. Smith possibly on the way out, Copeland could provide some much-needed wing scoring.
The Knicks are searching everywhere for the final pieces to their championship puzzle. If re-signed and given more important roles, Copeland and Prigioni could provide a spark for New York.