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Bonnell: Knicks, Lakers both hitting bottom but L.A. better situated for recovery

Bad as Lakers have been, they have immediate payroll flexibility

Rick Bonnell
Rick Bonnell covers the Charlotte Hornets and the NBA for the Charlotte Observer. You can reach him by email.

The Knicks will likely end this season with more national television appearances than victories. That’s already a given for the Lakers.

Nobody feels sorry for these teams since they have huge economic advantages over most of the competition. In fact, I think there’s a lot of schadenfreude going on, as far as people reveling in the Knicks’ dysfunction and the Lakers’ slew of injuries.

But again it’s not good for business when teams from the two biggest markets aren’t just bad, they’re gruesome. The league has no special responsibility to help out (no, I don’t believe David Stern grabbed some “frozen envelope” that sent Patrick Ewing to the Knicks in 1985) but these franchises need a quick makeover.

My money is on the Lakers to make it back first.

Yes, they’ll finish with a worse record than the Knicks. But the Lakers have two things the Knicks do not: Certainty that their star is staying around and immediate payroll flexibility.

Kobe Bryant signed an extension through the end of the 2015-16 season. You can debate whether Bryant’s injuries this season will make him worth $23.5 million next season and $25 million the following one. But if anyone has the persistence to get back to form after two leg injuries, it’s Bryant.

The Lakers are committed to only about $36 million in salary next season against a projected cap of $62 million. The Lakers will always be an appealing destination for free agents. It’s questionable whether Steve Nash will be worth $9.7 million next season, but the Lakers might already have his replacement in Kendall Marshall at under $1 million next season.

Now compare that to the Knicks: They’re stuck for over $90 million in salary next season, most of it among three players: Amare Stoudemire ($23.4 million), Carmelo Anthony ($23.3 million) and the absurdly overpaid Andrea Bargnani ($11.5 million).

Anthony’s contract gives him all sorts of opportunities to bolt. While the rules permit the Knicks to offer him by far the most in his next contract, if winning a title really does matter to Melo, he must ask whether the Knicks are the best spot for what figures to be the last third of his pro career.

It was telling recently when the New York media asked center Tyson Chandler whether he wanted to be back and he expressed misgivings. Take rim-protector Chandler off the Knicks and a bad defense becomes toothless.

The New York tabloids devote a lot of space to which glamorous free agents might be attracted to the Knicks in the summer of 2016. I grew up watching the NBA played in Madison Square Garden; I get the appeal. I also appreciate the dollars owner Jim Dolan can spread around any negotiating table.

But you can’t view the Knicks’ implosion this season without thinking there’s a problem endemic to the organization. Until that gets fixed, a Kevin Love, a Chris Bosh, a Rajon Rondo would have to be wary of coming aboard.

Five passing thoughts on the Bobcats and the NBA:

•  I don’t know where the Bobcats’ Steve Clifford will fit on my Coach of the Year ballot, but I’m confident he belongs there. Clifford has done so many things well this season. The latest came Wednesday when he volunteered that if anyone is to blame for LeBron James’ offensive explosion, it was him, not Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. That breeds loyalty.

•  People have asked me if I think the Bobcats could catch the Brooklyn Nets for sixth place in the East. Frankly, I think the Nets have played so well of late I wouldn’t be shocked if they passed the Toronto Raptors for the Atlantic Division title.

•  Speaking of Coach of the Year, Phoenix’s Jeff Hornacek and Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau have to be great candidates, too. Everything that’s happened to the Bulls (Derrick Rose’s injury, trading Luol Deng in a salary dump) just rolls off that team’s back because of the tone Thibs sets.

•  I have mixed emotions about the Golden State Warriors advancing deep into the playoffs. Happy for Stephen Curry, but it really messes up my sleep patterns in May and potentially June. Can’t-miss TV.

•  Seems like there might be some serious shakeup in the Central Division over the summer. Detroit, Cleveland and Milwaukee all expected to be a lot better than they have performed. The Bucks aren’t tanking, they just got injured so severely at the start of the season that they never had a chance.

Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell
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