The New York Knicks made some great decisions this off season, while also making some bad ones. After posting a franchise low of 17 wins last season, they ended up with the number three pick. Unfortunately not the number one pick and Zion Williamson. With over 60 million in cap space there were thoughts of Kevin Durant or Jimmy Butler. Unfortunately they lucked out when it came to signing stars and filled their roster with second chance guys and veterans. Do they have a strategy moving forward?
Knicks management deserve credit for the way they cleared cap space. When Kristaps Porzingis indicated he wouldn’t re-sign, they moved him with some bad contracts and got assets back in return. This years free agent class was elite, but when no big names were signed it should have been time to take stock. Glancing over their depth chart most of the players are on either one or two year deals.
Though this means that they have cap flexibility, if they want to bring any of them back they won’t have their bird rights. To have a players bird rights they need to have spent three years on their respective team. In the event of a max free agent wanting to sign with them, having a players bird rights is important. The max contract player fits into the cap room then they go over the cap to sign the players whose bird rights they have. If a team doesn’t have a players bird rights it means they can only offer 120% of the previous years contract.
A clear strategy is needed if they want to return to the playoffs. Bringing in projects on cheap three year deals would be a better way to spend their cap space. Taking the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets as examples of different rebuilds, they have both taken on money to gain assets. Both of these teams have in different ways rebuilt either through the draft or free agency. If the Knicks are going to keep rolling their cap space over then they need to use it more creatively to build long-term.
Some credit also needs to be given for the recent draft record. Last season Mitchell Robinson was probably the steal of the draft. Drafted with the 36th pick, Robinson posted the most win shares in his rookie class. Signing the un-drafted Allonzo Trier was also a nice move. Trier averaged 11 points a game on only 22 minutes a night, shooting 39% from three.
This year RJ Barrett was drafted with the number three pick. The jury is out till he plays in the league, but as far as untapped physical potential goes he is one of the best prospects going around. Ignas Brazdeikis was selected 47th. ‘ Iggy ” impressed at summer league with his shooting ability and composure. A 20 year old out of Michigan, he could potentially be a steal in the second round for the Knicks.
The great work in the draft may have been undone with the free agents that were signed though. An example of this is their forward rotation. Kevin Knox was drafted last year in the lottery, although he had a rough first year he still has a lot of upside. By signing Randle, Bobby Portis, and Marcus Morris they are taking away game reps from prospects like Barrett, Knox and Brazdeikis.
The same can be said of the point guard position. After drafting Frank Ntilikina two years ago, they traded for Dennis Smith Jr last year. If that wasn’t strange enough they overpaid Elfrid Payton, then announced a month later they will play RJ Barrett at the point. Developing talent hasn’t been a strength for the Knicks in the past, now they have some actual prospects they need to take care of them. Here’s hoping they play the younger guys significant minutes.
The upside to signing players to one and two year deals is they may have value at the trade deadline. Rebuilding teams might want to get off three or four year deals and take back one or two years salary instead. In the event that the Knicks season goes pear-shaped they should look to get assets back for any players of value. There is no harm in dumping some of these deals rather than losing them for nothing.
This wasn’t a terrible off-season for the Knicks as they preserved their long-term cap space. While some may see their failings to sign a big name free agent as a massive negative, they have kept the powder dry for the next couple of seasons. The fit between the veterans and rookies will also be important, as they can’t forget about the franchises long-term future. If they can develop the younger guys while getting value out of the free agents they signed, that would be a win. Failing that its back to the drawing board!