As the NBA free agency window was opening for so many teams, windows of opportunity were closing on the Knicks left and right. Sunday night was a mad dash for teams looking to land NBA stars, but New York was left empty-handed after months of hype and forced into a contingency plan that pushes off competing for a couple more seasons.
Early 2019-20 NBA championship odds actually had New York among the top half of the league following the draft, but free agency saw them plummet as the complexion of the team will be nothing like oddsmakers thought it would. The joke was on them once again, and what’s worse, the little brother across town is the one with the shiny new toys while the Mecca of Basketball houses a team in a seemingly perpetual rebuild.
Despite this, it’s not all bad, believe it or not. Under general manager Scott Perry, the Knicks appear to be under competent leadership, something that generally doesn’t roll off the tongue. Perry added two first-round picks (one unprotected) and Dennis Smith Jr. by acting quickly after Kristaps Porzingis demanded a trade and made the right call drafting RJ Barrett in last month’s NBA Draft, though we won’t act like that one wasn’t a bit obvious. But once you factor in the team’s response to missing out on top-tier free agents this summer, and it looks like the Knicks are finally sticking to a plan.
What Went Wrong In Free Agency
Well, just about everything if you were hoping New York would land the stars James Dolan seemed sure were coming to The Garden.
It appears all the eggs were in the Kevin Durant basket, and the ruptured Achilles during the NBA Finals changed everything, as the Knicks were reportedly unwilling to offer the full maximum contract in the wake of an injury that will keep him out all of next season. The merits of this decision can probably be debated effectively on both sides, but no matter what, it effectively eliminated them from signing Durant from the time of his injury even if fans didn’t know it. This opened up the opportunity for Durant to team up with Kyrie Irving, who bolted from Boston and decided to join the Brooklyn Nets after over a year of speculation that he wanted to play in New York (which was true).
In addition to Durant and Irving, the Knicks aren’t in the mix for Kawhi Leonard and weren’t in on any other players that changes jerseys on Sunday. Maybe they didn’t want Kemba Walker or D’Angelo Russell among others, but the can’t-miss evidence is clear for Dolan and all to see: The Garden and the Knicks aren’t a destination, not even in its own town. The Nets are a juggernaut in the making while New York must make it to 2021 for he next megaclass of free agents to hit the market.
Knicks Remain Flexible After Being Forced Into Plan B
Charles Darwin once had a famous quote about being adaptable to change, and maybe Perry was taking notes. While news was trickling down that the Knicks weren’t going to be the team fans had hoped to see in 2019-20 and beyond, he and team president Steve Mills were already moving in a new direction and remaining true to the vision previously laid out for the future of the team. That includes valuing salary cap space in addition to cultivating young talent and of course, making the correct draft choices.
The Knicks didn’t sign a star, but they did accumulate a mass of veteran roleplayers on team-friendly contracts and maintained their salary cap flexibility moving forward while fielding a competitive roster to put on the floor. No, this was not the original plan, just the necessary alternative following the fallout in free agency this season, and it is being executed well to this point. Here are the six contracts the Knicks signed during the 2019 free agency period:
- PG Elfrid Payton (2 years, $16 million)
- SG Wayne Ellington (2 years, $16 million)
- SG Reggie Bullock (2 years, $21 million)
- PF Taj Gibson (2 years, $20 millon)
- PF Bobby Portis (2 years, $31 million
- PF Julius Randle (3 years, $63 million)
Each one of those two-year deals has a team option for the second year, so the Knicks can choose to move on after just one season in order to free up cap space if need be. Randle’s three-year deal also has an option in the final year, though it feels he more than others could fit into the team’s long-term plans. The digestible nature of these contacts also makes them tradable at the deadline either this season or next, which means that Perry may have bought the Knicks future draft selections by stockpiling an assortment of reliable veterans on short-term deals.
Most importantly, it ensures that by the time 2021 free agency rolls around, New York will be locked and loaded with the ability to offer multiple maximum contracts along with a compliment of players featuring more developed versions of Kevin Knox, RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson among others.
The old Knicks would’ve more than likely done thrown big money at second-level free agents just to ensure they didn’t wind up with nothing or traded assets and picks away for an aging star on an albatross contract (Chris Paul). The way Perry shifted gears from giving away max money to maintaining overall organizational flexibility for the future shows that wherever this organization heads, it’s not getting there by going down the same road it has previously.