With the NBA playoffs behind us, the 2017 off–season is here and many teams must make massive decisions.CBA expert Danny Lerouxbreaks down the major challenges and opportunities for theNew York Knicks in The Crossover's NBA Summer Preview series.
Last summer’s spending spree started hurting the Knicks almost the second players put pen to paper, but those effects will also be very present this summer. Team president Phil Jackson signed veterans Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee to contracts that will run through the 2019–20 season worth a combined $30 million per year, which limits New York’s ability to retool around Kristaps Porziņģis and their other young talent.
Carmelo Anthony’s continued presence on the ledger is entirely different beast. Navigating a path forward using their lottery pick and cap space while also working to resolve the Anthony situation will be a challenge, but this circumstances should also make New York an interesting variable this summer.
Here are three key storylines to watch for the Knicks this off-season:
No. 8 Pick: Winning four of nine games to end the season helped push New York down the draft board, but the eighth overall pick should still give them the opportunity to draft a talented young player. The teams above them will dictate who falls, but it looks like at least one of the point guards and possibly a forward could survive the first seven selections. Since the draft occurs before free agency, it will be interesting to see if the Knicks’ choice affects their approach in July.
Carmelo Anthony: It certainly appears that the relationship between the 33-year old star and Knicks front office is frayed, but the impact of that is unclear. Anthony can wield a rare no-trade clause to influence where he plays next season and his contract also contains a 15% trade kicker that could complicate some transactions. Where Anthony plays for next season hinges on his own preferences and the offers his potential partners make to the Knicks, as they should not accept a deal that would be less favorable than his contract coming off the books next summer, when he has a $27.9 million Early Termination Option.
Cap Space: The Knicks will have a little less than $20 million to work with assuming Rose plays somewhere else next season, but spending all of that would carry some real consequences moving forward. Other than Anthony, they do not have much salary coming off the books in 2018, so any long-term contracts doled out this summer directly limit their ability to sign a max talent next summer without other moves. Of course, even stronger incentives were in place a year ago and Jackson spent foolishly anyway.
Potential Free Agents: Derrick Rose (Unrestricted), Ron Baker (Restricted), Justin Holiday (Unrestricted), Chasson Randle (Non-Guaranteed), Maurice N’Dour (Non-Guaranteed), Sasha Vujacic (Unrestricted) and Marshall Plumlee (Non-Guaranteed)
Likely Summer of 2017 Cap Space: $17.9 million
Realistic Maximum Summer of 2017 Cap Space (using $101M estimate): $19.2 million
2017 Draft Assets: Own first round pick (8th overall) plus second round picks from Chicago (No. 44) and Houston (No. 58).
Potential Targets: As discussed above, spending this summer significantly limits what the Knicks can do in the future. That said, their biggest immediate need comes at point guard and they will not have enough space to sign one of the high-level free agents unless one of them is willing to take a pay cut to play at Madison Square Garden. That may actually be a good thing, as George Hill and Jeff Teague are close to their 30s, meaning they are not coherent fits with a young talent like Porziņģis.
Jrue Holiday would be more intriguing but his injury history raises concerns, too. Instead of wooing big fish, the Knicks should follow the lead of Memphis and Dallas by finding values later in July, players who can be cost-controlled parts of teams closer to Porziņģis’s timeline. Taking chances on young talents like Ben McLemore and Tyler Ennis makes more sense than adding a win-now veteran, especially if that more fiscally responsible approach allows them to use some of this summer’s cap space to extract assets from teams looking to dump salary.
Pressure Scale: 7. Being in the largest media market in the United States ratchets this up as a functional matter, but the Knicks’ pressure actually comes from fighting their instinct to win headlines now. The right lesson to learn from the disastrous 2016 off-season would be to resist that temptation and focus on their key building block. The eighth pick in that draft should help shift focus and finding a workable solution with Anthony could as well, since it would help clarify that the franchise will not be competitive next season. The other indicator to watch is how the Knicks handle their young free agents. Baker impressed over the course of the year and hitting restricted free agency after just one NBA season presents an unusual market that could work in New York’s favor unless another team brings a bold offer. Holiday will be more challenging as an unrestricted free agent with some variance, but that makes him a good calibrator for how judicious Jackson is going to be with their cap space.
State of the Franchise: Clarified, very soon. For almost any other team, owner James Dolan picking up Jackson’s option after last summer would be shocking. Instead, we will see a continuation of the past few seasons and likely some sort of resolution for Anthony considering the well-publicized tension between the principals. If that comes to pass, what the Knicks get back in return will be the clearest sign of where the front office sees the franchise in the success cycle. It will also be fascinating to see if their lottery pick affects free agency, as drafting a point guard would logically make it less likely they spend long-term money on a veteran, though a stopgap would still be possible.
Another point of interest will be Lee, who has three years and $36.8 million left on his contract. That makes him far more movable than Noah and another way for the Knicks to clear veteran salary in July or at some other point before next summer. Considering the obscene market for swingmen this year, they would be wise to shop him early on before other franchises start committing their space to other players. That same logic could apply to Lance Thomas, but he may need some playing time to rehabilitate his trade value after a disappointing season. Part of what makes the Knicks so interesting is that elements of their team make pivoting to the future an easier call. Porziņģis, Willy Hernangomez and Mindaugas Kuzminskas can be part of a successful team down the line, and they have their own first-round picks moving forward. Now we will find out if Jackson sees that, too.