The Knicks plan for years has been obvious. With Steve Mills and Scott Perry, New York was going to enter a rebuild. The Knicks finally moved on from Carmelo Anthony, went in on a youth movement, and have generally avoided paying out big contracts the last few summers of free agency. However, while the Knicks youth movement was a good means to begin their rebuild, it was not the long term plan. Every move was made with the intention of clearing cap space and keeping money not spent. The goal? To have as much room as possible for the free agency class of 2019.
To New York’s credit, it’s done a fantastic job of setting itself up for this summer free agency class. The Knicks are expected to have enough room for two max contracts. They set up that space by shockingly trading Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas in what really equated to a salary dump. The problem comes in how the Knicks can now use that space.
If the Knicks are going to get big stars then they need to not only have the money to sign them but convince these same players that they’re a better destination than other big players like the Lakers, Celtics, and Clippers. A way around this is to trade for a disgruntled star like Anthony Davis, but the Knicks couldn’t get an offer together that was seen as worth it to the Pelicans because their assets aren’t particularly good, per Marc Berman of the New York Post.
The Post reported last week the Pelicans didn’t view the Knicks’ young assets as especially attractive in comparison to other Davis suitors, feeling they needed a third team more than any other squad involved.
According to an NBA source, the Knicks “weren’t close” to having a major package to entice New Orleans on a deal.
The Knicks were willing to include the No. 3 pick and at least one of Dallas’ two first-round picks in a Davis deal. New Orleans had a choice among a group of young players in Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina.
The Post reported the Pelicans didn’t view any of their young players as having a potential top-15 future. Meanwhile, SNY reported the Knicks were reluctant to give up too many assets in a Davis deal, and clearly, the Knicks would not have given up a collection of six players and picks.
This is where the problem with the Knicks youth movement lays. While not a complete failure, and there’s hope for improvement, maybe one of their young players they’ve developed or acquired has panned out so far. Any star that signs in New York will have to understand that the team is being built on the fly, with little to no base to build off of.
So let’s just assume the only way the Knicks can add anybody this summer is by signing them through cap room. Their path doesn’t get much easier with Kyrie Irving reportedly very interested in the Nets, and Kawhi Leonard winning a championship in Toronto amidst endless rumors that it’s Los Angeles or bust for him. The Knicks are left with one last option. A recovering Kevin Durant after he ruptured his Achilles in the NBA Finals.
If the Knicks can convince Durant to sign with them then they should without question do it. The potential of what Durant can be when he’s back and healthy is well worth the risk, but he’s also the only megastar option that still seems viable at this point. The rumors have long been two or maybe all three of the Irving, Durant, and Davis combo would join together in New York, after failing to get Davis, at this point they would be lucky to even get one of those three. So where do they go from here?
Jimmy Butler and Kemba Walker seem like the first obvious names. The problem there is that Butler is already paired up with a heavy amount of talent in Philadelphia and the 76ers seem ready to pay what’s necessary to keep him — the Lakers also have some interest in Butler, and that situation could be more appealing now than the Knicks. Walker, on the other hand, has said multiple times he wants to stay in Charlotte and is even willing to take less than a super-max extension to do so. He too has been linked to the Lakers as a top target, and while many in New York have dreamed of a Walker homecoming, he hasn’t indicated that’s exactly important to him.
We can keep going down the list, but the evidence is obvious. The Knicks are consistently coming in at second or third place on a lot of player’s lists and they need to find a way to get into first before they can use any of that cap space they’ve gotten. Whether that’s signing someone in this go around, or using that money to sign a strong supporting cast that can attract a star in 2020, is up to them. What the Knicks can’t do is panic. If they feel like they have to use their money and sign a pair of max deals, but give them to players that likely shouldn’t get those contracts, then they’ll only be handcuffing themselves going forward. It might be smarter to go after one big name free agent and use that extra money to surround them with a supporting cast on short-term deals to keep flexibility for the future, not unlike what the Lakers did last year, but hopefully with savvier ideas on roster construction.
Obviously, the Knicks want to win sooner than later, but they just happened to enter a summer when lots of teams have space and most of the big time stars aren’t circling them as their main destination. This is a great chance to be patient and not make the same mistakes they’ve made in the past.