Our Longest Summer series will look at the eight teams whose seasons are now officially over, and will have to wait until mid-October to make decisions on what’s next and how to proceed after falling short of the cut-off for a continued 2019-20 campaign.
On the heels of a thoroughly puzzling 2019 offseason, the Knicks entered the 2019-20 campaign with mixed expectations. Some believed that New York’s patchwork additions might facilitate substantial improvement, while others feared the worst. When the campaign ended, the results were more to the negative side, with the Knicks posting a 21-45 record and “earning” an omission from the NBA’s planned 22-team restart in Orlando.
Once again, the Knicks enter the 2020 offseason with numerous questions to answer, and with a change in the front office and a new head coach coming in — with the expectation that it’ll be Tom Thibodeau — New York is as difficult to evaluate as any lottery-bound squad. Alas, there are methods to evaluate the madness, and the Knicks do have tangible decisions to make in the coming months.
2020 Free Agents
Bobby Portis (team option), Mo Harkless (UFA), Allonzo Trier (RFA), Damyean Dotson (RFA), Taj Gibson (non-guaranteed), Wayne Ellington (non-guaranteed), Elfrid Payton (non-guaranteed), Reggie Bullock (non-guaranteed)
2020 Projected salary cap space (assuming $115 million salary cap)
$36.1 million, per Early Bird Rights
Areas of Strength
It is, quite frankly, tough to find areas of genuine strength with the Knicks. New York did an excellent job on the offensive glass all season long, and with their wild investment in traditional big men and power forwards, the Knicks did have bulk on their side. Long-term, Mitchell Robinson looks the part of an intriguing starting center and while R.J. Barrett struggled at times during his rookie season, there is reason for optimism. All told, Julius Randle is also an interesting and productive player, even if one miscast as a legitimate No. 1 option.
Areas of Need
The Knicks were a genuine mess on both ends of the floor this season, and especially so on offense. New York landed near the bottom of the league in perimeter shooting (both frequency and accuracy) and the franchise continues to have no answer in terms of an offensive engine on the perimeter. Defensively, it wasn’t quite as porous, but it wasn’t as if the Knicks were anything special, or even average, on that end of the floor, with genuine interest on how the front office plans to fix what is a mismatched roster.
In simple terms, the Knicks have a ton of roster decisions to make, even before considering free agency and the draft. Bobby Portis has a lucrative team option that the team should certainly consider declining. Then, New York has non-guaranteed deals for productive, yet overpaid, veterans in Taj Gibson, Elfrid Payton and Wayne Ellington. Then, you get into young players on fringes (Trier, Dotson) and realize that the Knicks could be yearning to keep the decks clear for 2021. Could they generate big-time cap space this summer? Absolutely. Would it be better to go hunting for stars in 2021? Probably, but the Knicks have been down that road (unsuccessfully) many times before. It would help with clarity if the Knicks got lucky in the lottery with a path toward LaMelo Ball but, if not, this could go any number of directions.
Overall Offseason Focus
One year ago, the Knicks bundled together an allotment of competent, yet ill-fitting veterans in an attempt to make the team better in the short term. On the bright side, New York didn’t thoroughly damage long-term flexibility in the process, but the team didn’t make things easy on Barrett or Robinson from an evaluation standpoint. This time around, the Knicks do have the ability to follow different avenues, but, at the moment, New York has only a few concretely positive assets on the roster and a shortage of cohesion that is striking. It’s time to fix that, albeit with a measured approach.