Now that we’re full-on into the offseason fracas, it’s time that we figure out what the Knicks could do in free agency.
As it stands, the Knicks will be carrying 11 contracts into next season — Carmelo Anthony, Joakim Noah, Kristaps Porzingis, Willy Hernangomez, Courtney Lee, Lance Thomas, Kyle O’Quinn, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Marshall Plumlee, Chasson Randle and Maurice Ndour.
Plumlee, Randle and Ndour all have non-guaranteed contracts (meaning the Knicks can cut them by a certain date and get out of their contracts), but that’s another topic for another time.
For today, I’d like to take a look at the Knicks whose contracts have expired, and what that means for the Knicks. That list is as follows — Derrick Rose, Justin Holiday, Ron Baker and Sasha Vujacic.
Before I get into the individual players, I’m going to go over a couple terms that I’ll be using frequently in this piece:
Bird rights: The shortened name for the “Larry Bird exception,” a rule initially enacted during the ’80s which allowed the Celtics to go over the cap to sign Bird to a max contract. This exception allows a team to go over the cap to sign a player, provided that that player has played three straight seasons for that team. Bird rights also transfer when a player is traded. For example, the Cavaliers went over the cap to sign Kevin Love to a five-year, $113 million contract after he was traded from the Timberwolves, where he had played for six seasons prior.
Early Bird rights: Think of this as “Bird rights lite.” Instead of requiring three consecutive years with a team, this exception only requires two. But instead of being able to sign a player to a max deal and go over the cap, teams are limited to being able to give a player 175 percent of his previous year’s salary or 104.5 percent of the league average salary, whichever is greater.
As far as calculating salaries for this, I’m using Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ and Mark Deeks of ShamSports’ recently-released 2017 NBA Manifesto as my guidelines, and Basketball-Reference for salaries. Also, guys like Deeks are smarter than I am, so if they say something and I come up with a different number, I’m going to defer.
All that said, let’s talk about these players:
2016-17 salary: $21,323,250
2016-17 stats: 64 games played/18 PPG/3.8 RPG/4.4 APG/0.7 SPG/0.3 BPG
OK, so let’s get this elephant out of the room first.
Derrick Rose was traded to the Knicks on June 23 of last year, prior to the final year of his five-year, $94,314,376 extension that he signed with the Bulls prior to the 2011-12 season. That large number was actually a byproduct of the “Derrick Rose Rule” in the 2011 CBA, which stipulated that if a player becomes an All-Star starter or All-NBA player twice or wins the MVP once during his rookie deal, he can make 30 percent of the cap on his rookie extension, up from the usual 25 percent.
Since Rose had spent every season of his career with the Bulls before being traded to the Knicks, the Knicks inherited his full Bird rights. This means that the Knicks can give Rose anywhere up to a max contract, which would be five years, $177.5 million, starting at $30.6 million. That amount would be the result of Rose’s nine years of NBA service. I won’t get into the deep math of calculating a max contract but this is a great, concise explanation.
Thankfully, that’s more akin to what Steph Curry will be getting, and Rose would likely not command anywhere near that amount due to his robust injury history, and, well, not being anywhere near the stratosphere of Curry anymore. Still though, this article is just about what could happen, not what is likely to.
Rose also has an astronomical cap hold of almost $30 million—that is, a placeholder on the Knicks’ salary cap space that allows them to use his Bird rights. They will almost surely renounce that, even if they plan on re-signing Rose.
The long and the short of the Derrick Rose situation is that, should they choose to, the Knicks can pay him whatever they want. With Phil Jackson—seemingly his biggest supporter—now gone, time will tell if they take advantage of that or not.
2016-17 salary: $1,015,696
2016-17 stats: 82 games played/7.7 PPG/2.7 RPG/1.2 APG/0.8 SPG/0.4 BPG
From a Knicks fan pariah to a Knicks fan darling, we move on to Justin Holiday.
Holiday was traded to the Knicks last year in “the Justin Holiday trade” (AKA “the Derrick Rose trade”) on June 23, 2016 as more or less a throw-in, and proved to be a pretty useful role player. Holiday had bounced around the league a bit before landing with the Knicks—Holiday played a key (read: nearly non-existent, no offense Justin) role on the 2014-15 championship Warriors team on a $816,482 deal. He followed that up by signing a two-year pact with the Bulls, starting at $947,300 and culminating at $1,015,696 with the Knicks this season.
Holiday, due to his two-year contract transferring over from the Bulls, will be eligible for the aforementioned early Bird rights. Since 175 percent of Holiday’s salary is only $1,777,468, Holiday would instead be eligible for a contract worth 104.5 percent of the league average salary. Finding the average salary is no easy task for a lowly blog peon like me, since it’s figured out by the NBA prior to free agency beginning. But Bobby Marks—now with ESPN from the Woj move, but formerly of The Vertical—mentioned the average salary as being $8.1 million. Going by Deeks’ math (who just published within the week, and adjusted for the recently-confirmed $99 million cap), Justin’s starting salary would be $8,826,300. Mark’s super smart and helped me on Twitter earlier, so I’m going with his number.
Also, if the Knicks do opt to sign Holiday using his early Bird rights, the contract must be no shorter than two years, and no longer than four. As calculated by this amateur capologist, Holiday’s max contract using his early Bird rights would be around four years, $39,227,035, with a starting salary of $8,826,300.
There is another wrinkle in this, however. Holiday will have a cap hold of 130 percent of his previous salary, which works out to $1,471,382. Should the Knicks choose, they can release his cap hold and offer him more than the contract listed above, but it would come out of the space that they could offer to other free agents.
That should be used as a last resort, however, since Holiday’s low cap hold can be leveraged to go over the cap after other free agents have been signed.
For example: If the Knicks have $15 million in cap space (imaginary number), they can spend approximately $13.5 million of that, and then use Holiday’s early Bird rights to sign him for a contract starting at about $8.8 million and go over the cap. Holiday is the only player that the Knicks have that could potentially give them “extra” cap space, and they’d be wise to do that.
2016-17 salary: $1,410,598
2016-17 stats: 42 games played/3.0 PPG/1.4 RPG/1.2 APG/0.3 SPG/0.0 BPG
You can basically cut and paste the above about Justin Holiday for Vujacic, since the Knicks have employed him for two years and own his early Bird rights. With founding member of the Sasha Vujacic Fan Club Phil Jackson out and a youth movement likely incoming, re-signing 33-year-old Sasha probably isn’t in the cards.
2016-17 salary: $543,471
2016-17 stats: 52 games played/4.1 PPG/1.9 RPG/2.1 APG/0.7 SPG/0.2 BPG
Ideally, Ron Baker shouldn’t be a free agent this season, but here we are. Baker signed as an undrafted free agent last summer, but the Knicks didn’t work a second-year team option into his deal (which, strangely, they did for all three of Ndour, Plumlee and Randle).
Instead, as we learned recently, Ron received a qualifying offer from the Knicks, making him a restricted free agent. Ron’s qualifying offer should be a one-year contract worth $1,512,611, according to Deeks. Basically, by offering him that one-year contract, the Knicks have secured the right to match any offer that another team could make Ron.
If I’ve gone over all of the scenarios properly, it would seem that the Knicks would only be able to offer Baker a multi-year deal for more than $1,512,611 if they use their cap space or match another team’s offer.
And those are your Knicks free agents! Who do you want to see stay a Knick the most? What would you be willing to pay? Let’s talk about it in the comments.