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What does the Knicks’ salary cap situation look like heading into free agency?

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They don’t have much cap room this summer.

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New York Knicks Press Conference Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

It’s hard to believe considering the craziness of the past few days, but free agency begins tonight at midnight. Therefore, as we do every year, let’s take a look at the Knicks’ current salary cap landscape.

Below, I’ve detailed how much salary cap room the Knicks have, as well as how much I ultimately expect them to have, for each of the next three summers as things stand today.

Alex helpfully defined all of the relevant terms in his article this morning, so be sure to take a look at his awesome piece if anything here confuses you. In addition, all of this information comes from Mark Deeks’s amazingly helpful and comprehensive 2017 NBA Manifesto, with an assist from Larry Coon’s ever-useful CBAFAQ.

As you can see, I noted a few things I wanted to specifically highlight here. I’ll take them each in turn.

  • Even though New York has not yet officially signed Frank Ntilikina to a contract, a cap hold in his name is placed on the team’s payroll. This is because the CBA assumes that most NBA teams sign their first round picks to contracts right away. Were this rule not in place, teams would be see an incentive to hold off on signing their rookies until after signing any free agents they planned on bringing in, thus affording them a few million dollars in cap space that they technically should not have.

Frank’s cap hold for each season is determined based on the rookie scale. Beginning this year, however, the cap hold is 120% of the scale amount rather than the usual 100%, as teams are free to sign first round picks to contracts at up to 120% of the scale amount. Because teams almost always do so, the cap hold has been changed to reflect that inevitability.

One other small note here: the Knicks’ second round picks, Damyean Dotson and Ognjen Jaramaz, are not placed on the payroll until they are officially signed. Unsurprisingly, the presumption regarding teams immediately signing first round picks doesn’t hold for second rounders.

  • The Knicks haven’t done it yet, but reportedly will extend Ron Baker a Qualifying Offer, making him a Restricted Free Agent. Once that happens, his QO will go on the payroll as a cap hold. After the Knicks sign Baker to a new contract or match an offer sheet given to him by some other team, the QO will be replaced on the payroll by the new salary. (There exists a very unlikely scenario in which the Knicks would be unable to match an offer sheet given to Ron, but I won’t get into it here.)
  • Marshall Plumlee’s contract became $100,000 guaranteed when they chose not to waive him today. Further guarantee dates come later in the summer, though his cap hold is set at the full amount unless or until they waive him. The Knicks waived Maurice Ndour this afternoon to avoid his contract becoming guaranteed fully, which it otherwise would have today.
  • For the row titled “Current Payroll” and the one titled “Cap Room” I included every player the Knicks currently have under contract as well as cap holds for every other player on last season’s roster except Sasha Vujacic. I think it’s safe to say they’ll relinquish their rights to him. In 2019-20, the “Cap Room” number also needed to take into account 5 incomplete roster holds (priced at the minimum salary for a rookie), as the team has only 7 players on payroll for that season at the moment.
  • The 2017-18 cap projection comes from here and the 2018-19 and 2019-20 projections come from here, with those numbers adjusted down to reflect the change in the 2017-18 projection.
  • The row titled “Expected Room” estimates the cap space I expect - I know, shocker! - the Knicks to have. With respect to this upcoming season, I assumed only that New York would renounce its rights to Derrick Rose among its non-Vujacic free agents. I’m figuring that even if the team wants to re-sign Rose, it will be at a price significantly lower than his around $30 million cap hold. For the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, I assumed that the Knicks would be renouncing their rights to Marshall Plumlee and Chasson Randle, though choosing to keep them on payroll instead wouldn’t really make much difference.

So the ultimate conclusion is that the Knicks don’t have a ton of space to work with this offseason. They’ll probably have around $14.5 million in cap room to begin with, but that number will go down a bit if New York re-signs Justin Holiday and/or Ron Baker. And a good chunk of it will be lopped off if Derrick Rose comes back. The team will, however, likely have access to the Room Mid-Level Exception, which will allow them to sign a player to a two-year deal starting at $4,328,000. (Or, conversely, if they choose not to renounce their rights to Rose and then sign him to a deal that keeps them over the cap, they’ll have access to the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception and the Bi-Annual Exception instead.)

Given the relatively little room the Knicks have, especially if they want to bring back some of their own free agents, we shouldn’t expect a run at any of the biggest names this year. And that’s certainly not the worst change in pace in the world.