“Every question you answer leads to another question,” Verrocchio says in Da Vinci’s Demons, “and such quests lead many to nothing but misery.”
“The true misery,” Da Vinci replies, “is if all the questions are solved. ‘Cause then there’s nothing left to ask.”
Saturday’s Carmelo Anthony trade brought an answer to one long-running question. But what of the post-Melo roster? What’s the new normal look like, now and moving forward? Let’s start by looking over the payroll, courtesy of Jeffrey Bellone.
The Knicks saved about $5 million in the trade, putting them slightly under the cap and potentially on the path of becoming one of those smart teams you hear about who trade cap space for draft picks or young assets when other teams come calling looking to move salary mid-season.
Enes Kanter makes $17.8 million this season and holds a player option next year for $18.6 million. Some people think a one-dimensional center in today’s NBA would never turn down that kind of guaranteed money. Others look at some of the recent deals signed by big men, look at Kanter’s exceptional per-36 productivity, and think it’s a lock he opts-out.
Either way, he’s a highly-skilled scorer and rebounder in the last year of his contract, meaning someone may be willing to send the Knicks something of value for him near the trade deadline. I myself am mostly interested in Kanter, an outspoken critic of Turkey’s president/monster Recep Erdogan, packing his bags for New York City days after fisticuffs broke out between supporters and opponents of the Turkish ruler.
Last May, Kanter called Erdogan “the Hitler of our century,” then fled Indonesia for Singapore after learning the Turkish government had Indonesian secret service looking for him. By comparison, six years of Melo-drama seems super trite. On the plus side, maybe Kanter will follow in the socially conscious footsteps of Anthony.
Doug McDermott will earn just under $3.3 million this year and can become a restricted free agent next summer. After the trade the Knicks have 21 players on the roster, one more than the maximum; they’re expected to release Chasson Randle. McDermott has underwhelmed since turning pro, but he at least seems like someone defenses can’t ignore on the perimeter. Few sequences are as satisfying as a fan as ball movement that ends with a sniper getting a clean look from distance.
No one’s ever called Dougie McBuckets Dougie Defense, for good reason, and Kanter’s combination of size and matador-D will trigger neo-Barguments in this year’s comment sections. But this trade, coupled with Kristaps Porzingis likely adjusting to life as the lead option and Frank Ntilikina adjusting to life in the NBA, means the 2018 Knicks gonna be all about entertankment, or what the Germans call panzerhaltung. If I’m gonna watch another six months of suckage, let that suckage involve Kanter putting up 24 and 10 while giving up 30 on the other end and McDermott becoming the rich man’s Jimmer Fredette; worst-case scenario, the Knicks don’t extend the qualifying offer and free up that much more cap room. Bring on the 120-110 losses!
Kornet, the sweet-shooting seven-footer out of Vanderbilt who signed a two-way deal, earns $75,000 if he’s never promoted to the Knicks, and around $275,000 if he spends the maximum allowable 45 days with the big club during the
G-League D-League season. Two-way deals are a shitty c’est la vie for those players signed to them. Hopefully Luke blossoms and helps break the feudal chains of the NBA’s morally abject exploitation of its workers.
Ognjen Jaramaz, one of the Knicks’ 2nd-round picks last June, hasn’t been signed by New York and thus not on the roster, but they still owns his rights. Courtesy of P&T’s Alex Wolfe:
"If the player is already under contract to, or signs a contract with a non-NBA team, the drafting team retains the player's draft rights for one year after the player's obligation to the non-NBA team ends. Essentially, the clock stops as long as the player plays pro ball outside the NBA. Players are not included in team salary during the regular season while the player is under contract with a non-NBA team."
The Knick payroll is just shy of $100 million, so here’s a convenient graph showing what % of the payroll each player carries:
If Kanter leaves and McDermott is waived, 10 Knicks would be making about $77M in 2018-19; add another lottery pick next June and they’re barely over $80M. That’s $22M under the projected cap (unless Golden State and Cleveland tsunami the playoffs again this year, in which case it’ll come in slightly lower). Don’t soil yourself, but other than Noah’s cap hit, that’s not a wacky salary structure. 16 of the 20 current Knicks make less than $10M; of the four who do, two — Lee and Kanter -- could be appealing pieces for teams looking to shore up for the playoffs. Also promising, potentially: the roster’s breakdown by age.
There isn’t single player over 25 who’s a part of the future. This being the Knicks, it’s entirely possible that a year from now they’ve given Dwyane Wade a two-year max deal and tossed their best-laid plans the hell out the window. But at this point, between KP (22), Ntilikina (19), Willy (23), THJ (25), next year’s lottery pick (18-20), and upside hopeful Damyean Dotson (23), there’s actually a real live youth movement afoot. It was a dizzying high to imagine a Melo trade yielding Kyrie Irving or Brooklyn’s 2018 lottery pick, but neither of those things was ever going to happen. The Knicks added a pick at the top of the second round, which is better in many ways than a low first-round pick, and they didn’t saddle themselves with a Ryan Anderson-type contract going forward. All due respect to Da Vinci, but the Knicks taking on the 3-year, $60M contract of a guy whose as likely to be a part of their future as James Dolan having a threesome with Jeremy Lin and Charles Oakley would have been the true misery.
Let’s see what the roster reveals about the Knicks’ depth chart. Uncertain whether Porzingis is a 4 or a 5? Or if Baker or Ntilikina’s true position is at the 1 or the 2? Position, shmosition. We don’t need no stinking positions. Let’s try a Brad Stevens depth chart.
In an era where the center position is ever de-emphasized, the Knicks have five who are worthy of playing time. How much time will KP spend at center? What does Joakim Noah have left in the tank? Do we care? Kyle O’Quinn could be a low-cost flyer for teams looking for veterans to contribute to postseason runs; if the Knicks could move him for a 2nd-round pick, that’s another $4M to put toward offseason spending.
Brace yourself for an onslaught of season previews ridiculing the Knicks for adding Kanter to a team with Noah, Porzingis and Hernangomez, but remember some moves are far-ranging beyond immediate wins and losses. I think Willy, if not Kristaps, too, could benefit from a season spent practicing against Kanter. Can’t you imagine an episode of Open Court in 2037 where Hernangomez is being interviewed by Grant Hill about how the 2023 Knicks broke their title drought, and Willy, relaxed on a couch between a serene-looking Kobe Bryant and a very uncomfortably-smiling Isiah Thomas, revealing that one of the great hidden influences on his career was the season he spent learning from the Turkish Delight?
One of the most intriguing players to watch could be Dotson, whose scintillating summer-league play may have foreshadowed someone ready to be a rotation mainstay. Every couple years, a player falls in the draft to a team who end up looking like geniuses for nabbing him.
The more firepower the Knicks can surround Porzingis with this year, the smoother his assuredly-bumpy ride to first-bananaville will be.
If Baker’s defense wasn’t a flash in the pan last year and he can elevate his shooting from Ronnie Brewer-levels to, say, Chris Duhon, the Knicks would have another young, inexpensive piece going forward. And what of Mindaugas Kuzminskas? Hopefully his time around Carmelo rubbed off and Kuz can parlay a shining summer of international competition into a strong NBA campaign.
When I first drafted this piece, Melo was still a Knick, and at the head of the “playmaker” column. You see how steep the drop-off is with him gone. Tim Hardaway Jr. is going to have more expected of him than ever before in his career. Was his success in Atlanta the result of him developing into a stable contributor, something he’s set to bring to New York? Or did he succeed because the Knicks are “a fucking joke,” and now that he’s back regression’s hot on his trail?
As far things I never thought I’d write: don’t be surprised if Michael Beasley is one of the brightest spots of the season for New York. There’s a lot of buckets that need getting with Anthony gone. Beasley could enjoy the same Jeff Hornacek-bump that Gerald Green did under him in Phoenix four years ago. He wears his watch on his ankle and has already gone after Stephen A. Smith for being the ass-clown he is. Team B-Easy For Life.
It’s an interesting roster: so many unknowns and tensions between the needs of the now versus the then versus the way down the road. It doesn’t seem like the Knicks will be good. They could be fun to watch, though, which is, you know...fun. And the mix of youth and opportunity — the freedom to fail, struggle, and grow — means this could be one of those years fans one day recall as first proof of foundation. Sometimes this roster will do things you can’t look away from, both for their promise and unsustainability. They’ll make us laugh and make us look away, offended. Maybe God will laugh with us. If we’re gonna lose another 50+ games, might as well enjoy the company we keep along the way.