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To keep Iso-Zo, Ron Baker’s gotta go

’Twas fun while it lasted, Ron

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NBA: New York Knicks at Brooklyn Nets Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Allonzo Trier has been a pleasant surprise for the Knicks this season. Signed by New York to a two-way contract as an undrafted rookie out of the University of Arizona, Trier has been a consistent cog in David Fizdale’s rotation.

The two-way contract he was signed to gives an NBA team the flexibility to keep a player under contract without taking up a roster spot. The team then has the flexibility to give said player time in the G-League as well as calling them up to play with the NBA roster, but for a maximum of 45 days. Trier, however, has forced his way into the Knicks’ plans much sooner than they anticipated after signing him due to his skill as an efficient isolation scorer at just 22 years old.

The deadline to keep him with the team through the rest of the season is now fast approaching for the Knicks, though.

The exact date is murky — Trier gets credit for every day he spends with the Knicks, except travel days and off-days, which can be complex accounting with some latitude and self-policing on what qualifies as a rest day and one with team obligations. It could come as early as Dec. 6 but is more likely to fall somewhere in the week after towards mid-December. At that point the Knicks can leave him in the G League for the rest of the season or sign him to an NBA deal, for which they’d need to clear out a roster spot.

The last point is key. The Knicks already have the maximum 15 players under contract on the roster. So to lock up Trier for the rest of the season, something they’re almost certain to do, they need to carve out a spot for him, either by trade or by simply waiving somebody. A trade where they could get a player’s salary off their books entirely would be ideal, but waiving somebody and eating the money as a sunk cost is more realistic, especially with the deadline to do so right around the corner.

Luke Kornet could be an option, but the Knicks are short on frontcourt depth. That, as well as Kornet’s outside shooting touch — a skill which makes him an option different to both Enes Kanter and Mitchell Robinson — makes that unlikely.

In the P&T Slack, some floated Mario Hezonja as a possibility to be cut, but, again, the Knicks’ roster construction makes that unlikely. Super Mario is one of only two healthy combo forwards on the roster currently, and he came to New York as one of GM Scott Perry’s handpicked reclamation projects. He has struggled immensely to have a positive impact, but it seems the Knicks will give him every opportunity this season to turn things around.

Players like Kanter, Noah Vonleh and Emmanuel Mudiay, who are free agents after the season, have simply been too good on the floor this year to waive. Trey Burke could be an option, but his microwave scoring ability and favorable contractual situation — the Knicks have Early Bird Rights on him — could net them an asset in trade from a team looking to bolster their bench. Courtney Lee’s contract goes into next season, and the respect he garners within the organization as a team-first veteran should ensure he won’t be the cut, either.

It would seem the most logical cut to make, then, is Ron Baker. The third-year guard out of Wichita State has fallen out of a backcourt rotation which still feels cluttered without him. Baker’s shown good defensive chops, but his offensive game hasn’t progressed as the Knicks hoped when signing him to a ridiculous-at-the-time two-year, $8.6m deal. He’s struggled to shoot the ball efficiently, create off the dribble, or finish at the rim. At 25 years old, and turning 26 in March, there isn’t much upside or potential for growth, either.

It’s unfortunate, as Ron seems like a fun and quirky individual. He gives excellent effort on the floor and has never griped or moped about getting nailed to the bench. Maybe it’s what should be expected of an end-of-the-bench level player, but staying committed and focused when you’re almost certain not to play isn’t easy for a lot of guys.

It was a fun run Ron, but all good things must come to an end. While I’m sure James Dolan won’t be thrilled about paying him $4.5m this year to not play for the Knicks, it’s the most logical and prudent choice, given the options.

Ultimately, although his contract never made any sense given his level of play, it didn’t cost the Knicks much over these two seasons. While it’s certainly one of the more amusing contractual blunders in franchise history, it has been nowhere near as detrimental as many others. That’s the best thing to say about it, and it’s why when it comes time to make space for ISO-Zo, Ron’s got to be the one to go.

Good luck and best of luck with your burgeoning writing career!