With the draft over, the Knicks’ limited attention can now be turned to free agency — and I say “limited” attention, because Scott Perry and Steve Mills have made it pretty clear that they’re mostly sitting on their hands this offseason in an effort to make a splash next offseason.
There’s not much wiggle room for the Knicks — they’re capped out after Enes Kanter opted in to his deal, and assuming both Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson are signed to NBA deals, the Knicks only have one NBA roster spot and one two-way contract available for next season.
The 14 players that will be on the NBA roster for next season are: Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay, Courtney Lee, Enes Kanter, Troy Williams, Lance Thomas, Ron Baker, Damyean Dotson, Mitchell Robinson and Joakim Noah. Allonzo Trier is the team’s lone two-way contract at the moment.
That means that Michael Beasley, Jarrett Jack, Kyle O’Quinn, Luke Kornet and Isaiah Hicks are all free agents, and, most likely, only two of them could be able to come back unless another player is waived.
Before I begin, here’s a couple terms to be familiar with in this article (lifted right from last year’s version of 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.
If you’re still curious about cap figures for the Knicks, our own Drew Steele did an amazing job breaking the whole situation down a couple of weeks ago. I would also strongly recommend downloading Mark Deeks’ 2018 NBA Manifesto, a highly detailed, nearly 900-page document about the upcoming offseason that the man is literally giving away online. (I’d also recommend throwing Mark a few bucks, because he seems like a nice guy and clearly worked very hard on it.) Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ is also one of the best resources in basketball history.
In the interest of time, since some players have the same salary situations, I’ll lump them together. But we’ll start with a single player:
2017-18 salary: $4,087,500
2017-18 stats: 77 games played/7.1 PPG/6.1 RPG/2.1 APG/0.5 SPG/1.3 BPG
O’Quinn is probably the most desirable of the Knicks’ own free agents this season. His numbers won’t jump off the page, but he was one of the Knicks’ backbones last season off the bench, providing a little bit of everything in the backup center role.
O’Quinn has reportedly been a target of the Golden State Warriors for a while, and they could offer him about $5 million per season using their taxpayer’s mid-level exception. The Knicks own full Bird rights for O’Quinn, however, meaning they can pretty much pay him whatever they want if that’s what it takes to keep him.
In theory, the Knicks could offer O’Quinn a contract starting at as much as $24.77 million over five years. That would be absurd. In all likelihood, if they really intend on keeping him and having him fill their final roster spot, they’d probably offer him something north of $10 million for one season, allowing them to maintain his Bird rights and enter next offseason with as much flexibility as possible.
Michael Beasley and Jarrett Jack
2017-18 salary: $1,471,382
Beasley 2017-18 stats: 74 games played/13.2 PPG/5.6 RPG/1.7 APG/0.5 SPG/0.6 BPG
Jack 2017-18 stats: 62 games played/7.5 PPG/3.1 RPG/5.6 APG/0.6 SPG/0.1 BPG
Beasley and Jack both signed veteran minimum contracts last season for about $1.5 million. Since it was the first season with the Knicks for both players, neither have Bird rights that the Knicks can exercise to retain them.
Per CBA FAQ, Beasley and Jack qualify as “Non-Bird” free agents, since they played one full season with the same team without being waived or traded. In the case of Jack and Beasley, they can be signed “to a salary starting at up to 120 percent of his salary in the previous season (not over the maximum salary, of course) [or] 120 percent of the minimum salary.” Since both players were on minimum contracts, that means the Knicks could pay either one about $1.75 million and exceed the cap, or dip into either their non-taxpayer mid-level exception or bi-annual exception to re-sign either one.
Jack is probably not coming back, given the glut of young point guards on the Knicks and his phasing out by the end of last season. Beasley could maybe make sense, since someone needs to score the ball at the power forward until Kristaps Porzingis comes back.
Luke Kornet and Isaiah Hicks
2017-18 salary: $75,000 plus NBA roster incentives (two-way contract)
Kornet 2017-18 NBA stats: 20 games played/6.7 PPG/3.2 RPG/1.3 APG/0.3 SPG/0.8 BPG
Hicks 2017-18 NBA stats: 18 games played/4.4 PPG/2.3 RPG/0.9 APG/0.1 SPG/0.2 BPG
Kornet and Hicks were the Knicks’ two two-way players last year. As mentioned above, undrafted Allonzo Trier out of Arizona has already taken one of the Knicks’ two-way deals for the 2018-19 season. That means that one of Kornet or Hicks is probably gone.
Per CBA FAQ, a two-way player counts as a restricted free agent upon expiring if he spent 15 days with his NBA team and is tendered a qualifying offer (which the Knicks did for both). What that means is that the Knicks gain the ability to match any contract offered to Kornet or Hicks, should another team offer either of them a contract.
As far as re-signing them, I’m still learning my way around the rules with two-way players. But if I have this correct, Hicks and Kornet both qualify as Non-Bird free agents, but with the added benefit of the Knicks being able to match an opposing team’s offer. As it stands, I wouldn’t expect either player to get an offer for higher than a two-way deal or the roughly $830,000 rookie minimum. It’s possible the Knicks could re-sign both, if they bring Kornet back on an NBA deal as sort of a “Porzingis Lite” in the 15th roster spot and give Hicks their second two-way deal.
And that’s it! Now you know about the Knicks’ free agents.