Free agency is upon us. The Knicks don’t figure to do much of anything, but as last season proved, sometimes the smallest additions can pay big dividends.
Trey Burke seemed like he was on the fringes of the league last season, but after signing with the Westchester Knicks in the G-League, he came up to the big club and is now a valuable player on a minimum contract. Troy Williams was pulled off the scrap heap mid-season and showed some flashes as a defensive-minded bench wing. Michael Beasley and Jarrett Jack provided a steady veteran presence, even helping keep the Knicks in the playoff hunt before Kristaps Porzingis’ ACL injury. Tim Hardaway Jr. may or may not be worth the deal he was given last offseason, but he was easily the biggest signing the Knicks made a year ago, for better or worse.
Free agency might seem like it’s going to be a dud by default, but even the capped-out Knicks have some money to give out to the right player. Be sure to check out Drew Steele’s salary cap guide to learn about the non-taxpayer mid-level exception and room exceptions that the Knicks have at their disposal this offseason.
So, with all that said, let’s check out which free agents a handful of P&T writers would like to see the Knicks pick up this summer:
Losing out on the Luka Doncic sweepstakes really hurt me soul. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Kevin Knox, and I think there’s a definite chance he could end up a great player. But the tantalizing allure of Doncic, to me, was that he could have provided Frank Ntilikina with a lead guard partner, where the two of them would hopefully split ball-handling responsibilities about 50/50.
So now, entering what will almost assuredly be a tame 2018 free agent period for the Knicks, is there a player out there that could potentially be had for the $8.5 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception and provide a similar level of combo-guard versatility next to Frank Ntilikina? I’ve been beating the drum and yelling into the void about one player in particular for a while:
Ok so IF the #Knicks end up winning too many games to get one of the top wings (Doncic, Knox, etc.) I would not be opposed to giving Tyreke Evans a medium sized contract for a few years— Alex Wolfe (@thealexwolfe) December 7, 2017
If I could prioritize one free agent this offseason, it’s Tyreke Evans. Fresh off a career-resurrecting season in Memphis, I think he could be both a good short- and long-term solution for the Knicks.
In the short-term, I’d see him as a starter at the shooting guard/small forward. A starting lineup like Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway Jr., Evans, a warm body and Enes Kanter or Kyle O’Quinn could at least make the Knicks palatable on the court, if not great. It would also give Knox an opportunity to hone his craft against other teams’ second units at first, as he figures out his role and position in the NBA.
In the long term, if the Knicks can offload some money during this season (looking at you, Courtney Lee) and create a max salary slot next offseason like they want to, Evans is a player who has shown the willingness to be a sixth man on a good team. (That was initially his role on the Grizzlies last year before their season went down the tubes.) Having a player that can handle the ball, score, distribute and defend a little is worth its weight in gold to a team trying to compete.
Evans’ health is about the only thing that concerns me, but taking a chance on him would still be a good move. As someone who had Evans on his fantasy basketball team last year, I can confidently say that about half of his 30 games where he was “injured” can be attributed to a bad case of tankitis. Keep his minutes under control, and he could be a great piece for the present and the future.
New York is in an interesting predicament when it comes to this year’s free agent approach. Management has mentioned that they do not want to sign players to multi-year contracts to maintain cap space for the 2019 (and presumably 2020) offseason. This is a smart, reasonable approach; however, with few teams having and willing to spend long-term money, the market is suppressed and team’s non-taxpayer mid-level exception can become a powerful bargaining chip.
If the Knicks decided to sign a free agent with all of their non-taxpayer MLE, this is how the years break out based on the current estimates and 5% raises:
Year 1: $8,567,770
Year 2: $8,996,159
Year 3: $9,424,547
Year 4: $9,852,936
Signing a player to a multi-year contract with those values prevents New York from offering a 30 percent max contract to a free agent (New York is still short even if they don’t sign anyone long-term, but that’s a different discussion altogether). This is why trading Courtney Lee this offseason and also not taking on a contract past 2019 is so critical — and why some people have considered stretching Noah in order to make room for a max contract. The difference between Lee’s 2019 salary figure and the Year 2 figure for the MLE does create a difference that puts New York in a position to effectively in position for the 30 percent max, but then we have to take into consideration the cap hold of the 2019 first-round pick. This is why you don’t sign Tim Hardaway Jr. and Joakim Noah to those contracts, but now I’m digressing.
All of this is to say that maybe signing a player isn’t the best of ideas. If New York can find a way to trade Lee for a player they have no intention on keeping past the 2019 offseason or trade him into space, then things can become more interesting. Shedding Lee’s contract, releasing Lance Thomas, renouncing Ron Baker, Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Burke, and Troy Williams, and stretching Noah on his final year creates an estimate $54,235,824 minus the 2019 first-round draft pick’s cap hold/contract and incomplete roster charges — well above that $32.4 million threshold.
Dumping Lee is essential to whether or not I think the Knicks should sign a player with their mid-level exception. If they can, then the two players that I would recommend be potential targets are Marcus Smart and Mario Hezonja. I highly doubt Smart signs for $8.5 million over multiple years (and with a “tanking” team) unless his market is completely dried up and he becomes desperate for job security.
I’m uncertain about what Hezonja’s market is and if another team with more cap space wants to gamble on him. Nabbing him on a four-year, $32 million contract would be the type of deal that’s worth the risk if he manages to fulfill his potential and puts together the flashes we saw during the second half of the season. And if he signs for something such as four years at $10 million per year elsewhere, that’s not the end of the world either.
Jon “Stingy” Schulman
All I want is to bring Kyle O’Quinn back. I just like that burly beard and I know I’ll miss him. Truthfully I’m a total sucker for some tricky passing. O’Quinn’s return seems entirely unlikely now that Enes Kanter has opted in. Why, at 28 years old, would he waste a year on an underdeveloped team? Especially if he gets jammed down the rotation to give some youngins a chance to spin. It’s time for Kyle to brush his beard in a whole new direction. This luxury cannot be realized in the city of dreams.
So I’ll root for the Knicks to be annoying. They presumably don’t have enough money to shoofly the Lakers with a big enough Julius Randle offer sheet, but the first thing they should do is offer him the full MLE for as long as he wants it. If he signs — great! He can make Enes Kanter feel certain that he ought to be looking for work elsewhere. This either accelerates the Lakers’ offseason Plan A or removes a Plan B. Annoying! I love it.
Speaking of annoying, same deal for Marcus Smart. A defensive backcourt of Smart and Frank Ntilikina sounds so obnoxiously pesky it’s practically auto-erotic asphyxiation! I love it. I suppose that won’t end well though.
So maybe something that may actually work is spending that MLE on Kevon Looney. Keep it simple, he gets the full boat, but it’s a one year deal (player option if he needs it to get a deal done).
Looney is coming off of his third consecutive Finals appearance and he’s only been in the league for three seasons! Still only 22 and already he has more experience than some guys will ever have. Combine his youth with his length and positional versatility on both ends, and you’re looking at a sturdy rotation player who may still be able to grow into something more significant. He’s not going to alter the franchise with eye-popping athleticism but Looney might just be the right mix of youth and wisdom to show the other young players what they’re not doing that can get them on a fast track to some of that mondo success he’s seen in the Bay.