By Matt Flynn | Staff Writer
This offseason review will be the New York Knicks. If you have interest in other offseason reviews as they come out, click on my author name at the bottom of this page to be directed to my archived articles. I previously did one about the Brooklyn Nets, so I’ll just jump to the other New York team.
It’s worth mentioning to start that the Knicks are coming off another slow season where they weren’t really close to the playoffs, and they’ve had a few bad offseason signings in recent years which have largely eliminated their flexibility. Most of the team returns from last year. In fact, after Kevin Knox was drafted, the Knicks had no cap space at all, and could only use the mid-level exception and minimum contracts to fill their roster. They can still make trades, of course, but haven’t made any of note yet.
Here’s their current roster with the salaries in millions:
PG- Frank Ntilikina (4.2); Emmanuel Mudiay (4.3); Ron Baker (4.5); Kadeem Allen (1.3)*
SG- Kevin Knox (3.7); Courtney Lee (12.3); Trey Burke (1.8)*
SF- Tim Hardaway Jr. (17.3); Mario Hezonja (6.5); Damyean Dotson (1.4)
PF- Kristaps Porzingis (5.7); Noah Vonleh (1.8); Lance Thomas (7.1); Luke Kornet (1.6)
C- Enes Kanter (18.6); Mitchell Robinson (1.5); Joakim Noah (18.5)
The Knicks currently have 17 players on their roster with around 112 million locked up. They’re clearly over the cap, but have about 10 million before the luxury tax kicks in. They’ll have to use camp to make some of these final cuts, perhaps just eating Ron Baker’s salary (he’s just not an NBA player), or Lance Thomas’s (he only has 1 million guaranteed next year and serves no purpose, especially for 7.1 million). They could also downsize by just waiving players like Allen, Vonleh, or Kornet if those experiments fail, or even waive and stretch Joakim Noah’s contract over three seasons to gain the roster spot.
None of the mentioned players really fit into the rotation, so it will be mostly about filling out the back end of the roster in the smartest way. Trey Burke’s contract remains unguaranteed, but should be accepted by the team after a really solid 2017-18 season. Their only remaining cap hold is for Jarrett Jack, who they could use Non-Bird rights to bring back if they want an extra Point Guard, and at 125% of what he made last year, he would still allow the team to stay below the tax.
The following players are additions:
G/F- Kevin Knox (draft, 1st round)
F- Mario Hezonja (free agent signing from Orlando)
G- Kadeem Allen (free agent signing from Boston)
F/C- Noah Vonleh (free agent signing from Chicago)
C- Mitchell Robinson (draft, 2nd round)
F/C- Luke Kornet (converted two-way contract)
The following players are departures from last year:
F- Michael Beasley (free agent, signed with LA Lakers)
F/C- Kyle O’Quinn (free agent, signed with Indiana)
G- Jarrett Jack (still available)
G/F- Troy Williams (free agent, signed with New Orleans)
As they head into next year, they face unrestricted free agency for Hezonja, Vonleh, Burke, and also for Enes Kanter, and face restricted free agency on Kristaps Porzingis and Emmanuel Mudiay. Two of their most expensive contracts, Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee, each have two years remaining instead of being expiring deals, although Lee could still have some value as a trade asset, potentially.
They retain draft rights on a 2017 second round pick, G- Ognjen Jaramaz from Serbia. They also have their own 2019 first round pick and one 2019 second round pick, which will end up being the worst of Orlando, Cleveland, and Houston due to pick swapping deals from the past.
Their offseason deals have been somewhat limited.
First Round: G/F- Kevin Knox, 9th overall, from Kentucky
Second Round: C- Mitchell Robinson, 36th overall, no college experience
The Knicks converted a two-way player from last year in Luke Kornet into a minimum contract. They also were forced to keep Ron Baker after he opted into his player option, as did Enes Kanter, while Kyle O’Quinn opted out. They did also pick up guard Kadeem Allen from Boston to compete in camp for a roster spot after waiving Troy Williams.
Their free agent signings are as follows:
They signed Noah Vonleh for the minimum, which is a nice upside pick up to try to compete for frontcourt minutes, and they used a majority of their mid-level exception on a one year deal for Mario Hezonja. Vonleh has attempted to expand his range beyond the three-point line and adapt his game to the modern NBA, with mixed success. He remains a huge work in progress, but can be a decent rebounder. He also has the athleticism to really be a plus defender, so I like this signing for the Knicks in trying to garner some high-upside talent for cheap. He is only a few years removed from being a high lottery pick.
The same goes for Hezonja, who was taken 5th overall back in 2015. He’s only an average shooter, but is an intelligent player, picking his spots offensively and being a decent passer. His averages of 10 points, 4 rebounds, an assist and a steal in reserve minutes last year weren’t bad, and he had a way better second half of the season than first when he had more of a chance to play. He’s also a sneaky good defensive player who can guard multiple positions. I could see him quickly becoming one of the Knicks’ better players and warranting a larger contract next offseason.
I still have real hope that Hezonja can become a legitimate starter in the NBA, and Vonleh offers similar upside as a potential rotation piece. Blending them with high second-round pick Mitchell Robinson, who likely fell in the draft due to his peculiar decision to not play college ball offers a triad of potentially good frontcourt players to join Porzingis.
They call Porzingis the unicorn, so let’s get to the unicorn in the room. There’s a real possibility that Porzingis will not be a Knick long term. This is a team that is mired in a rebuild, but seems several years away from being really competitive, and I’m just not certain that the Knicks would match a max offer sheet for him next summer. Porzingis, if he makes an all NBA team this year, could have a contract that would start around $32 million per year, and even if he doesn’t, could be looking at a $27 million per year deal due to the 5th year/30% max criteria for a designated player extension.
Would the Knicks pay that for KP? His future remains a major question, which helps explain why the Knicks went out and got these high-upside players. They’re trying to shortcut the rebuilding process to see what they have.
By all accounts (and also by summer league performance), Kevin Knox seems to be a hit, but there’s not much else which is concrete to point to in this team’s future. Ntilikina and Mudiay are both raw point guard prospects, with Mudiay heading into a contract year. They overpaid horrifically for Tim Hardaway Jr., Joakim Noah, Lance Thomas, and Ron Baker, although the Baker and Thomas contracts will be largely off the books next year. They also got nothing from Dotson last year as a supplemental first-round pick.
I just wonder how the future of this team plays out and whether Porzingis will be the focal piece. Their best trade asset is probably Kanter’s expiring contract, and we’ll see if they can use him at the trade deadline, but that 18.6 million is pretty tough to reconcile, even for a player who consistently gets a little better every year. The Knicks have a ton of outstanding questions, and their time to figure it out is running out.
I still like the Hezonja and Vonleh signings for upside alone, and I think they drafted really well with Knox and Robinson. I also think that there are still some more major decisions and moves to make.
I’d give their offseason a B.