2019 Offseason In Review: New York Knicks

Hoops Rumors is breaking down the 2019 offseason for all 30 NBA teams, revisiting the summer’s free agent signings, trades, draft picks, departures, and more. We’ll evaluate each team’s moves from the last several months and look ahead to what the 2019/20 season holds for all 30 franchises. Today, we’re focusing on the New York Knicks.

Signings:

  • Standard contracts:
    • Julius Randle: Three years, $56.7MM. Third year partially guaranteed ($4MM). Signed using cap room.
    • Bobby Portis: Two years, $30.75MM. Second-year team option. Signed using cap room.
    • Taj Gibson: Two years, $18.5MM. Second year partially guaranteed ($1MM). Signed using cap room.
    • Wayne Ellington: Two years, $16MM. Second year partially guaranteed ($1MM). Signed using cap room.
    • Elfrid Payton: Two years, $16MM. Second year partially guaranteed ($1MM). Signed using cap room.
    • Marcus Morris: One year, $15MM. Signed using cap room.
    • Reggie Bullock: Two years, $8.2MM. Second year partially guaranteed ($1MM). Signed using room exception.
  • Two-way contracts:
    • None
  • Non-guaranteed camp contracts:
    • Amir Hinton: One year, minimum salary (Exhibit 10).
    • V.J. King: One year, minimum salary (Exhibit 10).
    • Lamar Peters: One year, minimum salary (Exhibit 10).
    • Kenny Wooten: One year, minimum salary (Exhibit 10).

Trades:

Draft picks:

  • 1-3: RJ Barrett — Signed to rookie contract.
  • 2-47: Ignas Brazdeikis — Signed to three-year, minimum salary contract. Third year team option. Signed using cap room.

Departing players:

Other offseason news:

Salary cap situation:

  • Used cap space; now over the cap.
  • Carrying approximately $112.6MM in salary.
  • $767K of room exception still available ($4MM used on Reggie Bullock).

Story of the summer:

As the Knicks and their fans endured a forgettable 17-65 season in 2018/19, optimism persisted that better days were around the corner.

Rumors that free agents like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were strongly considering a move to New York swirled all season long, especially after the Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas to create a second maximum-salary slot.

While the Porzingis blockbuster was criticized by a wide swath of Knicks fans, most of those fans were at least cautiously hopeful that the deal signaled how confident the front office was in landing two stars in free agency. That belief became even more prevalent after team owner James Dolan offered the following assessment in March: “From what we’ve heard, we’re going to have a very successful offseason.”

You know by now how things actually played out. The Knicks weren’t seriously considered by any of the very best free agents on the market, and just hours into free agency – after missing out on its top targets – the organization put out a public statement to address fans’ disappointment, re-wording and re-issuing that statement moments later to insert a mention of the team’s “core of young players” in its rebuilding plans.

Rather than landing a pair of stars to jumpstart their ascent to contention, the Knicks ended up signing a series of veteran role players to short-term contracts. Those players will likely help the franchise win more games in 2019/20, but New York’s coaching staff will have to walk a fine line in balancing playing time for its incoming veterans with minutes for that “core of young players” the club is still determined to develop.

The short-term contracts those veteran free agents signed will allow New York to retain salary cap flexibility for the next two summers. But there’s no reason at this point to expect the Knicks to have any more success recruiting stars in 2020 or 2021 than they did this summer. There’s still plenty of work to be done to rehab the unflattering reputation the franchise has earned in recent years.

Key offseason losses:

After striking out on their top targets on the open market, the Knicks could have retained some of their own veteran free agents, but opted to let virtually all of them walk. Among those players, DeAndre Jordan, Emmanuel Mudiay, Noah Vonleh, and Mario Hezonja were perhaps the most notable.

Jordan was supposed to help recruit Durant and Irving to the Knicks, but joined the duo across town in Brooklyn instead. As for Mudiay, Vonleh, and Hezonja, it seems as though they and/or the Knicks had little interest in new deals  — none of them signed for more than $2MM with their new teams, so it’s not as if New York couldn’t have afforded them.

Although the Knicks lost some veteran leadership in the frontcourt when they waived Lance Thomas, he was no longer an effective on-court performer by the end of last season. Luke Kornet, a seven-footer who made 36.0% of his three-point attempts in two seasons with New York, is also gone.

Key offseason additions:

With plenty of cap room available and no stars to use it on, the Knicks committed over $40MM of their 2019/20 team salary to Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, and Elfrid Payton. While New York had to spend its money somehow in order to reach the salary floor, it was a little surprising to see the club invest so heavily in this group of players rather than using its cap flexibility to accommodate salary dumps.

As we saw in trades that sent Andre Iguodala to Memphis, Maurice Harkless to the Clippers, and Allen Crabbe to Atlanta, teams around the NBA were willing to attach first-round picks to unwanted contracts this summer.

Taking on one or two of those unwanted contracts could have helped the Knicks stockpile future assets. It also could’ve helped create more opportunities to get their young prospects consistent playing time while not necessarily compromising their ability to acquire veteran talent — Iguodala, Harkless, and Crabbe all figure to play rotation minutes this year.

Instead, the Knicks will move forward with players like Randle, Portis, and Payton, who have put up big per-game numbers for lottery teams throughout their respective careers. Of the three, only Portis has ever appeared in the postseason, having played a bench role for a 2016/17 Bulls team that was eliminated in the first round.

Incoming veteran free agents Taj Gibson and Wayne Ellington have better records of success, but they’re no more than role players at this point in their respective careers (Gibson is 34 years old, while Ellington will turn 32 in November). Reggie Bullock would have been a solid addition to the rotation, but he’s not healthy, having undergone cervical disc surgery in July. It remains to be seen when he’ll make his Knicks debut.

The Knicks’ best free agent addition of the summer might have been Marcus Morris, whom the team snatched away from the Spurs after he had already reached a tentative agreement to sign with San Antonio. But that signing came after New York had already signed Randle, Portis, and Gibson, three players who essentially play the same position as Morris. Perhaps Morris can slide down to small forward, though it’s hard to imagine many effective lineups that feature more than two of those players.

While New York’s approach in free agency may have been questionable, the team’s most important acquisition happened in June. RJ Barrett, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 draft, figures to play a more crucial role on the Knicks’ next playoff team than any free agents signed this summer. Fans were disappointed not to land the No. 1 overall pick and Zion Williamson, but Barrett’s star potential shouldn’t be understated — he could eventually develop into one of the NBA’s best perimeter scorers.

Outlook for 2019/20:

Once it became clear that the Knicks weren’t going to sign Durant, Irving, or other star free agents, it was always going to be an uphill battle for the franchise to “win” the offseason. It’s at least a step in the right direction that the front office didn’t make any misguided long-term commitments to lesser options, a la Joakim Noah in 2016.

Still, while this stopgap Knicks team should win more than 17 games, it doesn’t look like a serious playoff threat, even in the league’s lesser conference. The club’s primary goals should be getting good value for its veteran trade chips before February’s deadline and making sure that young players like Barrett, Kevin Knox, and Dennis Smith Jr. get plenty of opportunities to play and improve over the course of the season.

Salary information from Basketball Insiders was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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15 thoughts on “2019 Offseason In Review: New York Knicks

  1. Stoop Down Low

    Someone with Team France is getting through to Ntilikina and Knicks should take note if not be embarrassed. The way Frank is playing is not just normal development because it’s too sudden. He looks like a different player and it’s obvious he’s getting coaching that works for him over there. The suits in NY should hire an assistant that speaks the same language as their PG prospect. Would be toxic if they let him walk just as he’s about to become a good player in the NBA. He’s too good to stay in oblivion.

    • He’s been given a role and the consistent minutes needed to succeed in it. I think that gets through to most players in any language. To me, he actually looks a lot like (a more mature version of) the guy we drafted. I like Frank’s skill set, but the Knicks’ FO and HC don’t seem to value it. With 2 new PGs, and 3 new SGs, added since the latter part of last year, it’s hard to see that turning. If the options are to either Fizdale him again (i.e., give him inconsistent minutes in undefined roles) or trade him, then it might be best to do the latter if they can get a real asset in return.

    • Norm Chouinard

      Ntilikina has not shown nearly enough. Does he have the right to improve as a young guy? Of course. Will he improve his Assist/TO ratio? Will he disappear on both sides of the ball in games? TBD Most importantly, Can he hit an open 3? The NYKs are loaded with suspect shooters and need guys who can space the floor. Frank and the others need to practice and play at a level that forces Fiz to play them.

  2. I’ve seen references to the “salary floor” before as a possible reason for the Knicks’ overpays in FA, and not just from Berman. I could see Mills, the carnival barker that he is, throwing the term out there in a PC as a possible explanation for the top lines of these FA contracts (because the other explanations aren’t favorable to him). Still, I’m pretty sure there’s never a reason for a team to overpay or sign extra FA guys to reach the salary floor. First, you have all season to get to it (and in-season cap space is rare and valuable). Second, and more importantly, the only consequence (I believe) for not reaching it is that all the team’s existing player salaries are increased by a formula to get to the floor.

    Mills’ magic act aside, the FO’s off season grade will rise or fall on:

    1) Whether they can turn any of their FA signings into trade chips (at a yield as good or better than that the cap space they used would have yielded in absorbing a bad contract).

    2) Whether the FA signings facilitate the development of the young players (through guidance or positioning) or hinder it (by clogging the depth chart). I’m guessing they’ll move Frank (he’s been tortured enough), but what happens with rising RFAs Dotson and Trier will be more telling. They need to find out about them this year, which may require the HC to give them more than a taste.

    3) Whether references all over the internet to certain players being “Perry’s guys” will be as funny at the end of the season as it is right now.

  3. harden-westbrook-mvps

    Everyone was so quick to trash the Knicks this summer and declare them to be the big losers in free agency. But they could be in an excellent situation next summer if Anthony Davis decides that he no longer wants to be LeBron’s puppet in LA and looks to take his talents elsewhere. The Knicks could end up being the best team in NY building around AD rather than the Nets trying to compete with an aging KD.

    • Curtisrowe

      People were so quick to trash them and declare them to be big losers because their offseason stunk. Odd, I know.

    • Luke Adams

      He’s not listed here because his two-way contract wasn’t signed this offseason (it was a two-year deal signed during the 2018/19 league year).

  4. DynamiteAdams

    The Knicks basically punted after KD and Kyrie went to the Nets. But they they set themselves up to be flexible. All their incoming free agents but Randle got 1 year with a team option. They can easily trade any of those guys to grab some asset, drop them if they decide to make a play for other free agents next year, or keep them. They also tank for another year so that’s a top 2020 pick hopefully. That still feels like they’re 2 years away from being 2 years away but the only thing they could have done better at that point was not sign 4 natural PFs.

    • Norm Chouinard

      There might not be as much of a minutes/DNPCD crunch at the 4/5 than at the 1/2. I don’t see Mitchell getting 30 minutes/game with his foul issues. Portis perhaps gets 20 minutes at the stretch 5. Randall gets 30 minutes mostly at the 4. Taj and Mitchell can’t be on the floor much at the same time as neither can create on their own. Give Taj 16 hard nose minutes. Knox and Morris split whatever is left at the 4 and most of the time at the 3 with RJ. The young guys need to play at a level greater than Knox’s ghastly rookie performance to earn big minutes with this roster. Wouldn’t shock me if Iggy does just that if his catch and shoot game translates from college to the NBA. Positionless basketball is what Fiz coaches.

      • x%sure

        I mostly agree^. Brazdakis was a great pick and I predict he will beat out Knox. Some draft experts said, “I like him, but he was picked too high.” He was picked 47th and traded for!

        However: Iggy=Brazdakis? I would rather see “Braz” or a misspelling than another Iggy. Nobody likes having that moniker. “The Igster” would be an improvement.

        Trading for Brazdakis also showed a committment to a physical style from the FO, as opposed to, it just worked out that way given who they were able to get in the way of FAs.

  5. x%sure

    Dolan: “From what we’ve heard, we’re going to have a very successful offseason.”

    So not what HE heard, from Mills or Perry, but what they all heard, from… who? I think Irving. (Durant’s business associates should not have been relied on.)

    I still think they reasonably thought they had Irving reeled in, but got outrecruited in the end by Dinwiddie!

  6. greg1

    Don’t have a real issue with the Knicks plan after losing out on the big FA’s, but would have rather seen at leastone less FA signing and instead a trade for an Iggy or Crabbe that landed them a 1st.

    That said, solid vets who will make them a little more respectable this year and still leave them with plenty of cap space moving forward isn’t a complete failure.

  7. Norm Chouinard

    “Barrett’s star potential shouldn’t be understated — he could eventually develop into one of the NBA’s best perimeter scorers”.

    Nothing in RJ’s past performance warrants this statement.

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