The Knicks have primed themselves to potentially create a seismic shift in the NBA landscape in free agency.
New York cleared cap space when it made a trade with the Mavericks centered around young star Kristaps Porzingis. The Knicks reportedly got the impression Porzingis would not sign an extension with the team after a meeting and made the move to set themselves up for a massive summer.
The Mavericks acquired another young star to pair with Luka Doncic, the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. The players currently around Doncic didn’t fit well with the do-it-all point guard and Dallas knew it had to make changes to the roster. Doncic is Dallas’ new timeline and the Mavericks have responded.
The Knicks are getting Dennis Smith Jr. and two future first-round picks as the main assets in the trade, with the expiring contracts of Wesley Matthews and DeAndre Jordan. Smith Jr. was a poor fit with Doncic, even though it appeared he was improving from last season. Doncic and Smith Jr. were 4.4 points worse than opponents per 100 possessions in 761 minutes together. Throw in Smith Jr.’s absence from the team over concerns about his role and the Mavericks felt this trade offered great return.
[RELATED: What Mavs and Knicks Gained From Kristaps Porzingis Trade]
It wasn’t like Jordan and Matthews were great fits with Doncic either. Here are the numbers for Doncic’s pairing with them in two-man lineups.
|Two-Man Lineup||Minutes Played||Net Points Per 100 Possesions|
|Luka Doncic – Wesley Matthews||1,017||-3.0|
|Luka Doncic – DeAndre Jordan||1,344||-2.0|
And the numbers for Dallas’ four-man lineup of Doncic, Smith Jr., Jordan and Matthews are worse. That quartet is 6.5 points worse per 100 possessions than opponents in 505 minutes together, according to basketball-reference.com. Although advanced analytics aren’t necessarily driving Dallas’ decision, the numbers show the fit was imperfect at best.
The Knicks might be sending a major talent away in Porzingis, but the Knicks didn’t sacrifice draft assets for a quick fix. Scott Perry and Steve Mills were steadfast on not mortgaging the team’s future for marginal gains throughout the offseason. New York saw the opportunity to make a major splash this summer, even if it meant losing the future star they had in the fold. Porzingis hadn’t played for nearly a year and reportedly soured on the direction of the franchise, forcing the trade. Now New York’s plan hinges on something they haven’t been able to do since 2010: sign a big-time free agent.
Amar’e Stoudemire inked a five-year, $100 million contract from New York in 2010, the same summer LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh formed a star-studded team in Miami. Stoudemire averaged 21.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game in eight seasons with the Suns and was a five-time All-Star. He was expected to attract another free agent with him, but the Knicks couldn’t capitalize. Carmelo Anthony re-signed with New York in 2014, but New York was the incumbent team.
The Knicks also spent fearlessly in the summer 2016, but none of the players they got (Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, Brandon Jennings) were considered max contract free agents by any stretch. Stoudemire was the last big-time player New York has been able to land.
First things first, New York will definitely have the cap space. With the salary cap for the 2019-20 season projected to be $109 million, the Knicks will have approximately $75 million in space this summer. That’s more than enough to chase two max contracts.
Secondly, the Knicks will have a decent young core in place to pitch to potential free agents. Smith Jr. and Kevin Knox are rotation players with potential and Frank Ntilikina continues to develop as a combo guard. New York has a high lottery selection in the 2019 NBA draft, one that could potentially land in the top overall spot. The lottery results will ultimately shape the ceiling of New York’s core should it strike out in free agency.
According to Stadium NBA Insider Shams Charania, the Knicks are targeting Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency. Durant has been expected to leave the Bay Area for some time now, although the Knicks might not necessarily be his destination. New York offers the opportunity for Durant to headline a big-market franchise at basketball’s most iconic arena and continue to compete for championships in a weaker Eastern conference. In the next stage of Durant’s career, that draw might mean more than building a long-term legacy in Golden State.
Irving’s situation has changed dramatically over the course of the season. At a fan event in October, he announced his intention to re-sign with the Celtics to loud ovations from the crowd. In an interview with Charania, Irving re-affirmed his commitment to Boston. On Friday, he offered this.
Kyrie Irving has shifted from his commitment to re-signing with the Celtics: “I don’t owe anybody shit.”
— Stefan Bondy (@SBondyNYDN) February 1, 2019
That is a crazy shift in attitude, one that should scare the Celtics. Irving is having the best season of his young career, but the Celtics have struggled to find their groove so far. Boston has picked up the pace recently, winning three straight games and eight of its last nine, but Irving seems discontent. He has had moments of frustration on the court earlier this season and those could be bleeding over into the locker room. Add that all to a reported phone conversation with James and Irving’s commitment to the Celtics is on shaky ground. For what it’s worth, Irving also said Friday Boston is “at the head of the race” regarding his future.
Should New York strike out on Durant and Irving, there are plenty of other quality free agents in a strong 2019 class. The Knicks will be able to throw multiple max contracts at anyone, but will the players they sign bring back the production expected of someone under that type of deal?
A lot hinges on May’s draft lottery. If New York lands the top pick, it has a variety of paths. The Knicks could use the pick on a prospect like Zion Williamson to create an enticing young core. They could also trade the pick as part of a package for Anthony Davis, assuming the Pelicans hold on to their star past the trade deadline. Acquiring Davis would take New York out of the running for two max free agents, but it would give them one star in hand with the opportunity to sign one more.
Porzingis’ departure creates a massive hole in New York’s roster, but the Knicks hope they can fill the void with a dream free agency scenario.