The State of the Knicks Salary Cap for the 2021 Free Agent Season

Free agency starts at 6pm tomorrow (in a change from the old days, they’ve recently started to kick it off at a reasonable hour instead of at midnight, because they realized how silly it was to make everyone take midnight meetings just because…what…tradition?), and it’s been quite a long time since the Knicks’ free agency situation was actually kind of interesting, so let’s take a look.

Teams are technically not allowed to sign deals until August 6th at 12:01 PM, but can negotiate and basically agree to deals starting Auguat 2nd at 6pm (teams are allowed to agree in principle with their own free agents before then). The reason for this moratorium is because the league isn’t actually sure about the salary cap figures until August 6th, as they perform an audit during the week. Teams can sign their own draft picks in the moratorium period, plus players can be signed to minimum contracts (plus players can accept qualifying offers). These deals rarely take place during the moratorium, but they are possible. In any event, this is a long way of telling you all that we don’t actually know for absolute certainty what the cap will be. We will know for sure on August 6th. That said, the league gives the teams an idea of what they think the cap will be, and it tends to be pretty darn accurate, so let’s go with the figure that the league told teams recently – $112.4 million.

The maximum initial salary that a free agent can sign for is based on how many years of service they have in the league, 1-6 years, 7-9 years and 10 years plus. They are 25% of the cap, 30% of the cap and 35% of the cap, respectively. Oddly enough, though, the league uses different math to figure out these percentages, so they tend to be less than actual percentages of the cap.

Players with 1-6 years experience can sign an initial contract of $28.1 million
Players with 7-9 years experience can sign an initial contract of $33.7 million
Players with 10 years plus experience can sign an initial contract of $39.3 million.

If a player resigns with their own team, they can sign a deal giving them 8% annual raises, up to five years.

If a player signs with a new team, they can sign a deal giving them 5% annual raises, up to four years.

Certain younger players are eligible for the 7-9 year totals based on special achievements (like making the All-NBA team a couple of times). It doesn’t matter this year, as I don’t believe any of the free agents out there have that apply to them.

Okay, with that out of the way, where do the Knicks currently stand?

The Knicks currently have six players under guaranteed contracts for next season:

Julius Randle – $21,780,000
RJ Barrett – $8,623,920
Kevin Knox – $5,845,978
Obi Toppin – $5,105,160
Immanuel Quickley – $2,210,640
Mitchell Robinson – $1,802,057

They also have Luca Vildoza on a non-guaranteed contract of $3,325,000. Let’s assume that he is making the team, though.

They also have the #25 pick and the #36 pick, Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride.

Since Grimes is a first-round pick, his cap hold is $2,168,760, so you add his money to above totals. McBride, interestingly, though, as a second-rounder, has no cap hold. They can just hold an empty roster space for him, which would be $925,000. The only issue there is if they need to spend more than $925,000 to sign him, then that could be a problem. Most second round picks just take that minimum, but whatever, let’s just say that we have to at least somewhat take into consideration that that could be a slight issue.

The Knicks are also moronically on the hook for $6,431,666 of Joakim Noah dead salary.

Teams also need to have cap holds for up to 12 roster spots and including Grimes and one cap spot held for McBride, that’s still just 9 spots, so do $925,000 three more times.

The whole thing means that the Knicks have about $52 million to spend on free agents.

Of course, they also have a lot of their own free agents.

Here are the cap holds for the Knicks’ free agents. What these numbers mean is that you have to deduct each of them from that $52 million to see how much you can spend on other free agents while still keeping the cap holds for these players. The reason why cap holds are important is because for some players, you can then go over the salary cap once you sign all of the other players by giving the players raises over their cap hold.

For instance, Derrick Rose has a cap hold of $9,987,805 and Reggie Bullock has a cap hold of $5,460,000. Those are important figures because the Knicks have Early Bird Rights for those two players. That means that they can sign them to either 175% of their most recent salary or 5% more than the league average salary (which is around $10,000,000, so let’s just say $10,000,000, okay?).

Rose, therefore, can be given a contract of around $13 million a year for up to four years and Bullock can be given a contract of roughly $10,0000,000 a year for up to four years, but their cap holds would only take up about $15.4 million of cap space, giving the Knicks room to spend $36.5 million on other free agents and then come back to Rose and Bullock.

The cap holds of the other Knicks free agents (Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks) don’t matter, since the Knicks don’t have any special Bird Rights for them (they can sign them for 120% raises, but that’s not significant in this instance).

On top of all that other salary, the Knicks would also have their “room” exception, which becomes available to teams that are under the salary cap but then spend enough to get to the cap. The league allows them to go over the cap via a “room” exception of $4,910,000, that they can spend on anyone they want (they can split up if they’d like).

Soo….yeah, $52 million on free agents plus the room exception or $36.5 million if they keep Rose and Bullock and then also the room exception.

EDITED TO ADD: dhphan wanted me to note that the cap space is even smaller if you consider that the Knicks presumably want to keep a max offer spot open for next season, when the cap is projected to be $115.7 million. Here’s some quick math on the Knick roster, using guys who we presumably think will be on the team next offseason, we’re looking at about $60 million committed to the main young guys currently still on the team (RJ, IQ, Luca, Grimes and McBride) plus $33 million in cap holds for Randle and Mitch (the Knicks have full Bird rights for both and can give them any contract over the cap). So that takes us to about $60 million out of a $115.7 million cap. So presuming you want to keep a 7-9 year max spot open (which will be $34.7 million), then that means you only really have about $21 million that you can spend on multi-year contracts this year before you run into problems with opening up max cap space next offseason.