Leon Rose has looked at the Knicks’ situation going forward and has decreed, “Eh, this is fine.”
With the $52-54 million in available cap space, Rose decided to bring the band back together again long term.
Last year, during the season, we often discussed one of the problematic aspects of the strong Knick play in the 2020-21 season, which was that a lot of the Knicks’ success was derived from veterans who were going to be free agents and that they all played well enough that they were likely looking at offers of three years on the open market at around the mid-level (which is roughly $10 million), except for MVP vote-getter and Sixth Man of the Year finalist, Derrick Rose, who probably had a slightly higher financial outlook.
We discussed how that was problematic because if you took those guys away and tried to replace them with short-term veterans, the team would likely take a noticeable step back in 2021-22, but if you gave them all market rate deals, you’d be locking yourself into a team that, in the end, was likely more like the #6 seed than the #4 seed (in a full 82-game season, the Knicks likely finish #6) and that was with the Boston Celtics having a bizarrely injury plagued season and the Toronto Raptors also having a snakebit season, as well.
Realistically, just bringing back the same team would likely not get the Knicks back into contention in 2021-22, but it would lock them into contracts that could make it more difficult to improve the team in the future.
That was the concern during the season and we discussed it a lot, that the best case for the team long term might actually be getting nominally worse in 2021-22 to set it up better going forward.
Leon Rose, though, decided to run it back, giving market rate three-year deals to Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks and Derrick Rose, and replacing Reggie Bullock (the team’s best perimeter defender) with scoring specialist, Evan Fournier, who will make $18 million a year over three years (plus a fourth club option year. Those are always nice).
The Knicks’ current cap space is interesting. They have about $3.5 million left to spend plus the room exception of $5 million. This is because Derrick Rose’s contract likely starts at $13.3 million while his cap hold is a little under $10 million. So the Knicks can spend that $3.5 million and then go over the cap to sign Rose, and then also use the room exception.
That’s not a lot of money, of course, so the significant free agent signings for the Knicks have almost certainly already been made, but it’s something.
There has been some talk about how “tradeable” these contracts are, but as I wrote yesterday, I’m not even saying that you can’t trade Burks at 3 years/$30 million or Noel at similar money or even Fournier at 3 years/$54 million (with a fourth year team option). I am saying that…so what? What good does that do you that you could later trade them? I think we can all agree that if you’re aspiring to be a good team, “Ability to dump player if need be” is not really high on the list of pros about a signing. Now, if the question is “Can you trade them for an even better player?” then I would say, “I don’t believe so, no.” You’re not packaging a bunch of decent older players making market rate for a star.
“Ability to trade for a pick” is a worthwhile pro if you’re the Knicks of two years ago, but now, if Burks is playing well enough for a team to want him, why would the Knicks be trading him? And if he’s playing poorly enough that the Knicks want to trade him, why would any team want him? That’s the problem with signing decent veterans to market value contracts. When they’re joining a good team, it makes sense, because the other star players are the ones who drive the engine, so you can pay Brook Lopez the market rate because you already have Giannis and Middleton (or young teams like the Hawks who added market rate free agents to their impressive young core), but otherwise, you’re unlikely to be building on anything with guys like these signed to long-term, market rate deals.
We’ve already seeing this with Rose trying to change the narrative to this being the Knicks “playing for the 2024 free agency,” which we all know is madness, as no one, Leon Rose included, has any idea who in the world is going to be available in 2024. No one “plans for the free agency in three years” like this. It isn’t a thing. It’s just a platitude designed to give cover for Rose failing at what he first wanted to do with this team (which we now know was to sign Chris Paul to come here, but the Knicks were outbid by Paul’s current team, who could go to a fourth year that the Knicks could not). Clearly, Rose even knew that adding a point guard was a key thing for the Knicks this offseason, but after he didn’t get the one he wanted, he just punted on it (sound familiar?).
Now, with all of this being said, clearly, at the very least, the Knicks have maintained a playoff contender with these moves. If you are a fan who just wants to see the Knicks win enough games to make the playoffs, then these moves are good for you. As noted, they basically brought the band together that was an easy playoff team, so even with the other teams in the Eastern Conference likely improving, this will likely be a playoff team in 2021-22 again.
Plus, there’s always the chance that RJ Barrett or Immanuel Quickley (or even Mitchell Robinson) makes a leap in 2021-22, or perhaps one of the Knick rookies surprises. Or Luca Vildoza comes over and plays like he belongs. There is certainly some upside about the Knicks, it’s just that none of that upside came in the form of the $53 million that they just spent on free agency, and that’s not a good thing.
But if all you really want to see is a Knick team that will be competitive every game and very likely will make it to the playoffs, then these moves do achieve that, as well, and likely will give us a few more years of decent basketball, which is a huge step up from decades of awful basketball.
Now, as part of our all-poll content, I will give two poll options. One glass half-full and the other, half-empty.