The New York Knicks returned to anonymity this past season as they dropped out of the playoffs and finished 11th in the East, unable to even make the play-in tournament. A year before, New York was experiencing its first playoff appearance in nine years.
They ended up losing to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round. However, there was a notion that the franchise finally turned the corner, led by Tom Thibodeau’s defense-first mentality and the breakout season of Julius Randle.
New York entered the past offseason hoping to build on their great regular season run that found them with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks opted to trade some of their defensive excellence for Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.
They let Reggie Bullock go and join the Dallas Mavericks, while Elfrid Payton became a free agent and returned to the Phoenix Suns on a back-up role. At the same time, the team offered Julius Randle an extension with one year remaining on his previous deal.
Kemba Walker never fit with the team’s coaching plan and had a hard time working with Thibodeau, while Evan Fournier had a good season shooting the ball, but he did not have any impact in other facets of the game.
Despite all that, with the Knicks entering the second part of the 2021-22 season, the team had the NBA’s best defensive rating after the 2022 All-Star break. Moreover, RJ Barrett was able to assume a bigger role in the offensive side.
The Canadian forward averaged 20.0 points per game, but his efficiency dropped. More specifically, the former No. 3 overall pick struggled to maintain his level of scoring efficiency in 2021/22 as his usage rate continued to increase.
He ended up shooting just 40 percent from the field and 34 percent from the three-point line. In any case, Barrett showcased enough promise to be considered a long-term cornerstone piece for the New York Knicks.
Besides Barrett, the Knicks will probably be tended to hang onto most of the rest of their young core -including Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, Miles McBride, and Cam Reddish- and maybe use them as a sweetener in a trade package.
Cap Situation in Offseason
The good news is that the NY franchise have many expiring contracts entering the 2022-23 season. On the other side, they started the offseason with not enough cap space to sign a coveted free agent, and they have 13 active contracts in their roster.
They had to give up many assets during the draft night in order to create the space for a free agent acquisition, leaving Thursday with three protected future draft picks. The main priority for the team was to offload Kemba Walker’s contract on Thursday.
The Knicks currently are $29 million under the luxury tax, and they still have two expiring contracts that they can move to create even more space under the luxury tax. Alec Burks, and Nerlens Noel will earn a combined $19M next season in expiring deals.
Moreover, Taj Gibson’s $5.1 million on his current deal is not guaranteed for the 2022-23 season. Leon Rose and the rest of the front office could have the flexibility to move even without offloading the contracts of the two highest-paid players.
However, even the team’s two most expensive veterans, who are on longer-term deals, are potential trade candidates. Julius Randle and Evan Fournier will be more difficult to move, since they’re pricier and aren’t coming off their best seasons.
The Knicks currently project to operate over the cap. Their guaranteed salary is approximately at $118MM, so the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions would push team salary well past the projected $122MM cap.
The Knicks remain far below the projected luxury tax line ($149MM), so they should have the flexibility to re-sign their free agent and use the full mid-level exception, if they choose so. As we said before, they can even clear more space to make a move in the free agency.
Potential Free Agents, Trade Candidates
As the Knicks consider potential trades or free agent signings, adding a starting point guard remains a top priority. Jalen Brunson has been repeatedly linked to New York for months, and his connections to the franchise are well-documented.
The teams’ no.1 target in the free agency is still the Dallas Mavericks breakout star Jalen Brunson. The franchise hope that the NY market and a huge financial offer can lure away Brunson from a winning situation in Dallas.
The front office even hired Brunson’s father Rick as a coach to show that they mean business to the Mavs’ guard. With Brunson being an unrestricted free agent, he can select his next destination without needing Dallas’ permission.
However, we certainly cannot predict exactly what the Mavericks have in mind, keeping Brunson to their roster seem to be also a priority for them after making the Western Conference Finals last season.
The Knicks may be wary about giving up assets (in a sign-and-trade or in salary-dump trades) in order to give the undersized point guard upwards of $20-25 million per year. Trades will be the focus of the offseason for the Knicks.
But, they will have to decide on a key free agent this summer. Like Brunson, Robinson signed a four-year contract as a second-round pick and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer with the freedom to sign with the highest bidder.
That will reduce the Knicks’ leverage and allow Robinson to sign outright with a new team without giving his current team a chance to match. It’s unclear what the situation will be with Robinson, as the NBA teams seem reluctant to offer lucrative deals to bigs.
Moreover, it’s still unclear what’s the Plan B for the team if they are unable to sign Brunson. Malcolm Brogdon and Collin Sexton were referred as potential candidates for the Knicks. Brogdon seems to be the most reachable asset with the Pacers on a rebuilding state.
On the other side, Sexton is not fitting the description of what the Knicks need, being more valuable as a combo guard and coming off a season-ending injury. Moreover, the Cavs’ guard is a restricted free agent and Cleveland can match whatever the Knicks could offer.
The Knicks are certainly going to have a busy free agency wishing to find the next “savior” who will offer hope to the MSG faithful. The Knicks will have to make a decision on Mitchell Robinson and they will pursue Jalen Brunson in the free agency.
The Eastern Conference is expected to be really competitive next season as teams like the Atlanta Hawks and the Cleveland Cavaliers as well as the Charlotte Hornets will hope to improve their record and make the playoffs.
In that type of environment, the main issue for the Knicks is to find their defensive identity again and hope that Julius Randle will return to All-Star form along. Furthermore, RJ Barrett will enter the final year of his rookie and he will be eligible for a new deal.
The Canadian forward will hope to have a breakout season and improve his efficiency to show that he’s worth of being considered a future superstar and New York team’s cornerstone for the next few years.