If the New York Knicks strike out in free agency this summer, a young and inexperienced roster will likely be the fallback option.
Everyone knows the goal of the 2019 offseason for the New York Knicks. Build a championship contender by acquiring stars in free agency or potentially via the trade market. If you’ve been reading the tea leaves, it sounds like the Knicks are in prime position to land one or two stars this offseason.
However, the Knicks are no stranger to summertime sadness and a bright future with multiple superstars isn’t a reality yet. Should the Knicks whiff on Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Kemba Walker, etc., a trade for Anthony Davis probably doesn’t make much sense either.
Where does that leave the Knicks? With a boatload of cap space, a treasure chest of future draft picks, and a bunch of young players. How they choose to play their hand will be crucial. The best course would be to show patience and restraint. Develop the youth, add draft picks, and plan to make another run at a star in free agency in the near future.
The Youth Movement
A youth movement is nothing new for the Knicks. The 2018-19 season was all about letting Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, and the rest of the young Knicks the freedom to learn on the fly. This didn’t translate to much winning, but the team made notable strides.
Kevin Knox showed flashes of a future 20 point per game scorer at times. Allonzo Trier and Damyean Dotson both showed the ability to knock down shots throughout the season. But most of all, Mitchell Robinson‘s emergence as an effortlessly talented rim-running big man was the biggest bright spot in an otherwise dull season. He even made the All-Rookie second team despite coming into the league with tons of questions about his NBA readiness.
Dennis Smith Jr. will have a much better opportunity to establish himself. Injuries slowed Smith down towards the end of the season. Expect to see the point guard healthy and ready to roll by the start of the season. Year three can be a tipping point for young point guards in the league. If there isn’t a player like Irving or Walker coming in to run the show, it makes sense to give DSJ another year to showcase his potential.
Finally, let’s see what RJ Barrett—assuming the Knicks keep the No. 3 pick. The Canadian born hooper shouldn’t feel like a consolation prize after losing the Zion Williamson sweepstakes. Barrett has star potential and could be in the running for Rookie of the Year against his former Duke teammate. The rookie probably won’t be enough to elevate the Knicks to a playoff spot. But he could make them relevant again.
Another year focused on development and growth will be a tough pill to swallow for the Knicks. However, if they do miss out on marquee free agents, player development needs to be the top priority for the organization.
Protect The Cap Space
If the Knicks are left without a date on the dance floor, that’s fine. It’s not time to hand out a max deal to someone like Khris Middleton or Tobias Harris out of desperation. Play the waiting game and hope to pounce on another star in 2020 or 2021.
So if there’s no Durant, Irving, Walker, or Leonard in free agency, where the heck do the Knicks spend their money next season? There are two main directions general manager Scott Perry and team president Steve Mills can go.
First, they can look to give out short-term deals to players looking to prove themselves before looking for a bigger payday. Think of the two-year, $18 million contract Julius Randle signed last summer with the New Orleans Pelicans with a player option for next season. It’s not the type of deal that will break the bank and it doesn’t lock the team into anything long-term.
Despite his brutal tenure with the Chicago Bulls, Jabari Parker‘s creative two-year, $40 million contract ended up working out for the Bulls. They were able to flip Parker, along with Bobby Portis and a second-round pick, for Otto Porter Jr.
Randle and Parker’s contracts are just two examples of creative contracts that would help the Knicks build their roster while maintaining future flexibility.
The second way the Knicks can spend their salary cap space is by taking on bad contracts in exchange for draft picks. This is exactly what the Brooklyn Nets did when they acquired Kenneth Faried from the Denver Nuggets with a first-round pick attached in 2018.
The Robinson pick in the second round of the 2018 NBA Draft proved something. The Knicks front office can strike at any point in the draft. Even second-round picks can be valuable.
The 2020 and 2021 free agent classes don’t look very strong on paper right now. However, life in the NBA moves quickly and the landscape of the league can change in a New York minute.
While the Knicks are waiting for their next opportunity to land a star, they can help their case by developing the youth on the roster. In a perfect world, an All-Star would emerge from their own ranks and sweeten the team’s pitch for the future.
In a doomsday scenario where the Knicks fail to land any top-tier free agents, patience is the only valid response.