Julius Randle
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

The New York Knicks need some dominant size and adding the powerful Julius Randle this summer would help fill that hole.

Josh Benjamin

NBA free agency begins Sunday night and the New York Knicks must make sure to give Julius Randle a call.

This certainly seems like an odd decision. After all, team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry worked hard to clear enough cap space for not one but two max slots.

Not only that, but Randle is fairly low on the totem pole of this year’s free agent class. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN already reported Kevin Durant would opt out of his deal with the Golden State Warriors despite his torn Achilles. Kawhi Leonard, Tobias Harris, Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, and a slew of others are also expected to hit the market.

Thus, why should the Knicks simply pursue Jaws when they can afford full-on Megalodons? Well, seeing as how we’ve already mentioned Spielberg’s sea-faring masterpiece, let’s let it answer the question for us:

That’s right, Knicks fans. No disrespect to Kevin Durant or any of the top free agents already mentioned, but New York will need more than just some big names next year. Alongside newly drafted rookie R.J. Barrett, supplemental pieces will be needed too.

Enter Julius Randle who, despite being signed as a fill-in, would actually be a great fit in New York.

A late bloomer

At one point, Julius Randle looked like a surefire NBA star. He was a five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American out of the Dallas area and committed to play at Kentucky. There, he helped lead the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament Final and entered the NBA Draft shortly after.

Randle was then picked seventh overall by the Los Angeles Lakers, and the wheels fell off. He broke his leg in his NBA debut and missed the rest of the season. However, he returned the following year to average 11.3 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. He bounced back and forth between the bench and the starting lineup the next three years as the Lakers struggled following Kobe Bryant’s retirement.

Randle averaged 13.5 points and 8.9 boards over his first four seasons and shot 49.3% from the field. This spurred the New Orleans Pelicans to give him a two-year, $18 million contract and the former Kentucky star answered the bell.

Well, Randle absolutely broke out and had a career season, averaging 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds while shooting 52.4% from the field and even 34.4% from three-point land. He got progressively better throughout the year and also posted a career-best 30.6 minutes per contest.

At long last, the former lottery pick appeared to be reaching his potential.

Why New York?

But wait, there’s a problem. The Pelicans signed Julius Randle to a two-year contract, and last season was his first in the Big Easy. He should have one year left on his deal, no?

There’s the rub, Knicks fans. The second year of the deal was a player option. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported earlier this month Randle would decline it and hit the market.

Not only that but Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated reported there is “mutual interest” between New York and Randle. Considering Randle won’t require max money, he needs to be pursued. The Knicks’ holes in the frontcourt only make him more desirable a target.

And it isn’t just his developing offense and tough interior play which makes Julius Randle a good fit in New York. He’s an above-average defender, having posted six combined defensive win shares (DWS) the past three years. Randle has also posted a combined Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) of 4.6, or a 12.42 WAR by baseball standards.

Those numbers could be better, sure, but aren’t terrible considering Randle has bounced between the starting lineup and bench his entire career. Fortunately for him, he would be a full-time starter in New York because, between his length and his overall size, he’s perfect for coach David Fizdale’s system.

Follow the money

Now, let’s talk about money. Randle won’t command a max deal by any stretch of the imagination. The Knicks are also too smart for that, having unloaded Tim Hardaway Jr. in February just to free up cap space.

Rather, Julius Randle is more likely to land a multiyear deal which offers him a raise from his last contract, but one modest enough to show he’s still developing. Think of it as a “prove it” deal of sorts.

New York Knicks

Let’s say the Knicks give Randle a four-year, $60 million deal with an opt-out after three. It doesn’t double last year’s salary but is still a pretty big jump. Moreover, if things don’t work out, the deal allows for flexibility and can be easily moved.

It’s a great fit which can be had for a reasonable cost. The Knicks owe it to themselves to at least heavily negotiate with Randle.

Final thoughts

Picture the following lineup: Dennis Smith Jr., R.J. Barrett, Kevin Durant, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson. It isn’t the sexiest group of five players but already leagues ahead of what the Knicks put out on the floor last season.

And even if the Knicks don’t land Durant or any top free agent, Randle is still a nice consolation prize. To paraphrase The Dark Knight, Randle is not so much the hero the Knicks deserve, but he is the one they need. He’s tough and has worked hard to improve his game. On top of that, he isn’t afraid to get dirty in the paint on both sides of the court.

Julius Randle, if the Knicks were motivated enough, would sign with the team in a New York minute.

Scott Perry, your move.

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