Which of the New York Knicks’ free agency signings will survive the year with the team and which will be dealt before season’s end?
When it comes to the NBA (and maybe soon enough the NFL), it’s never too early for trade-talk. And after a summer like the one the New York Knicks experienced, it’s not farfetched to expect multiple moves later in the year.
Instead of signing a star-studded duo like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker and Kawhi Leonard, the Knicks settled for a band of (albeit talented) journeyman.
Once the nature of the deals was released: typically around two to three years with team options and incentives built-in like clauses in a prenup, the NBA was put on notice. New York would be selling come the deadline, if not before then.
But just how much? That can only be determined by the nature and success of this season, as well as the players’ individual achievements.
Still, being the trade fanatic that I am, I attempted to grade the Knicks summer signings based on their trade eligibility and likelihood. Over a span of four tiers, a look at New York’s newest faces, who may not (or just may) be in town for long.
Tier One: Not Going Anywhere
Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle are likely off the board entirely by the time they become eligible for trade (six months after their signing date).
Ironically enough, the two played together in New Orleans last season. So this isn’t the first time they’ve been coupled under any category. Payton signed his two-year, $16-million deal late in July, but Randle was New York’s first signing of the summer: on a three-year deal for $63 million.
Payton is a five-year veteran who gives off the vibe of a younger Rajon Rondo. He’s got spectacular court vision and will be an integral piece to the Knicks second, if not starting, unit. Payton averaged 10.6 points and 7.2 assists in 42 games last season.
Then there’s Randle, a former sixth overall pick, and undeniable number one option for this new New York Knicks team. The forward’s coming off a career season with New Orleans, in which he posted career-highs in points (21.4), rebounds (8.7), and most importantly, three-point percentage (.344).
He’s the highest-paid and most talented guy on the roster, as it stands. In most cases, if not every, those are the last guys to get the boot in year one. Randle’s a safe bet to see play opening night both this and next year with the Knicks.
Tier Two: In a Perfect World, Yes
Bobby Portis and Reggie Bullock are the two signings I think didn’t register with Knicks fans the most this summer. There’s a lot to like about what both have contributed to the NBA, but they’re as journeyman as it gets.
Bullock’s free agency, particularly, was an interesting saga. It was originally reported that the guard was going to sign a two-year, $21-million deal with the Knicks. But then that report was followed up by another almost immediately stating that Bullock and New York both would be working to restructure his deal due to a health issue.
The final outcome? Bullock agreed to a two-year deal worth less than the $4.7-million exception. It was later announced that the guard had undergone successful surgery for a cervical disc herniation. He may miss up to a month, if not more, of the regular season.
While it’s nice the Knicks stuck true to their commitment and made out with extra cap space, I can’t fathom why Bullock was so high on their radar. Especially when they were aware of the status of his health, and injury history.
He had a nice half-year for the Los Angeles Lakers last season, but his health is going to raise questions at the trade deadline; even if contending teams reach out with interest.
Portis is quite the talent, and his role with the Knicks may prove too crucial for New York to let walk away for pennies on the dollar. And it’s been quite some time since the Knicks were on the winning side of a trade.
There’s a real chance that what Portis contributes in New York secures him a spot as Robinson’s backup for not only this year, but the next. He’s athletic, physical, and he can knock down the three-ball better than most big men.
He was traded away from Chicago at last year’s deadline to the Washington Wizards, where he took over and played the best basketball of his career. Portis averaged 14.3 points and 8.6 rebounds on a .403 shooting clip from deep in his 28 appearances.
But when it comes to the future of New York, in both cap space and cornerstones, any guy who’s going to interfere with Mitchell Robinson’s growth should get the boot.
In a perfect world.
Tier Three: Don't Bother Unpacking
Marcus Morris and Taj Gibson are both legitimate veteran guys who’ve seen time on playoff teams at some point within their career. And to be frank: I wouldn’t bother buying either of their Knicks jerseys this season.
Morris specifically, who’s on a one-year, $15-million dollar deal, is the most likely New York player to be dealt before the year’s end.
After spending time with Phoenix, Detroit and Boston over his eight-year career, he’s put together a solid postseason resume. In his nine games played in the playoffs, Morris is averaging 13.7 points and 8.1 rebounds on 45 percent shooting from deep.
Those are numbers that offer immediate aid to contending teams, and I have no doubt they’ll come knocking. Teams like the Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets and Portland Trailblazers could all benefit from Morris’ services.
Then there’s Gibson, who’s got a far more extensive background in the postseason, having played 66 playoff games in his 11-year career. He’s averaged eight points, 4.7 rebounds and one block per game in the postseason over that span.
Whether he’s still got fuel left in the tank or not will be irrelevant to playoff teams when taking his background into account. There’s something invaluable about that vast a knowledge in the competitive environment that the NBA postseason presents.
I’d expect younger teams to take a look at a deal for Gibson as opposed to more experienced teams who’ve got a long history in the playoffs. A few come to mind off the bat: the Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings or Utah Jazz.
Tier Four: the Twilight Zone
For those paying attention at home, there’s one name I’ve left off of this list: shooting guard Wayne Ellington, who inked a two-year/$16-million deal with New York.
Ellington has spent his ten-year career with eight different clubs, including a 28-game stint with the Detroit Pistons most recently. He’s been a reliable shooter from deep his entire career, having shot .379 in the ten seasons.
But where he now finds himself is in the fourth tier, a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It’s the middle ground between rock bottom, and coat-tailing yourself to a championship. It lies between the desperation of the front office and the ceiling of your skills. It’s the dimension of late-season free agency, the buyout market.
Or in this case, the NBA’s very own twilight zone.
Ellington is already familiar with this rodeo, as it’s not his first. He was bought out by the Miami Heat last season after they failed to find a trade at the deadline. I’d imagine the Knicks will find the same difficulties awaiting them in February.
The guard is a longtime veteran, on a contract that I wouldn’t necessarily call team-friendly. No one really wants to pay eight million for the ninth or tenth guy in rotation on a championship team. And considering his history with the buyout market, most teams will offer whatever’s less than pennies on the dollar to New York.
And the Knicks? Well, I’d like to think they’d budge, give in, and make a deal for whatever rights to whichever foreign player was grabbing headlines six years ago. But that’s not the front office we know. Scott Perry and Steve Mills are more likely to stick to their guns, and not give him up unless there’s real value to a deal.
Then inevitably take back the slightest amount of cap space to let him walk on to a contender in March. That’s the Knicks way.
The New York Knicks will face some real decisions once their summer signings become eligible for trade, and later on at the February deadline.
While the optimal outcome would feature the team cashing in on every player without a clear future with the club, that’s simply not possible.
The only thing that appears certain is that some of these seven will start their year with New York, while simultaneously finishing with a different club. Now just pray the Knicks find their way into an extra second-round pick or two.
See you come trade season.