new york knicks
AP Photo/Nick Wass

The New York Knicks don’t have many free agents, but each played an important role last season. Deciding who gets paid won’t be easy.

Josh Benjamin

Running the New York Knicks front office is a truly thankless job.

Think about how brave team president Leon Rose and general manager Scott Perry must be. The two run the front office of a team that, up until this season, was basically the NBA’s punchline for 20 years. Between bad trades, bad draft picks, and questionable spending, not to mention demanding fans, Rose and Perry must have thousands of different people yelling at them daily.

And though the New York Knicks capped their resurgent season with a first-round exit in the playoffs, the real work starts now. NBA free agency will be upon us soon and New York has tough decisions coming. Several key players, namely Sixth Man of the Year finalist Derrick Rose, are about to hit the market and, in some cases, won’t come cheap.

Let’s go through the Knicks’ small handful of free agents and, in classic MTV Singled Out “keep or dump” fashion, it’s time to play a game. With the following players, should the Knicks pony up the cash or quietly move on?

 

Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson

Rose and Gibson practically grew up in the league together. Moreover, reuniting with coach Tom Thibodeau on the New York Knicks marked the third time the trio had worked together, the others being in Chicago and Minnesota. It’s thus only right that Rose and Gibson share a section.

Let’s start with Gibson, the Brooklyn native who came home for the latter years of his career. He’s still a strong rim protector, but is also about to turn 36. Even though he won’t require more than a one-year deal at the league minimum, it’s hard to imagine the Knicks will retain him. If Mitchell Robinson suffers yet another injury, having the aging Gibson as the backup could come back to bite New York.

Derrick Rose is a tougher call. The former MVP posted 14.9 points per game and shot 48.7% from the field, plus 41.1% from three in his return to the Knicks. In the playoffs, he went off for 19.4 points in 35 minutes per game at age 32.

Yet, though Rose has had some injury troubles and turns 33 in October, it’s clear he loves playing for Thibodeau. After the Knicks were eliminated by the Hawks, Rose told Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News he would “love to be back.”

If the New York Knicks can use the Thibodeau connection to negotiate a small hometown discount for Rose, bringing both him and Gibson back should be easy.

VERDICT: Keep Rose, dump Gibson

 

Elfrid Payton

Nothing draws the ruthless ire of New York Knicks fans more than vanishing in the playoffs. Such was the case with Elfrid Payton, a former first-round pick who proved too incapable on too many nights that fans were relieved when he was benched for Rose in the postseason. Even so, Payton stayed in Thibodeau’s good graces enough that he appeared in and started 63 games.

Granted, Payton did in fact have some truly strong games, but playtime is over now. It’s glaringly obvious that the New York Knicks need a point guard. Someone who will not only facilitate the offense, but be a consistent scorer too. Elfrid Payton is neither.

Verdict: Dump him

 

Reggie Bullock

Though a traditional 3-and-D, Reggie Bullock didn’t take long to become a fan favorite. His prowess from three-point territory was on full display some nights as he averaged 10.9 points on 41.1% three-point shooting. Bullock’s defensive box plus/minus (DBPM) was a modest 0.6, but he still proved the most capable of guarding Atlanta’s Trae Young in the playoffs.

Granted, the last thing the Knicks want to do is just extend Bullock and everyone else on this list when they’re about to be a year older. Some fan favorites will just have to go so younger and more affordable pieces can be added, namely via the NBA Draft.

But Bullock’s situation is a bit different. The New York Knicks hold his Early Bird rights, meaning they can use all their cap space and then go over to sign Bullock to a long-term deal. He’s still only 30 too, so retaining him could be worth it.

More importantly, per Marc Berman of the New York Post, Bullock would love to stay in New York and Thibodeau has called him an “unsung hero.”

Throw in his strong relationship with Scott Perry along with rules favoring the Knicks, and a reunion is a good idea.

Verdict: Keep him

 

Alec Burks

This one proved tough. Burks was an absolute stud off the New York Knicks bench to the tune of 12.7 points and shooting 41.5% from three. The former Colorado Buffalo also proved capable of playing both guard positions and held his own on defense too.

Unfortunately, though I myself mentioned Burks as a potential Sixth Man of the Year, it’s probably best if the Knicks move on from him. He doesn’t turn 30 until next month, but injuries and a case of COVID-19 limited Burks to 49 games. Injuries are also enough of an issue that him getting anything more than a one-year deal will raise some eyebrows.

It’s also worth noting the Knicks don’t necessarily need Alec Burks. His role off the bench could easily be assumed by rising second-year guard Immanuel Quickley next season. New York could also use one of its two first-round picks this year on a young, high-upside 2-guard.

It simply comes down to keeping one of Alec Burks or Reggie Bullock. Given the circumstances, it’s time to say bye-bye to Burks.

Verdict: Dump him

 

Nerlens Noel

Nerlens Noel proved to be an absolute godsend for the New York Knicks after Mitchell Robinson was injured twice. He appeared in 64 games, starting 41 of them, and averaged 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. Noel also led the league with a DBPM of 3.5. His own injury issues aside, he played through more than his fair share of aches and was the defensive anchor the Knicks needed in Robinson’s absence.

In terms of money, Noel only made $5 million in 2020-21. He’s never going to be a dominant big, and won’t command much of a raise. All the Knicks really need him to do is provide length and leadership off the bench. If Robinson’s option is picked up and he’s hurt again, then Thibodeau has someone he knows can step up. Noel would certainly be a better option than, say, an untested rookie big the Knicks draft in July.

He knows the system and can stay mostly healthy. For the right money, re-signing Nerlens Noel should be a no-brainer for the New York Knicks.

Verdict: Keep him