The New York Knicks are focusing on continuity and flexibility in free agency rather than making a big splash.
The New York Knicks have been one of the most active teams in NBA free agency this summer, but don’t mistake activity for chaos. Knicks president Leon Rose is executing a well-thought-out plan to build for the future.
The plan is to focus on continuity and flexibility while making shrewd upgrades to the roster.
Continuity might be the most overlooked aspect of team-building in the NBA. Year in and year out, rosters change and teams struggle to adjust. This has been the story of the Knicks for the last decade or so.
After claiming the four seed in the Eastern Conference last year, the Knicks are keeping the same core. Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, Derrick Rose, and Taj Gibson are all coming back to rejoin Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, and Immanuel Quickley.
The only rotation players the Knicks are losing are Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton — more on them later.
Bringing back the same roster gives Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau the chance to continue building on the team’s successful campaign in 2020-21.
The Knicks are using their cap space, but that doesn’t mean they are inflexible going forward. According to SNY’s Ian Begley, four of the contracts handed out on Monday are non-guaranteed in the final year — Rose, Burks, Noel, and Evan Fournier.
Although the Knicks are signing these guys to play, they are reasonable contracts that could be included in a trade for a superstar.
And don’t forget that the Knicks have a stable full of young talent and four first-round picks over the next two years. In other words, they are in a prime position to land the next disgruntled star, whomever that may be.
Few expect the Knicks to contend for a championship next season and that likely includes the front office. The goal is to build on last season’s disappointing result in the playoffs.
The upgrades to the roster should help the Knicks reach that goal. Elfrid Payton’s lackluster 2020-21 season was well-documented.
If Kemba Walker is healthy, he will be a massive upgrade at the starting point guard position. He was an All-Star two seasons ago and All-NBA with the Charlotte Hornets in 2019. Again, his health is going to be the biggest hurdle for him regaining his All-NBA form.
As for the other upgrade on the roster, Evan Fournier is going to surprise a lot of people in New York. Let’s be clear, Fournier is a massive upgrade over Reggie Bullock. Massive.
First things first, let’s dispel the myth that losing Bullock will cause New York’s defense to fall apart. It won’t. Fournier is an average to a slightly above-average defender. Bullock is a very good defender, but Thibs always fields strong defenses. The Knicks will survive without him.
As for the offense, it’s going to be night and day with Fournier in for Bullock. The Frenchman can do everything that Bullock did well for the Knicks — catch-and-shoot threes, coming off of pin-down screens, backdoor cuts, etc.
But Bullock couldn’t create his own shot or initiate offense. Fournier is more than comfortable with the ball in his hands. He can run pick-and-roll, isolate, and facilitate for his teammates.
Adding two creators in Fournier and Walker will help take New York’s offense to the next level.
Could the Plan Backfire?
The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. While the Knicks are attacking this offseason in a shrewd and forward-thinking manner, nothing is guaranteed.
The biggest roadblock for the Knicks is something that all 30 NBA teams struggle with — injuries.
Obviously, Walker would not have been an option for the Knicks if he was fully healthy last season. Add in the fact that New York’s top centers — Robinson and Noel — have both been injury-prone and it’s easy to see one possible scenario where the season takes a turn for the worse.
It’s tough to hate what the Knicks are doing in the long-term, even if there are valid concerns about the short-term health of this roster.
Check ESNY’s Knicks free agency tracker for all the latest moves.