The Nuggets' Jamal Murray (27) defends on a shot from the Knicks' Kristaps Porzingis on Jan. 25, 2018, at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

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Schmeelk: Knicks Need To Maximize Their Assets Moving Forward

Can't Afford Any Major Mistakes During Rebuild

John Schmeelk
July 18, 2018 - 2:23 pm
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As the Knicks move forward and try to build their team, they need to practice something most people don’t equate with sports: asset management.

The way every team in the NBA gets to where they want to go is to maximize every asset, whether a player, draft pick or salary-cap space, to its greatest potential.

Every team in the NBA has the same amount of salary-cap space at their disposal and are given the same amount of draft picks. It’s the organizations that use those assets the wisest that bring the best teams together. For example, a player might be good, but if you are paying him like he is great then he might not really be helping your team be as good as it possibly can.

Of course, this type of concept is much easier to describe than it is to execute. Look at the Warriors, for example. They maximized both their draft picks and their salary-cap space at different times. Stephen Curry certainly outperformed your typical seventh overall draft pick. The Warriors were then able to sign him to a four-year contract worth only $44 million that carried through his prime years because of past ankle injuries. They got far more out of that money and draft pick than most teams do with identical assets. His salary finally jumped to over $30 million last year and will continue to rise to where it belongs. 

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The same goes for Klay Thompson, who has outplayed his draft slot (11th overall) and is entering the last year of a four-year, $68 million contract. His production is worth far more than the $19 million he will earn next season. In the summer of 2019, he will receive a max contract that will more accurately reflect his production.

Draymond Green, one of the best all-around players in the sport, was a second-round pick and also brings more value to the team than his five year, $82 million contract. He will get paid more in the summer of 2020.

Then there is Kevin Durant. He made only $25 million last year and will take home $30 million this upcoming season. Is it a big contract? Absolutely. Is he worth more than $25 million in terms of production? There’s no question. The salary-cap spike is the only reason the Warriors were able to afford him, and they maximized that opportunity while other teams spent their money poorly.

All true NBA superstars (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, James Harden, etc.), even those on maximum deals, are underpaid. If James were paid his true value, he would earn more than $50 million a year. Some studies put his true value at closer to $70 million or more per season.

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So what does this mean for the Knicks? The problem with their current roster is immediately obvious.

Joakim Noah, a player who won’t likely play more than 20 minutes per game wherever he winds up -- and could be lucky to play that much, given his injury history -- is making more than $18 million next season. He might be the most overpaid player in the sport.

Enes Kanter will make $18.5 million next season. He knew he wasn’t going to make that much in free agency -- that’s why he exercised his option.

Courtney Lee might have a slightly below-market-value contract at about $12 million a year. Tim Hardaway Jr. is getting paid above his market value, if only slightly, at an average of $18 million. The above four players make up about 60 percent of the Knicks' cap space. The conversation can stop there when anyone asks why the Knicks have struggled.

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New York's draft record is better. Kristaps Porzingis has outplayed his draft slot, even with the knee injury that is expected to keep him out most or all of next season. The early returns on rookies Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson are strong. The jury is out on Frank Ntilikina. The Knicks will have another shot to maximize a high draft pick next season, which will be another big night for the franchise.

The Knicks' first opportunity to maximize their finances comes with Porzingis. They should try to wait until after free agency next summer to offer him a maximum contract extension to give themselves as much money to spend in free agency as possible. His cap hold next summer will be only $17 million, as opposed to $27 million if he signs his extension before free agency.

It appears as though trust between Porzingis and the Knicks is growing, making this scenario more realistic than it was a year ago. If Porzingis agrees to this plan, he would give the Knicks an extra $10 million dollars of cap space without any cost. It’s a no-brainer if Porzingis goes along with it. Next year is the only year the Knicks will have that space afforded by Porzingis’ rookie deal to use, so they need to do it wisely.

Teams that pay average or above-average players their full market value struggle to be successful unless they have proven superstars already in place around them. The key for good teams is to identify players who can give them average production at a much lower price, whether its draft picks, players coming off injury or underachieving young veterans. It isn’t easy, but that’s what good front offices do.

As expensive as a true star on a max contract would be, the value he'd offer a team extends beyond his contract value. Aside from the draft, the Knicks need to figure out what NBA players fit that description. Durant and Kawhi Leonard are no-brainers. Is Kyrie Irving that type of player? Is Thompson?

It’s better to pay no one and wait for the right player than to spend $30 million-plus a year on the wrong guy who might only be worth $20 million per season. It would limit the franchise’s ceiling in the short and long term. The Knicks cannot settle for another Amar’e Stoudemire-type signing, even if it means waiting and taking some more lumps.

There are some major questions the Knicks will have some answers to by next summer that will determine if they are on the right path. Will they maximize their high draft pick next year and pick another impact player? Will they get more value for their money when they spend in free agency? How will Porzingis recover from injury, and will he live up to his future max extension?

If the Knicks can maximize those opportunities, their future will be very bright for the first time in a long time.

For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk