Schmeelk: Offseason Movement Sets Up Big Summer 2019 That Knicks Can Take Advantage Of

John Schmeelk
July 05, 2018 - 10:31 am

By John Schmeelk

When the NBA free agency moratorium ends on Friday, all the reported free agent signings over the past few days will become official. As many headlines as LeBron James received for his decision to go to the Lakers, the NBA landscape really isn’t much different. 

The Warriors are still the team to beat and it isn’t close. Kevin Durant returned on a one-year deal with a player option for a second season, assuring the Warriors that their core will remain together for the 2018-2019 season. Golden State’s DeMarcus Cousins signing reinforced many of the negative opinions about the competitiveness of the NBA, but the truth is that his rehabilitation from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon might make his addition almost inconsequential. 

The Rockets, despite losing Trevor Ariza, are probably still the Warriors best competition assuming they resign Clint Capela. The Lakers will be better, but LeBron does not appear to have the shooting or supporting cast around him to compete for a championship. Paul George returned to the Thunder where he will once again try to win with Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams (we’ll see about Carmelo Anthony). 

The West, now more than ever is the far superior conference. The Eastern Conference is top heavy with the Celtics and Sixers on top with teams like the Raptors, Pacers, and Bucks in hot pursuit but at least a tier below. Beyond those five teams, the Eastern Conference is full of average or below average teams that will find themselves in the playoffs despite the fact they are worse than anywhere from two-to-three western conference teams that failed to make the playoffs. 

Little of this matter to the Knicks given Kristaps Porzingis’ injury and the lack of proven talent on the roster this year. The Knicks don’t have to worry about the Warriors being dominant since they are more likely to have a top three pick than make the playoffs. In fact, the biggest danger to the Knicks might be that the East has gotten so bad the Knicks might actually have a decent enough record to not have great odds on Draft Lottery night. 

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In the summer of 2019, however, things can change fast and in a big way. Klay Thompson is a free agent and Kevin Durant can be as well if he chooses, threatening to break up the Warriors dynasty. Kawhi Leonard will be somewhere new in the summer of 2019, either via trade between now and then or via free agency that summer. The Lakers will have the cash to make a run at a star in free agency to pair with LeBron James. The Celtics will have to make a decision on Kyrie Irving, keeping in mind the contracts they will eventually have to give Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. 

Stars are going to change teams and the Knicks are one of many teams that will be in position to land one of them. They will be able to clear the cap space necessary for one max contract fairly easily, whether by trading Courtney Lee for an expiring contact or stretching Joakim Noah. (We are assuming Porzingis has not signed a max extension either) There’s no guarantee the Knicks will land one of those stars but they’ll be players for the first time in a long time. 

They would be able to clear nearly enough for two max deals if they hadn’t signed Tim Hardaway Jr. to that big deal last offseason. You wonder what Scott Perry thinks about that move, something Steve Mills did before Perry was brought on as General Manager. Hardaway Jr. is not a bad player but the allure of New York, combined with the ability to join forces with another superstar, Kristaps Porzingis, and an array of lottery picks would be a lot for potential free agents to turn down. 

The past cannot be changed, however, and it is unlikely the Knicks would be able to move Hardaway Jr. for an expiring contract even if they wanted to. Other teams, like the Knicks, are likely far more interested in hoarding cap space than spending their room on a player like Hardaway. 

The Knicks have a chance to be part of the new NBA hierarchy when the league has its soft reset next summer and the power will begin to shift off the axis it has spun on the past couple of seasons. It will be a decision on the level of Donnie Walsh’s decision to sign Amar’e Stoudemire, James Dolan’s power play to trade for Carmelo Anthony, and Phil Jackson’s decision to draft Kristaps Porzingis. The team can’t afford to screw it up. 

If that money is spent poorly, the Knicks will likely continue to be an afterthought in the NBA postseason unless one or more of their draft picks wind up on the path to stardom and Kristaps Porzingis becomes the superstar he is supposed to be. They can try again in 2020 if they fail and choose not to spend in 2019, but by then Kristaps Porzingis’ cap number will be so high it will be difficult to do more than just add one big-time player. 

As the Knicks play this season their only two concerns need to be developing their young players, and getting their finances in order. Stretching Noah should continue to be a last resort, which means the team should focus on finding takers for Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr. If Noah isn’t stretched, his expiring contract could yield a small amount of additional cap space or give the team the opportunity to pull off some kind of trade if the right opportunity presents itself.

The new NBA is coming and the Knicks have a chance to be a part of it if they just make the right moves. If they don’t? It will likely just be more of the same. 

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