Tim Hardaway Jr.

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Schmeelk: Knicks Still Have Potential Moves To Make

Signing 2 Players To Max Deals In '19 Not Impossible

July 19, 2018 - 11:26 am
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It looked like the NBA was past its busy summertime until Wednesday, when the Spurs and Raptors concluded their trade involving Kawhi Leonard. Meanwhile, the odds that the Knicks do anything significant before the season starts is small, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t explore their options in a few different areas.

The Knicks are no longer over the roster limit after waiving Troy Williams last week, so they don’t have any pressure on them to do anything.

Here are three areas the Knicks should explore with the goal of maximizing their future potential to improve.

Courtney Lee

Lee has two years left on his very reasonable four-year, $48 million contract and averaged 12 points per game last year on 45 percent shooting on field goals, 41 percent on 3-pointers and 92 percent on free throws. He will turn 33 in October but still played solid defense last season. For any team looking for an all-around shooting guard who can defend, switch a bit and hit the open 3, he is a perfect trade target. A team like the Rockets would be a good fit given their loss of Trevor Ariza.

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Lee doesn’t have to be moved before the season starts. If a contending team finds it has a hole at shooting guard or has to adjust because of an injury, he could be a worthy trade target. The most important return in such a trade would be an expiring contract. Moving Lee’s deal could be the difference in being able to afford a maximum player in free agency in the summer of 2019, which is more valuable than any asset a team would be willing to give in return for a player of Lee’s caliber.

Lee is the Knick most likely to be traded between now and next summer because of his skill set and contract. His age doesn’t match up with the rest of the roster, and the front office understands that the inherent value of being able to afford a maximum contract next summer brings more potential utility than Lee himself.

Joakim Noah

The Knicks have a decision to make on Noah, and it should be an easy one. There’s no good reason for Noah not to be on the Knicks next year, and the team should not buy him out except under specific circumstances.

Noah left the team last season after feuding with then-coach Jeff Hornacek. At age 33, Noah’s best playing days are behind him. He is vastly overpaid and is still owed just under $38 million over the next two seasons. He has virtually no offensive game but is still a capable passer and a good enough defender if he is engaged.

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If the Knicks wait until after Sept. 1, they can use the stretch provision on Noah and take the $19 million owed to him during the 2019-20 season and spread it out over three seasons, lowering his cap number to just over $6 million.

There’s no reason to take away future cap flexibility in the summers of 2020 and 2021 unless the team can use that additional $12 million of cap space next summer to spend for something truly impactful. If the team moves Lee, it is unlikely to be the case, unless Tim Hardaway Jr. is traded as well and the team is able to clear enough space for a second max contract. Noah could even be useful as an expiring contract during the 2019-2020 season in a potential trade.

With Kristaps Porzingis still banged up and only Enes Kanter, Luke Kornet and Mitchell Robinson as the other big men on the roster, Noah and his defensive mindset might actually be useful to coach David Fizdale. Team president Steve Mills, general manager Scott Perry and Fizdale need to get on the phone and work things out with Noah. Even for someone like Noah, the Knicks need to maximize his value as an asset, and stretching him won’t likely do that.

Tim Hardaway Jr.

Trading Hardaway is unlikely to happen, but the Knicks should have an open mind with their best healthy player: Hardaway had his career-best scoring average last year, but shot only 42 percent from the field and 32 percent from behind the arc. He was asked to do far more in terms of shot creation offensively, and it cratered his efficiency.  

Hardaway is still owed about $54.5 million over the next three years of his contract (the fourth year is a player option), a deal which is probably overvalued compared to average NBA salaries of players of his caliber. A team’s goal should be to sign players for less than their production would warrant to maximize the return on their expenditures. Nearly every offseason you can find a player of Hardaway’s caliber, or close to it, to play for that type of salary or probably less.

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In other words, that money could be much better spent elsewhere. Hardaway is a useful player, but the Knicks would be much better off trying to package the $18 million per year they owe him as part of an offer to a better player for a higher salary. As ridiculous as Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry making $30 million-plus a year might be, you are getting more for your money there than paying Hardaway $18 million a season.

There are teams now, like the Kings, that have enough cap space that might make them willing to simply trade for Hardaway without giving up much and just absorb his contract. The Knicks might be able to get an additional asset back, but if they play hardball, they might miss their only opportunity to move Hardaway. If he gets hurt this year or continues to struggle with his efficiency, that market could dry up very quickly.

If the Knicks stretch Noah and trade Lee and Hardaway with no salary beyond 2018-19 coming back, they will have nearly enough space to offer two max contracts next offseason. The value of that is incalculable. Free agents could plan to come as a package deal, guaranteeing they play with another star of their choosing, not to mention the Knicks' young core of Kristaps Porzingis, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Mitchell Robinson and whoever they draft next season.

Few teams could offer as enticing an environment to go along with the positives of playing in New York. It could be a game-changer for the organization. Even though it might seem foolish to trade a talented player like Hardaway and get nothing in return, it makes sense in this specific circumstance. Getting stars to join your team is the toughest thing to do in the NBA, and creating room to sign two next summer makes their chances increase substantially. They can’t pass up the opportunity if it is presented to them.

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