Do you think the Knicks have a master plan? I do, and it involves getting some long overdue payback.
UPDATED at 4:25pm (see bolded Updates section at the top for new info)
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🗣 News & Notes ✍️
🏀 New Bleacher Report…report: Alec Burks back at three years, $30 million; Nerlens Noel back at $10 million annually.
🏀 Lots of talk about some numbers on the rumored Evan Fournier to the Knicks pairing, including from Knicks Fan TV: 3 years, $54 million. I’ve heard that his agent would like a fourth year player option.
🏀 According to Sam Amick, Reggie Jackson could receieve interest from the Knicks in addition to the Pels, Celtics and Nuggets.
🏀 Kawhi Leonard will be taking meetings with teams, but is still presumed to be staying in LA
🏀 According to Marc Berman, a point guard duo of Cam Payne and Derrick Rose is under consideration.
🏀 There is mutual interest between DeMar DeRozan and the Knicks according to Ian Begley. There is continuing talk elsewhere of Lowry/DeRozan pairing in Miami.
🏀 Marcus Smart’s name has been floated as a trade candidate.
🏀 The Cavs are planning to offer Jarrett Allen a five year, $100 million contract extension, according to Marc Stein.
🏀 There is a lot of buzz surrounding Lonzo Ball and Devonte Graham sign and trades, possibly for each other, as well as surrounding Graham to OBC on a big offer sheet. One scenario has Ball going to Charlotte, another has him going to Chicago and Lauri Markkannen going to Charlotte.
🏀 OPINION: At this point I think my co-host Jeremy Cohen was spot on: New York will sign one contract - it appears to be Fournier - to at least three guaranteed years at a nice number. The rest of the roster, if I had to guess, will be filled out by players willing to accept one-year deals or two-year deals with a team option, a small guarantee on the second year, or at a number that is clearly tradable. Again, just my guess.
🏀 Mitchell Robinson had his $1.8 million team option picked up, meaning that as of now, he will play out the season on that number and enter unrestricted free agency next summer.
As I’ve written about in the past, this should not come as a surprise. New York can still negotiate an extension with him for up to four years and $51 million, so it’s not like they gave him his walking papers. By making him restricted, you’d have the security of knowing he couldn’t get away, but at the cost of cap space this year, and potentially at a number they wouldn’t be comfortable keeping Robinson on the books for.
I think Robinson is worth about 4 for 50, and given the broken foot, he’d be wise to take that if offered. The Knicks also have the option to tear up his contract this season and begin an extension starting in 2021-22, but that would require dipping into cap space, which their other moves clearly indicate they don’t want to do, as I’ll get into more later.
🏀 Frank Ntilikina may still break the Charlie Ward curse, but it ain’t looking good. As expected, the team declined to make him a qualifying offer, and although they still have his cap hold on the books, it’s only a matter of time before they do away with that as well. He is an unrestricted free agent and free to sign anywhere he wants.
🏀 Norvel Pelle, we hardly knew ya’. The Knicks waived their fourth string center and cleared his non-guaranteed $1.7 million off the books.
🏀 Julius Randle’s 2021-22 salary of $19.8 million was fully guaranteed, as the Knicks had until Saturday to waive him and wipe all but $4 million off their books. They can still negotiate an extension for Randle, starting next season.
🏀 According to Michael Scotto, Nerlens Noel will be pursued by the Kings, Pistons and Raptors, in addition to the Knicks.
🏀 If I had to bet right now on the Bullock/Burks front, I’d say the highest likelihood is that one comes back, followed by neither coming back, followed by both coming back as the least likely scenario.
🏀 Knick rookie Rokas Jokubaitis will reportedly play in Summer League. He also gave an interview in which the words “Tingis Pingis” were used. I love lamp.
🏀Jordan Schultz reports that Carmelo Anthony is a free agent target for the Knicks. Yes, I’m putting this here because Once A Knick, Always A Knick.
🏀 ICYMI, Yaron Weitzman had another revealing behind the scenes look at the Knicks inner-workings before draft night, and how Leon Rose has worked to appease the competing interests within his braintrust. A must read.
Around the NBA
🏀 As things stand right now, if you had to bet on how free agency would shake out for the Knicks, the smart money would land on Evan Fournier and Dennis Schroder. This is based purely on me spending way too much time scrolling through Twitter and opening any report that seemed remotely credible, both about these two players and about everyone else on the market. I also have a maybe-not-totally-batshit theory that I’ll get to below.
Let’s discuss Fournier first. Ian Begley is reporting “mutual interest” between both sides, and Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald reported that things are “not looking good” for a Fournier return to Beantown after the sides are far apart on a new deal. Murphy says Fournier wants four years and $80 million.
I’m not a fan of Fournier, but I’d be able to talk myself into a deal pretty fast. He’s the sort of player we just saw be very successful in the playoffs: a good outside shooter who can put the ball on the floor and make a play if need be. He was one of 13 players last season to have at least a 56 effective field goal percentage, a 22 usage rate and an assist percentage of at least 15. The others: Zion, KD, Steph, Jokic, Giannis, LaVine, LeBron, Kyrie, Bam, SGA and Kawhi.
Personally, I’ve always been soured by his playoff shortcomings in Orlando, but he was Boston’s second best player in their first round loss to Brooklyn this season. Even more recently, he was France’s best player in their defeat of Team USA to open the Olympics, and at 28 years old, a four-year deal won’t kill you at that number, which is sort of the new norm for 3rd/4th offensive options (see: The Bogeys).
Also, how do you not love this:
Ok, you pulled my arm. Sign me up.
As for nobody’s favorite point guard, Dennis Schroder, according to Zach Lowe, neither the Kings nor the Wizards have any interest in him, which limits LA’s sign and trade possibilities. As Jeremy Cohen has been discussing on Twitter, signing and trading Schroder helps the Lakers immensely, even if they just get a trade exception out of the deal.
LA is reportedly interested in Reggie Bullock and could desperately use his shooting, but they can’t acquire him via sign and trade because they’ll be above the tax apron after all is said and done, and they only have taxpayer midlevel of $5.9 million. Would Sacramento want Bullock via sign and trade, with Lakers getting Hield and the Knicks getting Schroder, plus LA’s 2027 first rounder?
🏀 It still feels like there are faint puffs of smoke regarding Chris Paul. Every other report you read says that he’s going back to Phoenix, but now that he’s reportedly opted out of his $44.2 million player option, I mean…who knows. If there was a dark horse contender for a “HOLY SHIT” Woj Bomb involving the Knicks, my money is on it having something to do with Paul.
🏀 Unless of course Kawhi Leonard, the darkest of dark horses, decides to shock the world. He also opted out of his player option. I’m not holding my breath.
🏀 Non-free agent news: according to J.Michael of the Indy Star, New York is “trying to upgrade immediately and have been in the hunt for [Myles] Turner for two years,” and that “[t]hey've gotten more aggressive in trying to entice the Pacers with a deal.”
From a cap perspective, Turner makes $17.5 this year and next. He’s a theoretical floor spacer at the five, although in actuality, defenses celebrate every time a possession ends with him taking a three, as he’s hit just 34 percent from deep over the last two seasons.
That said, Turner is just 25 and a defensive whiz. My presumption is that New York would use Mitchell Robinson in a deal for another player and then replace him with Turner. Lots of balls in the air here.
🏀 Mike Conley won’t hit the market, reportedly coming to an agreement for three years and $60 million to stay in Utah.
Given both Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry reportedly commanding north of $30 million annually, this would seem to be below what Conley could get on the open market, especially given that two of the three alleged primary Lowry suitors - Dallas, New Orleans and Miami - may not have an obvious Plan B.
But therein lies the value of continuity, a well run organization, and the security of knowing he’ll likely be in the championship hunt for the entirety of his deal.
🏀 Lonzo Ball seems set on coming to an agreement on an offer sheet with the Chicago Bulls, and a framework of four years and $80 million has been tossed around.
In a vacuum, I’d rather pay Ball that money than Fournier, but as we’ve discussed, Ball isn’t an ideal Thibs point guard, and they’d need additional playmaking on the wing to make up for what he lacks….perhaps someone like, well…Fournier.
But Occam's razor applies here, and the likeliest answer is that New York winds up with a more traditional fit at PG. Begley listed several names of interest: Kyle Lowry, DeVonte Graham, Kendrick Nunn, and…
🏀 Spencer Dinwiddie is reportedly an option for the Wizards via a sign and trade with Brooklyn, although according to the Athletic, newly acquired Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell would not be enough for Brooklyn to engage with the Wizards. Dinwiddie has also been mentioned by Marc Stein as a Pelicans’ backup plan if they don’t wind up with Kyle Lowry.
As for Dinwiddie’s possible interest in the Knicks, it’s unclear if he was trolling New York over the weekend, or making a play for their cap space:
Either way, give it up to the guy for engaging with everyone’s favorite parody account:
🏀 Back to New Orleans: depending on how much money they need for their various pursuits, they may need to relinquish the qualifying offer to not only Lonzo, but the $5.2 million QO to Josh Hart as well. He could wind up becoming unrestricted before all is said and done.
As an aside, the looming Chicago / New Orleans standoff involving Lonzo fascinates me. Chicago still has some hoops to jump through to even make Ball a sizable offer sheet, which could bite them in the ass if New Orleans strikes out on Lowry and decides that matching on Lonzo is their best option. If that’s how things transpire, you have to think an aggressive Chicago pursuit of Derrick Rose becomes even more likely.
🏀 The Hornets declined to extend a qualifying offer to Malik Monk, making him an unrestricted free agent. I’d suggest the former Kentucky product as a possibility for New York’s room exception of about $5 million, maybe for one guaranteed season, but after the draft they just had and the direction it seems like they’re going in free agency, I’m not sure I see it.
🏀 DeMar DeRozan is “still on New York’s radar heading into free agency,” according to Ian Begley. Looks like they will have competition…
Short of DeRozan taking a ridiculous pay cut, the only way this would be financially feasible would be for the Heat to execute a double sign and trade with San Antonio involving (I’m guessing) Kendrick Nunn, who doesn’t seem like the Spursiest of players. I wonder if the Knicks would be interested in Nunn as a third team. Assuming DeRozan wanted to sign for something like three years and $50 million, Nunn’s starting salary would have to be for around $12 million for this to work. Frank Ntilikina to the Spurs in a 3-way S&T, anyone?
Of course, it’s worth noting that if DeRozan is set on leaving San Antonio, only New York and Dallas have the space and realistic desire to make him a competitive offer that doesn’t involve a sign and trade scenario. Just sayin…
🏀 Speaking of Miami, in a mild surprise, the Heat picked up the $19.4 million option for Goran Dragic. They declined Andre Iguodala’s $15 million option.
There was immediate speculation that Dragic would be involved in a sign and trade that would bring a certain Toronto point guard to Miami, and there are already reports that Dallas could ultimately be a suitor.
🏀 And finally, last but certainly not least, the Kyle Lowry Sweepstakes Bus appears to be pulling into its final destination:
Big loss for the Knicks? I’m not so sure…
The Master Plan
Free agency periods in the NBA often begin with a single domino that gets everything else going. This year, that domino comes in the form of a six-foot, 200-pound human fire hydrant by the name of Kyle Lowry.
With Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard unlikely to go anywhere, the six-time All-Star and arguably the greatest Raptor ever stands not only as the highest pedigree player likely to switch teams, but maybe the best present day talent as well. Even at 35 years old, Lowry’s mix of shooting, playmaking and intangibles may still be enough to bump a pretender to a contender, or at least get them into the outer rim of that group.
And as is almost always the case with the premier free agent for a class, the guy roaming South Beach in a pair of Gucci loafers and an Armani suit stands as a prominent suitor for his services. Worst of all, going into this weekend, Pat Riley seemed primed to be able to get the cap space to make a serious run.
If the Heat renounced both Goran Dragic and Andre Iguodala, they could have created up to $21 million in room to sign Lowry, but that number is reportedly a few ducats short of his asking price.
However, they could have increased that number to $27 million with some funky maneuvering involving their two restricted free agents, Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn.
How could they have pulled this off? As ESPN’s Bobby Marks recently explained, there’s a loophole in the CBA that allows you to pull a restricted free agent’s qualifying offer to reduce their cap hold. In this case, the move would have given the Heat an extra $6 million by reducing both Robinson’s and Nunn’s cap holds from $4.7 million to just $1.7, but at the expense of making them both unrestricted free agents.
This is done fairly regularly when teams come to agreements with players ahead of time and there’s no flight risk. For example, here, the Heat have already extended qualifying offers to both Robinson and Nunn. After they reached agreements on new contracts for each, they could have negotiated with Lowry, gotten him on board at around $26 million annually, and then pull the QO’s to their two RFA’s to consummate all the deals.
Except none of that is going to happen because the Heat picked up the final year of Dragic and will now be operating as an over the cap team.
Why would they do this? How’s this for a theory: Miami knew they couldn’t come to an agreement with Robinson (and/or Dunn) ahead of tonight at 6pm, thus necessitating keeping them restricted. Without the extra cap space, the only way to get Lowry his necessary salary is via a sign and trade involving Dragic and Precious Achiuwa, as has been reported.
Translation: Duncan Robinson is ready, willing and able to sign an offer sheet.
Not that this is necessarily making the NBA’s most feared and respected front office executive since Jerry West lose sleep at night. If anyone can cajole Duncan to staying aboard, it’s Riley. He owns as good a track record as anyone in his position since he hung up his clipboard for good.
The Knicks know full well what they’re missing out on, as they’ve arguably never recovered since Riley left them under cover of facsimile transmission 26 years ago. Now, it may be their best chance to return the favor, and the man who could do it is the same guy who helped Riley engineer his greatest coup, and maybe the greatest coup in modern professional sports history.
After the wheeling and dealing by the man who allegedly masterminded the formation of Miami’s Big Three, Leon Rose’s Knicks have over $50 million in cap space to play with today. Practically speaking, that blows every team out of the water, as the only cap sheet that comes close to being as barren is San Antonio’s, and it’s hard to see them being a major player in free agency, only because they so rarely have. After that, it’s Dallas, who has Tim Hardaway Jr’s cap hold to contend with, and then the wallflower Thunder, and then no one with north of $25 million in space.
Why does all that money matter? Because dabbling in restricted free agency requires you to tie up cap space that can be better used elsewhere. That’s a problem…unless you have so much cap space that you can afford to fight bidding wars on multiple fronts.
I keep trying to put the pieces of Leon Rose’s master plan together, because you damn well better believe he has one. Last offseason, the closest thing he had to a free agent target was Fred VanVleet, but that ship never left the dock. After VanVleet, it was all about making targeted but ultimately conservative plays for individual players. The primary goal was to maintain flexibility.
I believe this summer to be different. Many assumed that after a surprising fourth seed last season, the dial would be turned to 11 and New York would go all in on stars. It’s unclear whether that was ever really an option, as it appears things in neither Portland nor Washington ever got to that stage. My guess is that this summer was always meant to be the appetizer, not the main course.
And who better to whet our appetite than the man who had the greatest shooting season ever by a non-big just a year ago?
This season, Robinson had a down year…just the 63rd greatest shooting season ever, but he still hit 250 threes, the fourth highest total in the NBA.
Why do I think he’s the target? Five reasons:
The Knicks are in this in between zone where they need to continue RJ Barrett’s development as a generator of offensive, but also want to try to win games. Barrett took a huge leap in efficiency last season, but he still has a ways to go to be in the company of the league’s best wings when it comes to creating points. In Robinson, he’ll have perhaps the greatest off-ball threat in the game today, and one that should ease his progression as a creator more than any other player in the league.
Leon Rose has been pinching every penny he can.
Trading the 19th pick for a future first wasn’t just about not being able to play too many rookies; it was about saving dough - about $2 million less on New York’s books entering the summer. I also heard from a league source that there was a deal on the table that would have gotten the Knicks the 15th pick, but Washington wanted New York to take back Chandler Hutchinson’s $4 million expiring salary. The Knicks passed.
They also waived Norvel Pelle, and in the most telling transaction, decided to exercise Mitchell Robinson’s team option, meaning he will play out the final year of his contract for a measly $1.8 million, potentially at the risk of losing him for nothing next summer.
Thanks to their financial maneuvering, the Knicks are the only team in the league that can make a significant offer to Robinson and still have enough cap space left over to accomplish all of their other offseason goals.
No, I don’t think they have any intention of going hard after Kyle Lowry, who it sounds like will command something starting at $30 million, or a three-year deal in the $75-$80 million range. It also sounds like Lonzo will be a Bull, Dinwiddie will be a Wizard, and Dennis Schroder will be left looking for a new home. New York can play hardball here and offer Schroder something south of $20 million annually, maybe even closer to $15 million. If they get Schroder via sign and trade and send out Kevin Knox’s salary to either Washington or Sacramento in what I assume will be a 4-team deal centered around Russell Westbrook, that would give New York around $40 million left to spend.
Depending on what the offer sheet to Robinson looks like, New York may have enough to bring back Reggie Bullock and Derrick Rose, or to spend on alleged target Evan Fournier. Either way, they’d still have more than enough room, which means...
They can craft an offer sheet to Duncan Robinson’s liking.
If he wants to hit the market faster, after he’s accumulated six years of NBA service, they can do a three-year deal. Otherwise they can go the full four years. As for the money, it has to be enough to get Miami to balk. Some have speculated that $20 million annually would be sufficient. I’d go four years, $100 million just to be safe, or three years, $80 million if that was his preference.
No, that money isn’t actually insane, and it won’t prevent the Knicks from accomplishing any of their future star-chasing goals.
As I went through last week in the Dennis Schroder rationalization/therapy session, the only truly unmovable contracts now are max or near max deals for players who literally can’t play. Case in point: Buddy Hield, a player making $20.5 million a year for the next three seasons, was all but on his way to Los Angles for Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell.
Are Kuzma and Harrell any great shakes? Not really, but they’re also not terrible. Harrell is a really good regular season backup and Kuzma already proved he can be something like the 4th/5th guy on a title team, maybe with some scoring upside. They’re each worth roughly what they’re getting paid. And they were on the table for Hield, a highly imperfect player with one elite skill - a skill that just so happens to be the most valuable trait in basketball this side of efficient shot creation.
If Hield is in the 98th percentile for that skill, Robinson is in the 99th. Even at $25 million a year, someone will always want him for that reason, and because he’s already shown enough defensive proficiency to not get played off the floor in an NBA Finals, when he played the third most minutes on the team.
More likely than needing to trade Robinson is simply keeping him as part of your core. In Randle, Barrett and Robinson, the Knicks would have a two, three and four ages 27, 26 and 21. Add Dame to that threesome, and now you’re talking.
Which is where the other signings come in. Even if it does wind up being Schroder and Fournier - two of my least preferred options in this free agent class - they instantly become salary fodder for the next big trade. Adding Robinson will only make them look better, because he makes everyone around him look better.
That’s why I think Leon Rose comes after Duncan early and come after him hard. As I explained above, Miami might already be unnerved about the possibility of Robinson being pried away. Worst case scenario, you force Riles into an incredibly uncomfortable place financially. The Heat would be looking at paying four players - Butler, Bam, Duncan and Lowry - upwards of $125 million, and that’s before we even get into the max extension Jimmy will be asking from Pat Riley this summer.
If the Heat match, the Heat match. You tried, and then you move on, armed with a ton of cap space to either use on whoever is left or to keep it in reserve like last season, waiting until someone is desperate to rent it out.
That’s what I think they’ll do. Will it work? Who knows. Negotiations have been happening behind the scenes for weeks. It’s entirely possible that Riley, the master negotiator, already has things lined up with Robinson just like he clearly does with Lowry, and my entire theory is a product of spending way, way too much time thinking about this shit. Worst case, New York can be a soft landing spot for Dragic, and maybe pick up a small asset for their trouble by being the third team in a 3-team Lowry trade.
We’ll find out what happens soon enough. The gates open at 6 pm.
That’s it for today! If you enjoy this newsletter and like the Mets, don’t forget to subscribe to JB’s Metropolitan. See everyone soon! #BlackLivesMatter