Securing the Bag
Julius Randle spoke glowingly about why he signed his extension. Today we explore what the money really means. Plus, some personal news.
Good morning! Somehow it’s the end of August. Where has the summer gone? Into several Home Depot heavy duty large cardboard boxes, if you’re me at least. More on that in a bit.
In the meantime, today’s newsletter will focus on the man who has now officially gotten his bag, and whether the contents of that bag (or lack thereof) may cause any issues for the Knicks moving forward. As always, a pro tip to the non-fully subscribed…subscribe!
🗣 News & Notes ✍️
🏀 The Knicks made it official on Friday, solidifying the presence of the driving force behind their magical 2020-21 season in New York for the foreseeable future.
You know the emotional cocktail of jealousy, hatred and self-loathing you used to get watching other teams hold really lovely pressers for their players, where rainbows arched overhead and it rained gumdrops and candy canes from clouds of cotton candy? It’s so nice to finally be holding one of those ourselves.
The Julius Extension Zoom almost made me cry several times, and not just because I was the one who asked him the question that got him to utter the words “culture,” “family” and “trust” a combined fourteen times. Just inject it right into the damn veins.
There were some other notable lines, including Randle refusing to reveal what part of his game he’s been working on this summer (“I mean, you just gotta wait and watch”), the fact that he’s been in constant communication with Thibs, and the quote that’s been getting the most play about how anyone who thinks last season was a mirage simply hasn’t been paying attention to the progress he’s made from year to year and “doesn’t know shit.”
Damn skippy, Julius…they don’t know shit about shit.
All in all, it was a great capper to a great offseason. I’ve written already that locking up Randle long term was by far their most important move. Whatever good stuff happens with this team from here on in, he should get as much credit as anyone. On that note…
Securing the Bag
Great foresight from Andrew here, who asked this question well before Friday:
The Knicks did not sign any players in free agency to salaries higher than Julius. Does this mean we are building around Julius as the face of the franchise? Is he good enough? Do you think this was a key part of the strategy to get Julius to sign an extension? If so, do you think Julius would be happy bringing in someone like Dame to his team at 2x his salary? Would RJ extension have a higher salary than Julius? Will this damage team chemistry? etc.
Let’s start with the first part of the question.
On one hand, I do think the Knicks view Randle as the face of the franchise, the center of their culture, and the best tool they have to put together a championship core. Leon Rose told us as much in Friday’s press release announcing the extension when he said that Randle “embodies everything you want your star player and leader to be about.”
Does this feel a little like the guy who proposes after three months because he’s had his heart broken one too many times? Maybe…but at the same time, how can you blame them? The Knicks have been waiting for a guy like Randle to come along for the longest time, and he does embody everything you seek in a leader, so why not give him his button?
Leon Rose knows better than anyone how important it is to have a cultural centerpiece at the heart of the operation, and he also knows how that player doesn’t necessarily need to be the best guy on the team. When LeBron came to Miami, it didn’t change the fact that it was Wade’s franchise. Randle isn’t Wade as a player, and he certainly hasn’t yet built up the currency in New York that Wade had in Miami by 2010, but this extension is a great way to fast-track Randle’s status to that end.
At the same time, I don’t think the reason New York didn’t sign a free agent to a contract with a higher average annual value than Randle has anything to do with keeping Randle as the highest paid guy.
If you include what are now considered likely bonuses, Randle’s average salary for the next five seasons is now $28 million. Only four players signed for higher AAV’s than that this summer: Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Leonard was never an option and it doesn’t sound like Lowry was either. I hope DeRozan’s salary number kept him from wearing blue and orange, but purely because it’s a massive overpay.
Paul is a different story. There was reporting that New York wanted him and I’ve heard nothing to make me dubious of that. I have to think that the Knicks would have happily matched the contract Phoenix gave Paul (four years, $120 million, but with a fully non-guaranteed final season and only $15 million guaranteed in year-three), and I don’t think they’d be concerned about a potential pissing match between Randle and Paul one bit. Paul is as revered as any player in the league this side of LeBron James. I’m guessing Randle would have welcomed him with open arms.
Paul is also one of the more dominant personalities we’ve seen in the NBA, in that a team that gets him instantly becomes a Chris Paul team, both in how they play and the manner in which they carry themselves. Not all stars are like this though, which makes me think that Randle will remain the face of the franchise even if he’s no longer their best player.
Realistically, for as much confidence as Julius has in his abilities (and deservedly so), even he would probably admit that the Knicks’ ceiling is limited if he remains their best player. Leon certainly knows this, which is why it’s only a matter of when and by what means the Knicks acquire a headliner. That player will unquestionably make more money than him, but Randle has to know that’s going to be the case. Based on his the response he gave me about the front office on Friday, I don’t think he’ll mind at all, provided that star brings the same work ethic and professionalism that Randle does:
They’re going to give us the best possible chance to put us in the best position now and in the future to bring a championship to the Knicks, and that’s what it’s about. I don’t know if I could make that commitment anywhere else, so it really speaks to the fact of the culture we have here, me being able to trust the guys that are helping us and working to get us the best possible team, and anyone that comes in or that’s here, they have to fit into that culture.
But what if Randle isn’t making less than Dame or Beal or LaVine or whoever that star ends up being, but someone lower on the pecking order that’s already here?
Now that we’re less than a year away from RJ Barrett being extension eligible, it’s not too early to start talking about his next contract. He’ll be eligible to make up to 25 percent of the cap, which would make his first-year on the extension start just north of $30 million based on current projections.
If he gets the max, that would put him above Randle. Would Julius mind? That depends on him entirely. On one hand, there’s precedent for star players not making the most money on a good team, none more famous than Steph Curry being the fifth highest paid Warrior during Golden State’s 73-win season. There’s a more recent example though, and one that’s arguably just as egregious, and it involved one of Randle’s newest teammates.
In 2015, Kemba Walker signed a four-year, $48 million extension with the Hornets. At the time, it made him the second-highest paid player on the team after Al Jefferson, which wasn’t that odd. Jefferson was coming off an All-NBA appearance, and Walker was still an undersized point guard with a 31 percent career mark from downtown.
Fast forward to the last year of the deal though, and Walker found himself in one of the more absurd situations in the league. He was Charlotte’s sixth-highest paid player, behind the likes of Bismack Biyombo, Cody Zellar and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He made half as much as Nic Batum, who by that point wasn’t even averaging double digits. Walker, meanwhile, was the highest usage player in the NBA, averaging 25 & 6 a night.
That’s a situation where the money most certainly spoke volumes, and when Michael Jordan wasn’t willing to pony up supermax money, it sealed the deal on Kemba’s departure to Boston.
You could make a similar argument that money sealed Jimmy Butler’s exit from Minnesota. When the 2018-19 season started, he was making $19.8 million and looking for a new contract from the Wolves. His teammate, Andrew Wiggins, was about to earn $25.5 million for the season, and Karl-Anthony Towns was about to ink a five-year, $180 million extension himself.
Maybe Butler had had enough of playing with Wiggins and Towns regardless of the money, but there were reports at the time that the Wolves were unwilling to give Butler what he sought in a new contract, so this couldn’t have helped matters much. Tom Thibodeau had a front row seat for that drama, so he no doubt learned a thing or two in the process, especially given that it’s part of why he no longer has a job as President of Basketball Operations.
Is anything from that situation, or from Charlotte, relevant here though? I’m not so sure. By all indications, RJ seems to have an impecable work ethic. Assuming Barrett’s game progresses, Randle is savvy enough to know that rookie extensions are as much about assumed future production as what a player has already done. It’s also not like giving RJ more money - say, the full max instead of $25 million a year - is going to materially alter New York’s spending power(although it could inch them ever closer to the luxury tax depending on how the next few years play out).
At the same time, there is perhaps no better example of a player who has had to earn every dollar he’s made than Randle. In the last year of his rookie deal, Randle upped his scoring output for the third straight year and averaged 22 & 11 per 36 minutes while playing all 82 games. He was just 23 years old and looked primed for a breakout.
Despite that promise, the Lakers relinquished his restricted free agency rights even though they didn’t really need to in order to get LeBron James on the roster. The best he could get was a two-year deal from New Orleans that paid him $8.6 million with a player option for year-two. Randle then increased his scoring by five points per game while maintaining fairly elite efficiency, but was still something of an afterthought in free agency, forced to be the Knicks consolation prize in the summer of 2019. Only after finishing 8th in MVP voting did he finally get serious money.
Would he really be OK with taking a financial back seat to Barrett? What would RJ have to do to make it a copacetic situation? Or would Randle be willing to swallow his pride yet again to avoid a possible messy situation between the Knicks and the former third overall pick in the draft?
This is precisely why I think a five-year, $125 million extension is still in play for RJ. It keeps him below Randle in the AAV column, but still gives him a serious enough pay day to make him feel valued by the organization.
Last thought: RJ’s agent is Bill Duffy. Duffy represented Joakim Noah, who Mills and Perry famously paid two years’ worth of salary to take his talents elsewhere, among other former Knicks. He also represents impending free agent Zach LaVine, not to mention persistent rumored trade target Myles Turner. I’m not sure whether this has anything to do with anything, but I thought it worth noting.
Back to Randle…he knows he could have had gotten more money had he waited. He all but said so in his Friday presser. But his priority wasn’t just to get paid, but to get paid by an organization he trusted fully and knew would do right by him in every way. That includes not only helping bring aboard new talent, but keeping the solid family environment that Randle spoke so glowingly about.
My guess is that nothing they do from here on out will make him regret that decision, regardless of who gets paid what.
And finally, some personal news…
Movin’ On Up…
I’ve been hinting at it for a while, both here and on the podcast (the ones I was on, and the more recent ones with Andrew and Jeremy filling in for me)…I moved!
The Macri’s have officially packed up their shit and gotten out of Dodge / Massapequa Park. Our new home: Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Because the universe has a sick sense of humor, my front door is now a stone’s throw away from the Barclay’s Center. I’m sure Kyrie is thrilled.
All in all, I’d say we’re doing pretty good with the unpacking thus far. Less than a week after the moving truck pulled away, we’ve gone from this:
Considering half the furniture in which we’re planning to store things hasn’t yet arrived, I’d say we’re doing pretty well, although my oldest is already missing the fun she got to have in the box maze:
Why would a family with two young kids leave a perfectly fine house in a perfectly fine Long Island suburb to cram all their belongings into a three bedroom apartment at the top of a four story walkup? Because of you, dear reader…because of you.
When I made the decision to try and grow Knicks Film School into a bigger part of my life, I never could have imagined it would get to where it is, but here we are. This past season was the best year of my life because of everything that has happened, and was a dream come true in more ways than one, but it was also the most draining, thanks mostly to nearly four hours of commuting per day. Sadly, KFS doesn’t come with a built in pension or health insurance, so staying in New York but ditching my teaching gig was never a realistic option. We thought about moving out of state so I could do this full time, but I felt pretty terrible about depriving my kids of the chance to grow up in the greatest city in the world after I’d been afforded the same opportunity. I love New York, and want desperately for my kids to have the chance to develop that same affection.
Hence, Brooklyn. I’ll now be able to get to my day job with an eight-minute walk (seven if I’m hustling, four if I scoot, and two and a half if I avail myself to one of the Citi bikes stationed across from my building). My hope is that I’ll be able to keep up this double life without putting myself into the ground by 45. As a bonus, I get to drop off and pick up my daughter to and from school every day, as opposed to shuffling off to the LIRR while the rest of the house is asleep, and then barely making it home by dinner time. In short, I’m excited beyond belief at the prospect of this new adventure.
So it is with a full heart that I say to each and every one of you: THANK YOU. You’ve made the most unrealistic of dreams possible. I now get to raise two “city girls,” which is all I could ever ask for. Providing content about the team I love to a group of readers who truly appreciates it is the ultimate icing on the cake.
(Oh, and shout out to the aforementioned and much maligned LIRR. I started writing about the Knicks purely because I had time to kill on my commute every morning and afternoon and thought it was the most productive use of it. Those two hours a day have gotten me here. In other news, if you’re reading this and you have a dream you think is silly and stupid and beyond unrealistic, follow it. Life is funny sometimes. You never know where it’ll take you.)
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
Unless of course he meets the qualifications for a designated rookie extension, at which point this conversation becomes somewhat moot.
h/t to my colleague Jeremy Cohen for pointing this out on a recent podcast.
This, of course, assumes that RJ takes the sort of leap we’re all anticipating, and looks the part of a third, or at worst fourth-best player on a contending team.