The Knicks played a game yesterday. Let's overreact.
Good morning! It’s so nice to wake up the morning after the Knicks played a game, even if they lost, and even if it wasn’t the real Knicks.
(Actually, it’s probably OK they lost because it wasn’t the real Knicks.)
In any case, today we’ll break down the initial Vegas Summer League action, right after we catch up on the News & Notes from a busy weekend. Finally, I’ll begin my “5 Biggest Questions of the Summer” series with a look at what the Knicks didn’t do with Mitchell Robinson.
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🗣 News & Notes ✍️
🏀 The Knicks will play an extra summer league game today vs Indiana at 2pm EST. This is the result of the Pacers’ scheduled game on Sunday against the Wizards getting cancelled after Washington didn’t have enough players to play thanks to health and safety protocols.
🏀 According to Knicks Summer League head coach coach Dice Yashimoto, rookie Rokas Jokubaitis will be “situational” and he’ll play if there’s an opportunity. According to Steph Bondy, Jokubaitis has to go back to Barcelona after the third game in Vegas, so it seems like we may not be getting much of a look at him.
As for the other new foreign point guard, Luca Vildoza arrived Saturday night and was feeling pretty jet lagged. Not a shocker that he only played eight minutes yesterday and missed all three of his field goal attempts.
As expected, New York’s traveling contingent of Leon Rose, Worldwide Wes, Scott Perry and Tom Thibodeau were on hand to see the team play last night.
🏀 The Knicks officially brought some rookies into the fold over the weekend, inking Jercho Sims to one of their two-way slots and signing Deuce McBride and Quentin Grimes to contracts.
The timing of the McBride deal is important. Based off the fact that it was announced before the other signings, it seems that the deal was made before the rest of the cap space has been used up, which means it can be for longer than two years. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but had it been saved for last after all the cap space was used up, and was made using one of the minimum “salary slots” teams are required to keep, it could not have been for more than two seasons.
🏀 General NBA news…the league has launched tampering investigations into both the Kyle Lowry and Lonzo Ball sign and trade deals involving the Heat/Raptors and Bulls/Pels. Havoc, I court thee.
On the superstar front, Kawhi Leonard is re-upping in LA for an undisclosed number of years, and Kevin Durant signed a four-year max extension to stay in Brooklyn. That takeover is happening any day now, Kev…
🏀 Last and certainly not least, we must bid adieu to Theo Pinson, who Ian Begley confirmed has signed to play with Milwaukee’s Summer League team. Theo said what seems like goodbyes on his social media platforms, so while he’s still technically available to be signed to our other two-way slot, it seems his time in New York is done.
I’m a big believer in locker room juju, so I don’t take this lightly. I think the Pinson/#culture thing is real. That said, if he goes somewhere with an actual chance to play, good for him. He deserves that and much more. I’ll always remember him as an important part of last year’s magical season, and much more so than certain other guys who played far more minutes and scored a lot more points.
Game Recap: Knicks 79, Toronto 89
I struggled with whether or not to even recap this game, because Summer League really should not be taken seriously. The Knicks lost by 10 because they hit only three of their first 33 attempts from deep. Should anyone care? No, they should not.
That said, there were some encouraging signs, which I’ll get to shortly in Stars of the Game. First, a word about Immanuel Quickley. It seems like people were freaking out about Quick after what was a subpar game by his lofty standards. Unlike Malachi Flynn across the court, who looked too good for this level of basketball, Quickley struggled, missing his first eight shots from deep and looking a little uncertain at times running the show as the starting point guard.
A few things: For one, it’s Summer League.
Second: it’s Summer League.
Third (not that we need one), it’s fantastic that New York is using this opportunity to get Quick some reps at PG. He’s already proven the ability to be a backup off-ball guard on a winning team; might as well push him to see how high the ceiling gets. For as much as he struggled at times in this role, he also had some really nice moments as the game went on:
All in all, he ended up with 15 points, eight dimes and six boards…not bad for a terrible game. He’s a streak shooter, as Clyde would say. He’ll be just fine.
💫Stars of the Game💫
⭐️ Deuce McBride: Nothing crazy from the Deuceman on the offensive end - he was just 3-for-8 and missed all four from deep - but you saw the NBA defense pop almost immediately:
McBride also had a nice and-one finish on a fast break and flashed a pretty midrange J at one point in the first half. I’m excited to see more.
⭐️ ⭐️ Obi Toppin: Overall, Toppin’s stat line was excellent: He finished with 24 points and eight boards and shot 8-for-11 inside the arc. One of those was of the easier variety…
…but several of his finishes had a greater degree of difficulty:
It certainly helped that he was given time at the five to spread his wings a little more and work in space. How much of that we see next season remains to be seen.
The only downside was Toppin’s 2-for-10 showing from deep, but I’m choosing to look at the ultimate silver lining here: he kept firing away with confidence even after they weren’t going down.
My cup, it runneth over with positivity.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Jericho Sims: So…
***Summer League Overreaction Alert****
…how exactly did this dude last to the 58th pick?
Simms was perfect from the field, finishing 6-for-6 for 12 points to go with eight boards and one block. But that stat line did not earn him the MVP of this game.
No, that award goes to the second-to-last dude on the Raptors bench after Sims threw down the above dunk, because if it wasn’t for that guy, my man in street clothes at the end of the bench would have floated right off into the humid Vegas air:
Back to Sims: I get he was a four-year player at Texas who never averaged more than nine points and eight rebounds. He’s also never going to be anything more than what he is: a dive guy on offense who you probably don’t love on a switch on the other end.
But man, there was way more polish here than I expected to see from someone who almost wasn’t drafted at all:
Sims also flashed some nice footwork on several other offensive possessions, including on an offensive rebound and a put back on the possession immediately before this little hook shot. Probably worth noting he shot almost 70 percent from the field as a Longhorn last season.
It shouldn’t go unmentioned that for all the hype Kai Jones got before the draft, Sims was the better overall player at Texas last year. Yes, he’ll turn 23 the day after the season starts, but that speaks more to his upside than what he can do right now, and it sure seems like a guy who can help a team who might be looking for cheap production from the center position in the coming years.
Speaking of which…
Today I’ll start the first of a five-part series in which I ask my biggest Knick questions following their offseason. Part II, III, IV & V will come the rest of this week. Let’s get started with Question No. 5:
5. What Will NY do with Mitchell Robinson?
Of all the family business Leon Rose took care of this offseason, extending Mitchell Robinson wasn’t among the things he crossed of the list. That much we know.
What’s less certain is why. As a reminder, the organization had the option to make Robinson a restricted free agent, at which point his would have remained on New York’s books as a cap hold of about $3 million. That doesn’t sound like much, but it is more than the $1.8 million he currently counts for, and it seems like the Knicks made every dollar count over the last week. That $1.2 million might have made a difference, to say nothing of how a quick offer sheet from another team may have jammed up their plans.
Because they spent all of their cap space, another option that went out the window was to rip up the fourth & final year of Robinson’s contract at some point between now the beginning of the season and start his extension immediately for the 2021-22 season. It’s possible this could have been an option if the Knicks struck out this summer and had oodles of cap space left over with nothing to do with. Again though, that ship has sailed.
What we’re left with is two choices: Robinson and the team come to an agreement on an extension that starts in 2022 at some point before his current contract expires next summer, or he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Which path the Knicks and Robinson end up choosing gets us back to the “why” of Robinson now entering his final season of his deal. The max extension the Knicks can offer Mitch as things stand would start at $12 million in 2022-23 and can last up to four years and about $54 million. However, if he enters unrestricted free agency a year from now, he can make up to 25 percent of the $115 cap, which would be a starting salary just shy of $29 million. That’s obviously a sizable difference.
On one hand, it’s possible that Robinson’s representation feels he’s worth far more than $13.5 million in average annual value, and refused to ink a deal for so little money. After all, Jarrett Allen - a popular Robinson comp over the years - just signed a five-year, $100 million extension to stay with Cleveland. Meanwhile, Kelly Olynyk ($12.3 million annually; third year team option), Nerlens Noel ($10.6 million annually; third year team option) and Daniel Theis ($9 million annually; fourth year team option) all got close to the $13.5 million AAV Mitch would be settling for, and all are viewed as high end backups. Mitch, it has been said at times, has Defensive Player of the Year upside.
On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that the Knicks simply didn’t feel the need to go hard after a Robinson extension at this time, without seeing more evidence that he’s deserving of it. There are a few reasons that support this theory:
The notion that Robinson is “injury prone” or brittle has been overblown. His injuries have been more flukey in nature than systemic issues dealing with things like his back or knees.
That said, he’s a very large human who just broke his foot, and one of Mitch’s most distinguishing traits is his ability to leap very high, very fast. Even if the Knicks internally think that there’s something like a 90 or 95 percent chance he makes a full recovery, there’s still that other five or 10 percent.
Accounting for the rise in the cap over the last three years, Jarrett Allen signed essentially the exact same deal that Clint Capela did back in 2018, in that their contract pays them an average annual salary between 17.5 and 18 percent of the total salary cap at the time the deal was signed. Obviously Cleveland hopes that Allen’s game will progress in much the same way Capela’s has, in which case the deal has a chance to look like a fair one, if not a slight bargain.
That said, it’s possible the Knicks view this sort of contract for a rim running big as the ceiling rather than the going rate. For one, the circumstances under which those contracts were signed were unique from where the Knicks now find themselves. Houston was already capped out and had no real way to replace Capela if he left in restricted free agency. Cleveland, meanwhile, arguably paid the “Cavs Tax” here - the product of being one of the least desirable locations on the NBA map. Clearly they wanted to make Allen happy, and a nine figure payday is certainly a good start.
The alternative was to dare Allen to test the market, where its unclear what he would have found. Richaun Holmes, thought to be the best free agent center available, “settled”for four years and $48.6 million from Sacramento, with a player option on the third season.
If you’re wondering where the “Kings Tax” was, it came in the form of that player option, as Sacramento paid Holmes the most it was allowed given the nature of how they re-signed him (using Early Bird rights) and their lack of cap space. Maybe Holmes truly adores playing in Sacramento and took a discount to stay there, but the smart money says his agent misread the market, especially after the only two teams in obvious need of a center (Charlotte and Toronto) were comfortable addressing the position with lower cost options, with the Hornets trading for Mason Plumlee and drafting Kai Jones and the Raptors re-signing Khem Burch and trading for Precious Achiuwa. If there was more money to be had, Holmes would likely have it.
Looking forward to next summer, it’s unclear how much things will change. Robinson is likely to enter free agency as the third best center on the market after Jusuf Nurkic and Jonas Valanciunas. Center-needy teams will also be able to turn to the perpetually available Myles Turner as he enters the last year of his contract. On top of that, we now have ample precedent that highly imperfect but serviceable options like Andre Drummond and Dwight Howard are available for the minimum.
Robinson’s ceiling obviously blows those latter names out of the water, and probably Nurkic and Valanciunas as well, but that gets us to our final point, and clearly the biggest one of all…
We know what Robinson is at his best, and it gives us a pretty good idea of what Robinson could be if he continues to progress as a player: the best combination of rim protection and rim running this side of Rudy Gobert, with some added switchability to boot.
I distinctly remember the feeling the night that Robinson fractured his hand in February. He had been coming on slowly but surely, and had what I wrote at the time was “perhaps his best half as a Knick,” then boom: gone for 15 games. It was beyond disheartening.
Then, in only his second game back from that injury, he had a night against the Wizards that prompted me to write the following:
Mitchell Robinson was wonderful all night long. He came off the bench once again but played 31 minutes to Noel’s 17, rewarding Thibs faith with 16 points (on nine shots), 12 boards (including seven offensive) and three blocks. His screen setting was also noticeably crisper and the difference in him vs Nerlens as a threat around the rim is notable.
He didn’t take long to remind us of the highlight factory that we had been missing either:
He was back in the starting lineup for the next game, and then two nights later, he broke his foot. Season over.
If the Knicks only consider the above and judge Robinson’s trajectory on that alone, there’s no reason to believe an investment isn’t warranted. The guess here is that they aren’t considering just that though, because if they were, and he was that high a priority (again, assuming the lack of an extension wasn’t due to an unreasonable demand by his agent) they’d have prioritized him with their league-high amount of cap space. They instead selected to lock in other needs.
So what gives?
That’s the part we really can’t answer, and that forces us to get into speculation that probably borders on reckless. Is there anything to Robinson’s late arrival to Team USA’s Select Camp in 2019 - a team coached by Tom Thibodeau mentor Jeff Van Gundy - that allegedly “left a poor impression on coaches and staff”? Or of Robinson’s absence from New York’s bubble mini-camp in 2020? What about all of the potentially poor career advice (and training) Robinson is allegedly receiving from trainer Marcel Scott, as detailed exquisitely by Justin Frank, and the six agents it’s led to over the course of Robinson’s career?
Only the Knicks know how much any of this is actually worth worrying about, and whether Robinson’s, let’s say…“potential immaturity issues” should alter how willing they are to make a significant investment in him as their center of the future.
It’s not like they don’t have alternatives. Noel isn’t the player Robinson is on either end of the court, but they now have the former on a cost controlled deal for three seasons. Cheap rim-running, shot-blocking centers can be found in the draft every year (see: Sims, Jericho).
This leads me to a possible working theory that Leon Rose has already decided that Mitch would be better used as a trade chip than foundational building block. If their intention was to use Robinson in a trade at some point this season while his contract is still dirt cheap and let some other team make a bet on the tantalizing potential, it’s less damaging that you didn’t lock him up by now.
Whatever the plan, it is one of the few unanswered roster questions hovering over this team for the immediate future. My guess is the front office has a good idea of what they’d like to see happen. The only question is when we find out what they’re thinking.
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
h/t Marc Berman
There was some confusion about this on Twitter over the weekend. Pinson is still eligible to be signed to a two-way because he has fewer than four years of NBA experience.
They can negotiate all through the season; there is no arbitrary deadline like is the case with some types of contracts.
Big air quote energy here.
As an aside, how’s this for a theory: the Knicks attempted to lock up Mitch on a long term deal this summer, but found that he asking price was too high, and only then did they pivot to Nerlens Noel as a backup plan. Crazy? Perhaps…