Taking Advantage

The Knicks - and the NBA - are about to enter unprecedented times. Let's take stock of exactly what that could mean.

Morning quarantine friends. Some orders of business before we get going…

First off, the Last Dance has sashayed its way off the marquee. And I, for one, was not disappointed. As a long time worshipper of the man who this doc was crafted to inspire worship for, I was all too happy to be an easy target.

Thinking about it the morning after, I’m actually shocked that Jordan has failed so spectacularly while owning the Hornets. The Last Dance did nothing to reinforce Michael’s basketball greatness in my mind (simply because it needed to reinforcing). No, I was instead taken aback by how well the man is able to read a room, and know exactly how to manipulate viewers of this series in a way that wasn’t obviously manipulation (or better yet, was clearly manipulation, and we just didn’t care). I mean, he’s so goddamn smart, it’s frightening.

As an owner, I would guess, reading the room is among your most important jobs. Then again, he no longer has to play mind games with his team to get them to do what he wants. He’s the boss; they have no choice but to do what he says.

And maybe that’s where the disconnect has occurred.

Second: it’s Mailbag time! Kris Pursiainan and I are running a new mailbag episode of the KFS Podcast, so please help us out and get your questions in to KFSMailbag@gmail.com by Tuesday afternoon.

Ok, back to reality…basketball is gone, and sitting here nearly 10 weeks removed from when it was last played, we still don’t have a great idea of when it’s coming back.

Yes, as of this morning, 16 of the league’s 30 teams have reopened their practice facilities according to Marc Stein. But the Knicks aren’t on the list, and given where the pandemic stands here, it’ll be a while before they join it. So there’s that.

As far as the cap goes, Bobby Marks reported at the end of last week that there’s hope the financial ramifications won’t be as cataclysmic as some expect:

Count me as dubious.

Consider this: If the NBA and the country had shut things down when, in retrospect, they should have, and paused the season around the All-Star break, my guess is that they’d be preparing to resume play right about now, probably in Disney (East) and Vegas (West), that they’d finish up a 70-game regular season by July 1, take two months for a (slightly) condensed postseason, and have a somewhat normal offseason in preparation for a Christmas Day start to the 2020-21 campaign, maybe with fans but also maybe not. Even in this scenario, there’s a significant chance the cap would have been significantly altered.

That ship, of course, sailed long ago. I don’t say this to rub salt in the wound or to be preachy, but only to point out that even if every proper precaution had been taken, we’d still be facing a situation filled with uncertainty.

Where we’re at now? “Uncertainty” doesn’t begin to cover it.

On Friday’s podcast, Spencer Pearlman (who is more plugged in across the league than he lets on) mentioned what he’s hearing: there’s a “tiny” chance the regular season resumes, and that there’s a bigger but still not very large chance the playoffs take place.

Of course this could change, maybe for better and maybe for worse. A spike in cases throughout the country (not hard to see) could lead to greater need for tests, which could lead to not enough being available for the NBA to safely resume anytime soon. That they haven’t yet cancelled the June 25 draft says to me there’s a real possibility they simply wipe the 2019-20 season away and hope to start fresh and on time with 2020-21.

I have no idea. But it’s a distinct possibility, as is the chance that next season won’t get underway with fans in seats. As of this weekend, a possible vaccine showed promising signs with monkeys, could show positive result on humans as early as July or August, and will have up to a million doses fully manufactured and available by September.

Even if that’s the case, vaccinating an entire league, let alone an entire country, will not be done overnight…and that’s assuming this vaccine (or any of the other ones being developed concurrently) doesn’t hit any snags.

Apologies for the sober dose of reality on an otherwise sunny Monday morning, but as I continue to try and wrap my head around the NBA landscape the Knicks will be re-entering whenever the time comes, this all seems frighteningly relevant. Talking about possible opportunities they may avail themselves to seems trite amidst a pandemic that has thus far killed more than 300,000 people, but the fact remans that this may wind up being the best thing to happen to the franchise in some time.

As many have pointed out, hiring perhaps the league’s best salary cap expert in Brock Aller could not have come at a more perfect time. Similarly, the potential to have more payroll flexibility than nearly every other team in the league is immensely important given what may transpire, as is being one of four teams projected to end up with three picks in the top 40 selections.

How does all this benefit them? Let us count the ways…

  • The obvious: if other front offices feel pressured into cost-cutting measures by their owners, the Knicks stand as one of the few teams with enough space to take on a substantial amount of bad money, especially in the event the cap goes down. If New York:

    • Non-guarantees all of Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington and Reggie Bullock,

    • Doesn’t pick up the team option on Bobby Portis, and

    • Uses all of its draft picks, and those picks fall where they’re currently expected to…

    They’ll have roughly $65 million in committed salary, not counting two empty roster charges (about a million a pop).

  • If the NBA does as Jeremy Cohen suggested on Thursday (and Bobby Marks speculated about this weekend) and brings back the amnesty provision, the Knicks could benefit in one of three ways:

    • Amnestying Julius Randle, as Jeremy discusses, and having more cash to spend elsewhere,

    • “Bidding” on a player that another team uses their amnesty on (Jeremy writes about Chris Paul as a possibility; I tend to think OKC hangs onto him, but I do think some good - or at least intriguing - players will be available), or

    • Trading for a player they would otherwise be hesitant to acquire (like Paul) who a team kind of wants to unload anyway because of his high salary (like Paul) but doesn’t want to lose for nothing (like Paul), but also would be willing to accept far less for via trade than they would have if they weren’t facing financial issues (say it with me now: like Paul), all because New York could then turn around and amnesty him if it needed the money (h/t to @tsamuel33 for planting this craziness into my head). This is probably not the best use of their resources in such a scenario, but still, it would be an option.

  • Regarding the Knicks draft picks, those selections simply represent more pieces on the chess board. Two will be pawns, and the third might be no better than a knight or bishop, but they are pieces nonetheless.

    Here’s why they matter even more so than normal: Let’s say a team wants to unload bad money, but is unwilling to attach a draft pick to do it without getting something in return to make the deal more palatable (the Magic’s Al-Farouq Aminu and the 15th pick is an obvious one that comes to mind). The Knicks can toss in one of their later two picks to balance the scales.

    Would Orlando give up the 15th pick as a tax to unload Aminu if they were getting back Dennis Smith Jr. and the 27th pick in return? Only one way to find out.

  • Finally - and perhaps this is burying the lead, but still - the Knicks will be in a wonderful position to sign free agents. Much has been written, by myself and many others, about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of throwing money at good but not great players this offseason. If the cap goes down significantly, this becomes a very different conversation, for a few reasons:

    • Suddenly, those good players that stood to be overpaid because it was such a dry market for elite free agents might now have to lower their asking price closer to…well, closer to what they’re actually worth. Fred VanVleet might have fetched close to $20 million annually this summer in a normal NBA economy, but maybe that gets closer to the $12-$15 million he’s actually worth in a reduced-cap situation. Or…

    • Maybe Freddy says “screw this…I’m not signing my long term contract until the cap goes back up” and decides to cash in on the biggest one-year pact he can find. In this situation, the Knicks would still be a tempting landing spot for VanVleet (or Christian Wood, or Davis Bertans, or whoever else might come knocking) because they’ll have more cash to offer than anyone else, not to mention be able to provide ample opportunity for stat-padding.

Even if the cap doesn’t take a massive one-year dip, and other owners don’t feel the pain of a worldwide economic crisis and the loss of possible in-game arena-related revenue, and the league does figure out a way to smooth the financial ramifications of COVID over a period of two or three years, the Knicks’ flexibility shuold still come in handy... if they use it wisely.

I’ve said repeatedly: saying that the flexibility obtained from the KP trade was a major asset was a weak argument once the summer of 2019 went up in flames…until now.

Rose, Aller, Perry and whoever else is calling the shots better be working on every scenario imaginable, because what has been a curse for the rest of humanity could wind up being a gift for them in more ways than one. Hopefully they’re ready to accept the challenge.