Too Good To Be True?
Lets take a look at how likely it is that New York has found a taker for someone they may be looking to get off their hands.
Happy Labor Day! I wasn’t going to send out a newsletter today, but a significant rumor hit the interwebs last night, so I figured I’d take the time to address it with an abbreviated holiday edition to read while you’re grilling those dogs. But first, some weekend news…
News & Notes
Mark Jackson made me eat my words yesterday as the Heat fell to the Giannis-less Bucks thanks to a late three from Khris Middleton. Antetokounmpo went down midway through the first half, but it didn’t stop Milwaukee from figuring out some things against the Heat on both ends. No word yet on the Greek Freak’s availability for Game 5.
The Lakers and Rockets emerge from the weekend knotted up at one. After staying big and losing Game 1, LA went small last night and recaptured the advantage over the Pocket Rockets. Russell Westbrook’s inability to hit an outside shot may finally be rearing its ugly head.
More on the push and pull of this series, and how it might affect the Knicks thinking moving forward, coming tomorrow…
The Nuggets and Clippers (1-1) and Raptors and Celtics (2-2) will break their series stalemates today.
Spencer Pearlman joined me to get into the nitty gritty of some potential Knicks draft picks. This was fun. Subscribe!
Knicks Fan TV stated over the weekend that according to his sources, moving Julius Randle is the Knicks number one priority this offseason, and the possibility exists of a deal with Utah that would center around Randle and the expiring contract of Mike Conley (who has a player option for $34.5 million he is all but certain to pick up).
We’ve heard reports from Ian Begley over the last several months that the Knicks may be interested in acquiring a stretch-four, so if true, this would not be coming completely out of left field. We also know the Knicks had discussions with the Hornets ahead of last season’s trade deadline regarding a swap that involved Randle and Terry Rozier. Whoever Leon Rose considers the core of this team to be, it’s a safe bet that Randle isn’t a part of it.
All this being said, a few things are worth keeping in mind here:
If the trade was made before the end of the current league year (roughly the beginning of free agency), the Knicks would need to send back additional salary to make the money work. Elfrid Payton’s contract would suffice, but in trading Payton’s partially guaranteed deal, it would become fully guaranteed for next season.
If both teams waited to complete such a trade until after the new league year began, the Knicks could absorb Conley’s expiring $34.5 million contract and just send out Randle’s $18.9 million. However, because Utah is projected to be at $117 million in guaranteed salary next season, swapping Conley for Randle would only get Utah down to a little over $101 million.
If the cap stays flat at $109 million like many project it will, that could get Utah nearly $8 million under the cap, but that would mean relinquishing the $20.1 million cap hold of Jordan Clarkson, a valuable bench piece who they presumably would like to resign.
They could theoretically relinquish the hold to drop far enough below the cap to sign an ~$8 million free agent but not so far below the cap that they would lose their non-taxpayer mid-level exception (slated to be $9.2 million, again, assuming a flat cap), and then use that exception to sign Clarkson. However, they could still accomplish essentially the same thing by keeping Conley, staying at their current cap number of $117 million, signing a free agent using the full mid-level (thus taking them up to $126 million), and then re-signing Clarkson (whose cap hold they never would have relinquished) for something around $10 million annually.
These machinations would put Utah ever so slightly into the luxury tax ($132.6 million, assuming a flat cap) and hard-cap the Jazz at the tax apron (projected to once gain be $138.9 million), which significantly limits their ability to wheel and deal throughout next season. They could avoid the tax though by salary dumping Ed Davis, who missed the Denver series with a knee injury.
In short, while retaining Conley would make their life more difficult both in terms of keeping the current roster intact and being able to add an additional piece, it’s not impossible. There would have to be significant basketball-related reasons for such a move.
While Mike Conley initially struggled adjusting to his first non-Memphis NBA home, he came on late and was a helpful player to the Jazz throughout the later part of the season and the playoffs. After being sidelined with a midseason injury, over Conley’s final 19 games (some pre-bubble and some post), his shooting rebounded significantly, and he hit 42 percent of his 6.5 3-point attempts per game over that span. Utah was also nearly 10 points better during Conley’s minutes during that stretch than when he didn’t play - good for the second best differential on the team.
In the playoffs, after missing the first two games of the Denver series due to the birth of his child, Conley returned to average 20 & 5 in the final five games. More importantly, he hit more than half of his threes on nearly seven attempts per game. It did seem, however, that the Jazz could have used a bit more shot creation than Conley was able to provide.
Perhaps most significantly, the Jazz finally relented this season and added additional spacing, swapping out Derrick Favors and starting some combination of Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale or Joe Ingles - all threats around the arc - around Gobert, Conley and Mitchell.
Randle, meanwhile, shot just 27.7 percent from deep, and would seem likely to struggle in Utah’s defensive scheme which requires significant effort and execution from all components to make it work.
All in all, while there may be a motivation for the Jazz to see if an upgrade over Mike Conley exists, the financial ramifications and on-court fit would make a Randle swap with the Knicks a bit of a surprise.
That said, the Knicks can get far enough under the cap this offseason to absorb Conley’s salary outright without sending any money back to Utah. That would put the Jazz at roughly $82.5 million in committed money for next season, and depending on what they wanted to do with Clarkson’s cap hold, make them significant players for Fred VanVleet, DeMar Derozan (should he opt out) or any other guard/wing upgrade.
Even if they couldn’t unload Randle in the deal, if New York could pick up even a menial draft asset for Conley, they should strongly consider it. He would bring much of the steadying on-court influence of Chris Paul at a cheaper cost in dollars, year, and in all likelihood, assets.
Knick fans hoping for a future first will have to wait a while though, as the protections on the first rounder Utah sent to Memphis in the Conley trade make it unlikely to convey until 2022, meaning the next first the Jazz can send out would be in 2024. It’s fanciful to think Utah would give up the 23rd pick in this year’s draft to get rid of Conley (something that could only occur after draft night due to the Stepien Rule, but then again, a straight salary dump can’t happen until the new league year begins anyway). A swap of 23 and 38 isn’t nearly as nuts, especially considering Utah doesn’t have a second rounder this year and the drop off in this draft is seen after the 40th pick.
I’d do it in a heartbeat if the opportunity presented itself.
That’s it for today! See you tomorrow with a full edition. #BlackLivesMatter