There is so much we don’t know. It is a simple statement that can be applied to nearly all walks of life in 2020, the year of the world constantly saying “hold my beer.” For this article, at least, the focus is the Knicks. There are so many things we don’t know right now that will impact where the Knicks are headed and how they decide to get there over the next two seasons.
1. The League’s Finances
This inevitably returns to something else the world is still learning about and dealing with day by day: COVID-19. Will the league be able to finish the remainder of the 2020 season in Orlando? Will fans be able to attend any games at any point in 2020 or 2021? Will there be a vaccine sooner than later? How will all of that impact the league’s BRI (basketball related income), which determines the salary cap?
Even when we find the answers to those questions, we don’t know how the NBA is going to determine their salary cap. How much will the league smooth out any large revenue shifts over multiple years? Will there be a precipitous drop?
We don’t know. The Knicks are in great position to take advantage of the league’s tenuous fiscal situation given James Dolan’s financial resources and the Knicks’ good standing in relation to the salary cap. Other than the team’s youngsters still on their rookie contracts, only Julius Randle is signed to a guaranteed contract beyond the 2020-2021 season. They can take advantage of this in different ways based on Leon Rose’s timetable and overall strategy.
2. Leon Rose’s sense of urgency
There are good arguments to be made for how to use the 2020-2021 season to best position the Knicks for their long term future. We’ll examine them in more detail in the future, but it comes down to two simple propositions.
The Knicks could use next year as a launching point for future success. It would serve as one more rebuilding year where the team uses their cap space for salary dumps to acquire more future draft picks, take fliers in free agency on young players that might be late-bloomers, and most importantly, try to turn their 2021 lottery pick and other draft capital into a franchise cornerstone player.
The other possible path includes taking advantage of other teams’ potential conservative approach to free agent due to the uncertainty of COVID. The Knicks could invest in free agency this offseason with the goal of improving the team as much as possible in the short term. It would potentially put the Knicks into playoff contention and make them more attractive to 2021 free agents.
We have no idea how Leon Rose will view these two potential paths. Or perhaps he will try a combination of the two? Until we know, predicting the Knicks’ future will be difficult.
3. Team and Player Strategy
How conservative will teams be in attacking the free agent market the next two off-seasons, with cash flow down and uncertainty still hovering over the future? Will they be very hesitant to spend, or even be looking to jettison good players with high salaries to avoid luxury tax payments? This is something the Knicks can take advantage of.
The more interesting part of the equation is how players will react to the market forces. They could be more willing to sign below-market value long-term contracts if it provides them some level of security and stability in an unknown future.
Other players might instead decide to sign one-year deals until the salary cap begins to rise again and the league’s finances return to normal. This strategy would avoid a player being stuck in a below-market long-term deal after the economy returns to normal and big contracts start getting handed out again. Depending on his overall strategy, Rose should be willing to attack both these opportunities.
4. The NBA Draft Lottery
Where will the Knicks select in the 2020 NBA Draft? The Draft Lottery takes place on August 25, and the Knicks have a roughly 37 percent chance of selecting in the top four, and a 50 percent chance of selecting seventh or eighth. If lady luck finally goes the Knicks’ way, they would not have to use their future draft capital to move up to find a premium player in this year’s class.
Whether the Knicks can land a potential franchise point guard or wing in this year’s draft class will play a role in determining how they decide to attack the offseason in free agency and the trade market.
5. Who Will The Coach Be?
This could impact the Knicks’ plans in many different ways, specifically play style and the type of players they will look to add to their roster. One coach might like a player in the draft and free agency, and another might not. Of the five unknowns we discussed here, this is the one that the world should have answers to the soonest.