John Schmeelk's Knicks free agency preview

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There is no wasting time in a truncated 2020 NBA offseason. Less than 48 hours after the conclusion of the NBA Draft, the NBA free agency negotiating window opens on Friday at 6PM. The Knicks have already made decisions on the players on partially-guaranteed contracts for the upcoming season, choosing not to pick up the non-guaranteed portions of the contracts of Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington, and Elfrid Payton. These players can be brought back on smaller deals.

They have also chosen not to pick up the team option on Bobby Portis or extend a qualifying offer to Damyean Dotson. The team has also waived Theo Pinson and Kenny Wooten, opening up one of the team’s two-way contracts. There are also reports that they have come to terms with undrafted free agent Myles Powell, a high scoring guard from Seton Hall.

On Thursday, the Knicks traded for backup center Ed Davis and his five million dollar contract and received two 2023 second round picks for their trouble.

This is where the Knicks roster stands heading into free agency:

Point Guard: Dennis Smith Jr., Jared Harper (two-way contract offer on the table)

Guard: Frank Ntilikina, Emmanuel Quickly, Myles Powell (likely non-guaranteed)

Wing: RJ Barrett, Reggie Bullock

Forwards: Kevin Knox, Ignas Brazdeikis

Bigs: Mitchell Robinson, Julius Randle, Obi Toppin, Ed Davis

The Knicks have eleven players on guaranteed contracts this season, with Harper on a two-way contract, and Powell’s contract likely non-guaranteed. They can add another four players via free agency to guaranteed contracts if they desire.

The Knicks have several needs.

1.       A POINT GUARD: Dennis Smith Jr. is the only true point guard on the roster, and he played like one of the worst players in the entire NBA last year. Ntilikina and Quickley can compete for time at point guard but the team needs a veteran to get the most out of Robinson and Toppin and their ability to finish as roll men in the pick-and-roll.

2.      SHOOTING: The Knicks need more shooting. They need a point guard that can shoot, two-guards that can shoot, and big wings that can shoot. Even with Obi Toppin’s range, they could use another big man that can spread the floor.

3.       DEFENSE: The Knicks have a few good individual defenders (Frank Ntilikina, Mitchell Robinson, Reggie Bullock) and others with some defensive potential (RJ Barrett) but they lack enough switchable defenders to build a high level defense. They still need players that can guard multiple positions one on one.

The Knicks should have nearly 35 million dollars of cap space to spend in free agency. Jeffrey Bellone of the www.thestrick.land came up with handy chart to work off of:

Only the Atlanta Hawks will have more salary cap space to work with than the Knicks. Unfortunately, it is one of the weaker free agency classes in recent memory. Here are the best players available at each position. Players marked with RE are restricted free agents, those with a PO are player options. I’ve included the likely cost/situation for some of the players.

Point Guards
Fred VanVleet – 22-25 million dollars per year, four year deal, likely to prefer a winning team

Goran Dragic – Unlikely to choose a rebuilding team like the Knicks

Jeff Teague

Kris Dunn – defensive-oriented guard with little offense to offer

Rajon Rondo – likely to sign with contending team

DJ Augustin

Elfrid Payton

Shooting Guards/Wings

Brandon Ingram (RE) – Pelicans likely to match any offer

Gordon Hayward – opted out of a one-year, 34 million dollar contract

Bogdan Bogdanovic (RE) - ~15 million dollars a year for four years

Joe Harris - ~15 million dollars a year for four years

Malik Beasley (RE) – Put up strong numbers in Minnesota in small sample size

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - ~10-15 million per year

Justin Holiday - ~8 million dollars per year

Kent Bazemore

Pat Connaughton

Rodney Hood

Alec Burks

Damyean Dotson

Forwards
Danilo Gallinari – could be signed and traded, but more likely to land with a contending team

Davis Bertans – 18-22 million dollars a year

Paul Millsap – likely to sign with a contending team

Marcus Morris

Carmelo Anthony – was happy in Portland, will he stay?

Jerami Grant

Juan Hernangomez

Mo Harkless

Jae Crowder

Josh Jackson

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Big Men
Montrezl Harrell

Christian Wood (RE) – no longer a fit after drafting Obi Toppin

Serge Ibaka

Derrick Favors

Hassan Whiteside

Marc Gasol

Tristan Thompson

Bobby Portis

Taj Gibson

Frank Kaminsky

It is slim-pickings and the best of the class are likely to find more attractive destinations elsewhere. The best chance the Knicks have of landing a big fish in free agency is Gordon Hayward, who opted out of the one year and $34 million left on his previous deal. Marc Stein of the New York Times is reporting that the Knicks are targeting Hayward, who managed these numbers in 52 games with Boston last year:

17.5 points

50% FG

38% 3PT

86% FT

59.5% TS

56% EFG

6.7 rebounds

4.1 assists

Those are very strong, efficient offensive numbers. Hayward is 30 years old and has an injury history, but is three calendar years removed from the catastrophic injury that cost him his first year in Boston. He is a strong shooting and playmaking wing, which is something the Knicks desperately need.

The question is price. Hayward would not have opted out of his deal in Boston without a significant pending offer from one of the teams with cap space (Knicks and Hawks) or to execute a sign and trade with Boston. If it costs three years and 90 million dollars it will probably be too rich for the Knicks. If he costs three years and 75 million it is more reasonable. Or maybe Hayward prefers a two year deal or one plus one contract worth between 50 and 60 million so he can cash in again at age 31 and 32? It is something worth exploring for the Knicks.

The Knicks might be able offer Fred Van Vleet, the best point guard available, the most money, but he will be able to find nearly as much in a better situation where he has a real chance to make noise in the playoffs. Why wouldn’t he just re-sign in Toronto? Expecting him to sign with the Knicks is a long shot, at best.

Bogdan Bogdanovic and Joe Harris would immediately be starters for the Knicks, as strong shooting wings. They fit very well next to RJ Barrett and some of the other Knicks that struggle shooting the basketball.

Malik Beasley is an interesting player that is a restricted free agent the Knicks could pursue. In a 14-game stint in Minnesota to close last season, he averaged 21 points per game on .472/.426/.750. For his career Beasley has a 55 percent Effective Field Goal Percentage and has shot 39 percent from the three-point line. He’s only 23 years old and has flashed potential as a scoring two-guard, but was arrested and is facing felony weapon and drug charges in Minneapolis after an incident at the end of September.

The Pelicans are going to match any contract offer for restricted free agent Brandon Ingram.  Restricted free agent Christian Wood probably isn’t going to make sense given that the Knicks drafted Obi Toppin and still have Julius Randle under contract. If Danilo Gallinari isn’t traded to a contender he is likely to sign with one. Davis Bertans will be very expensive and plays power forward, Toppin’s position.

The Knicks should effort to trade Julius Randle if they can move him for a neutral contract for a backcourt player. Randle plays the same position as Toppin and both players struggle defensively, so they cannot play together. Toppin should be ready to play minutes right away given he is 22 years old. It would be difficult to play Toppin or Randle at center given their liabilities as rim protectors.

If the Knicks fail to land any big fish, expect them to go after players like Jeff Teague and DJ Augustin at point guard, Justin Holiday at shooting guard, Carmelo Anthony as a wing, and other lower-tier players that can help the team compete and maximize the talent of the young players on the roster. The most important thing for the Knicks is to avoid signing any long-term contracts that end up being distressed and do not have value on the open market.

I do not think there is anything the Knicks can do this offseason to become serious contenders and be anything more than a bottom two or three seed in the Eastern Conference. Accepting that fact, I still prefer the Knicks to keep any free agent signing to one-year deals, be willing to take contract dumps for future draft assets, and focus on giving their young players as many minutes as possible. It would maximize their chance for a high pick in the 2021 draft and give them the opportunity to spend more than 50 million dollars in free agency on a much more talented class.

My prediction: The Knicks add Holiday, Augustin, and Hayward, the latter getting a two-year, $55 million deal.

We've covered a lot on my Knicks podcast, The Bank Shot, this month, and Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic joins me on the latest episode to discuss the draft and free agency plans. Listen below!

Follow John Schmeelk on Twitter: @Schmeelk

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