With upwards of $50 million to spend under the cap, the New York Knicks chose the continuity route in free agency. Opting to re-sign the core that helped them achieve a surprise fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. While it is difficult to argue they closed the gap on the teams above them, in a limited market they addressed all their needs and have upgraded their roster. They also maintained flexibility long-term which was smart work by the front office. The Knicks opt to roll it back along with two key additions of Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker. Going into free agency, New York had a need for a wing scorer and a starting point guard. They achieved that with these signings. Also, in re-signing Julius Randle to a team-friendly extension they maintain cap flexibility moving forward. Let’s look at their offseason moves to date.
Randle re-ups for four years, $117 million with a fifth-year option. Randle, the NBA’s reigning Most Improved Player and All-NBA forward, gave the Knicks a tremendous boost by re-signing on a team-friendly deal. He was eligible for upwards of $200 million if he chose to wait until next year to enter negotiations. However, he chose to sign the max available now, to allow security for him and maximum flexibility for the team moving forward to build pieces around him.
Randle loved the team, the fans, and the city and always wished to commit long-term. This speaks volumes to the kind of leader he is. This contract is a considerable coup for the Knicks. Despite struggling in the playoffs, Randle won MVP votes while posting 24 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists putting him in elite company, while breaking franchise records in the process.
New York fended off interest in his hometown Chicago Bulls to importantly re-up Derrick Rose who was last year’s heart of their run. This was a no-brainer and addressed a decade-long problem position for the Knicks. He clearly elevated them since his trade from Detroit. He was the Knicks’ best player in the playoffs and shot nearly 49% from the field in the regular season. The Knicks were 24-11 in games that Rose played, which is a clear indicator of his value to the team. Not only was he a contributor on the court, but a mentor off the court helping rookies Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin adjust to the rigors of the NBA. With Rose’s trust in coach Tom Thibodeau, this made this relationship a natural fit to continue.
At 32 years old, a three-year deal is more than some would expect especially with his past knee problems. However, according to Knicks insider Ian Begley of SNY, the final year is not guaranteed which maintains flexibility. Also, the deal fits into the early-bird exception meaning this did not cost the Knicks cap space. It’s important Rose is limited to around 25 minutes a game to maintain his health. If that is the case, this should be a solid deal for the Knicks.
Alec Burks was a key contributor in a variety of roles and positions for the Knicks in free agency last year. He outperformed his one-year, $6 million contract he signed last season. He shot 42% from the field and 41% from 3-point range. His ability to create off the dribble was an asset for the Knicks in their surprise playoff run. This contract is very reasonable for a solid player and contributor.
Another player who outperformed his one-year, $5 million deal. Nerlens Noel was one of the better defenders in the league in Thibodeau’s system. Posting a career-high 2.2 blocks last year which was third-best in the league in that category. He’s limited offensively but played such an important role as an anchor on the defensive end, you can understand the natural fit to roll him back this year. Noel struggled however in the playoffs with the size of Capela. While Noel isn’t the greatest rebounder, his defensive IQ is extremely high and was an anchor for their defense providing elite rim protection.
This signing also serves as protection for Mitchell Robinson their young center with upside, whose health continues to elude him. Robinson is due a contract extension next year, and he needs to prove his durability to remain a starter or he may be shopped later in the year. In Noel re-signing, Thibodeau has brought back one of his trusted lieutenants of last year’s run.
Taj Gibson was the final guy brought back of the core on a one-year deal worth $2 million. This veteran provides immeasurable qualities on the court which is often not seen on the box score. His hustle plays, his screens, and his IQ on the defensive end are of the highest order.
The Knicks entered free agency looking for an upgrade at the wing, and a player capable of creating his own shot from range. Fournier fits the bill in both regards. This is a significant offensive upgrade to Reggie Bullock who leaves the Knicks and departs for Dallas in free agency.
Fournier averaged 19.7 points for Orlando prior to his deadline day move to the Celtics, averaging 17 points overall for the year. For the Celtics, he shot a very impressive 46% from 3-point range. Taking a dive into his advanced shooting, he shot 55% from corner threes, which is an integral part of Thibodeau’s offensive system.
Fournier has improved year after year in the league and at 28 years old, the Knicks are banking on him being at his best in his prime years.
Whilst he is a huge upgrade offensively, he is not nearly as good as Bullock defensively. However, the Knicks badly needed scoring and offensive help for Randle. Their offense got shut down completely by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, and this helps somewhat in addressing this need. Looking at the way Fournier has played for France in the Olympics so far, he looks like he is more than capable of helping a winning team with his scoring.
Following Walker’s buy-out from the Oklahoma City Thunder; he comes home to New York where it all began where he starred at Rice High School in Harlem. In his career, Walker developed into a multiple All-Star point guard for the Charlotte Hornets, and an All-Star in his first season for Boston. Unfortunately for him, his knees affected his previous year with the Celtics up until his cap-saving trade to Oklahoma this offseason. Oklahoma, with a plethora of young guards to choose from, agreed to buy out Walker’s remaining two years. This presented a perfect opportunity for the Knicks in desperate need of a starting point guard, to swoop in.
This is a significant coup for the Knicks; not only is he an exponential upgrade over Elfrid Payton, when healthy, Walker is still one of the elite scoring point guards in the league. In 2018, Walker averaged an eye-popping 25.6 points per game for Charlotte. Including a 60-point effort in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers that year. Despite his injuries for Boston over these past two seasons, he still put up very efficient offensive numbers of 20 and 19 points per game, shooting 42% from the field with a high overall efficiency rating.
At 31 years old, and having undertaken a 12-week knee strengthening program last season, there is hope for the Knicks that he can stay relatively healthy this season. If he does, he is unquestionably a huge get for the Knicks and instantly upgrades their offense. Even if Walker doesn’t match his four-time All-Star past, he can still be a quality player. Excelling from the pick and roll, he will fit seamlessly into Thibodeau’s offense. This deal is a great deal for the Knicks.
While the Knicks used much of their cap space passing on leaving it open next year; they have upgraded their offense significantly by adding Fournier and Walker. In re-signing Randle now, it allows them to build around him on a team friendly contract.
With the Eastern Conference loaded this year, the Knicks needed to make a statement of sorts and the Walker signing particularly helps them. However there is no question that the teams around and below the Knicks in the East have gotten significantly better. The Miami Heat made a big statement with landing Kyle Lowry, while the Bulls made a bold statement landing Lanzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan. Atlanta are in the ascendency, while the cross-town rival Nets have their three-headed monster. Milwaukee are fresh off their NBA championship. This will be a difficult conference to navigate.
While repeating as the fourth seed is questionable, New York still has more than enough to be a solid playoff team. In a market that wasn’t loaded with difference makers, the Knicks handed out smart deals which still maintains their core and flexibility to go big game hunting for a disgruntled superstar when the time comes. Knicks fans should feel good about the direction their club is headed. While some fans would have hoped for more of a headline grabbing off-season, the Knicks opted to roll it back along with two key additions to help them improve this year and beyond. An overall smart free agency from the Knicks front office, and a potentially exciting season ahead in New York.
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