The Knicks had a 21-45 by the time the season entered its hiatus, which would be the sixth-worst record in the league. The 2019-20 season felt like another Knicks season with little to no progress. After trading All-Star Kristaps Porzingis for future first-round picks and salary relief to create $70 million in cap space, they used it all on mostly below average role players. Their young guys have made little strides to suggest that they’ll be good starters, and the head coaching turnover certainly won’t speed up their progress. Under new management yet again, the Knicks need to find stability from the front office and ownership before any success on the court can occur.
CURRENT 2020-21 PAYROLL
The Knicks are entering the 2020-21 offseason with $98.6 million dedicated to 12 players. About half of that amount, $47 million to be precise, is mostly non-guaranteed. They have their own lottery pick and the Clippers late first-round pick in this year’s draft, which will combine for approximately $8.2 million in cap holds.
If the Knicks maximize their cap space, they can generate up to $46.7 million in cap space. This would include declining Bobby Portis‘ $15.75 million team option, waiving all non-guaranteed players, and renouncing all free agent cap holds.
Realistically, they will likely have less than the $46 million amount. They won’t waive Mitchell Robinson, and waiving all of Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington, Elfrid Payton, and Reggie Bullock would gut their roster. The Knicks are more likely to keep a combination of these players even if it means losing up to $10 million in cap space.
Maurice Harkless and Allonzo Trier are the Knicks’ two most significant free agents. They’re reportedly interested in re-signing Harkless, so it is possible the Knicks keep his cap hold in the books so they can go over the cap to re-sign him after using up their cap space. Keeping Harkless and Trier’s cap holds also keeps the door open on potential sign-and-trade opportunities.
More importantly for the Knicks than having as much cap space as possible is having a plan for it. When the Knicks struck out on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in 2019, their biggest consolation prize was Julius Randle. Everyone else signed were role players, most of whom don’t have a clear role or future with the Knicks. None of those players hold much trade value, keeping the Knicks in limbo.
The most pragmatic thing for the Knicks to do with their cap space is to acquire bad contracts with draft picks or young players attached. These opportunities were present in 2019 like when the Warriors traded a future pick to get off Andre Iguodala, or when the Hawks traded a future pick to get off Allen Crabbe. The Knicks could try to accomplish such a trade with teams like the Sixers, Celtics, Warriors, and Nets who are already projected to be in the luxury tax next season. They could also turn to teams trying to create more cap space this summer for this type of trade.
The Knicks could also look to acquire a veteran that could help shape the organization’s culture, be more competitive, and help develop their young players. According to Frank Isola, the Knicks could be preparing to make a run at Chris Paul this summer. Paul is the type of player that can help the Knicks accomplish the aforementioned goals and realistically, they have the pieces to acquire him in a trade. Getting Paul would interfere with double maximum cap space in 2021, but they would look a lot more attractive to star free agents with him on the roster.
Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina are both finishing the third year of their rookie contracts and will become eligible to sign extensions. The Knicks will have until opening night to get extensions done with them. Both players have shown flashes, but neither has ever been consistent. An extension is unlikely for them for a variety of reasons, with the main ones being 2021 cap space flexibility and the fact that they weren’t drafted by current management.
New President of Basketball Operations Leon Rose will look to conduct a head coach search at the end of the season. Interim coach Mike Miller could be in consideration after stabilizing the rotation, but it is tough to evaluate his performance in just 60 games. The Knicks past few head coaching hires have been competitive and less developmental. The next Knicks head coach should be one who can get the most out of RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, and whoever they select with their lottery pick this year.
Tom Thibodeau may be the strong favorite to be the next head coach of the Knicks, according to Ian Begley of SNY. This belief comes from his strong relationship with Rose, who represented Thibodeau as an agent. Thibodeau is mostly known for his competitiveness as a coach, but has also helped players such as Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler make leaps into stardom. If the Knicks are hoping to get the most out of their players, Thibodeau will certainly do that.
2021 CAP SPACE
Early projections for the Knicks cap space for the 2021 offseason put them at roughly $66 million in cap space. This projection doesn’t include the Knicks 2021 first-round pick. They could get closer to $80 million in cap space if they waive Randle, who is only guaranteed for $4 million. That would be just short of being able to offer two maximum contracts worth 35 percent of the salary cap for players with at least 10 years of service.