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Max Money: What Players Make the Most Sense For The Knicks In 2019?

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The 2019 offseason will be pivotal for the New York Knicks’ future. What players should they target to sign a max contract?

In recent years, the New York Knicks have fallen flat on their face as a franchise trying to succeed through various approaches, like when they traded for Carmelo Anthony and gave him a five-year max deal, and proceeded to win just a single playoff series during Anthony’s time as a Knick. Or the miserable Phil Jackson quick rebuild approach: pairing injury prone, non-shooters Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose with a ball-stopping Anthony. It’s looking like next year they’ll have another opportunity to make a big splash. 

With so many NBA teams trending in the right direction, New York is in no position to spend money on players who look good on paper but do not fit from a basketball standpoint (Anthony, Noah, Rose, and Amar’e Stoudemire to name a few). In an Eastern conference where the top teams have a rare combination of youth and All-Star talent (Boston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Indiana), the Knicks could put themselves in a much bigger hole than in the past if they spend their 2018-19 cap space in the wrong places. That’s without mentioning the impact of the fans. 

It’s no secret that fans in New York are impatient. That impatience is likely at an all-time high after they watched their competition for the top team in the top NBA market, the Los Angeles Lakers, sign LeBron James this past offseason. Knicks fans will look for General Manager Steve Mills and new Head Coach David Fizdale to lure at least one major free agent talent to New York next year. The pressure in undeniable. 

The Knicks are set to have over $70 million available for free agency next year (per Spotrac). Presumably, New York would plan to use the majority of that money to offer their young star Kristaps Porzingis a new max-deal worth five years and $157 million, per Forbes (Porzingis will be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2018-19 season). But with only eight players who have guaranteed contracts at the end of the upcoming season, there will be plenty of holes to fill. 

The Knicks can make even more cap space available if they can find suitors to dump the contracts of Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway Jr., and of course Joakim Noah, all contracts agreed to in the short-lived Phil Jackson era. Those three players alone are set to use up 44.1% of New York’s 2019-2020 cap. 

It will be a very difficult challenge, but dumping one or two of these contracts would set the Knicks up with enough money to sign two max players at the end of the upcoming season. 

New York has shown signs of promise as of late. They’ve signed one of the well-respected, player-friendly coaches in the league, have a talented, young core (Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, and Mitchell Robinson), and of course, Porzingis. With a lot of potential money to spend, Phil Jackson out of the front office and numerous holes to fill come next offseason, that begs the question: what 2019 potential free agents fit best for New York? 

With a star-studded free agent class coming up (DeMarcus Cousins, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Karl-Anthony Towns, etc.), these stars should be the first priority for New York during next year’s offseason: 

Kyrie Irving

Irving is the probably the first superstar who comes to mind when thinking of players whom New York will be in the mix to sign come next year. The scenario has been linked to Irving ever since he voiced New York as a preferred trade destination of his last summer. before eventually being traded to the Boston Celtics from Cleveland. Irving grew up playing basketball in New Jersey, so that hometown connection could be the biggest piece to signing him. 

As arguably the best ball-handler and finisher in the league, Irving would make all 29 other NBA teams raise their eyebrows at the Knicks as immediate Eastern Conference contenders. 

The addition of Irving would provide New York with some consistent three-point shooting they haven’t had much of in the past few years, as the Knicks shot 35% from three the past two years. Irving shot 40.8% from three last year at a high volume clip of 6.8 3PA per game. But more importantly, the co-star fit with Porzingis is something that would really revive life in Madison Square Garden.

The potential addition of Irving would give New York one of the deadliest pick-and-roll duos in the league. The Knicks could lean on an Irving-Porzingis pick and roll, or a two-man game at crunch time or the end of shot clocks, a pick-your-poison type nightmare. 

Coach Fizdale could get very creative in two-man games with two guys as versatile as Irving and Porzingis, comparable to the hardest two-man game in the league to guard, Durant and Curry in Golden State. 

Watch a couple of the Al Horford-Kyrie Irving sets Boston ran last year. Porzingis’ game would fit perfectly with Irving’s. Not to mention, it would be a spacing nightmare for opposing defenses to play against. 

Jimmy Butler 

Butler, like Irving, has had information leaked of potential interest in joining the Knicks. After declining a contract extension offer from the Minnesota Timberwolves, and rumors he’s upset with the nonchalant demeanor of his current team, all signs point to Butler hitting the open market. 

If the Knicks find a way to add Irving next summer, there’s a good chance Butler would look to follow, as both have been reported to want to play together since they grew close at the 2016 Rio Olympics. 

Butler can provide a form of grit and leadership New York has been missing from their top players ever since Tyson Chandler was traded from the team in 2014 (many forget Chandler was an All-Star in 2012-13). 

A four-time NBA All-Defensive player in Butler would make an immediate impact on a lackluster Knicks defense that ranked 23rd last year in defensive efficiency, and 29th in steals (per 

A Porzingis-Butler fit in New York would also work out quite well. Adding two All-Stars who are inside-out scorers, one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and one of the best rim protectors in the league is a recipe for success. With that much versatility and area covered, it would give Coach Fizdale and his staff a lot of flexibility when choosing how to approach the style of play for each game. 

Kevin Durant

This is a no-brainer right here. The Knicks should do all they can to persuade the (near-unanimous) second best basketball player in the world away from Golden State. 

After signing only a one-year contract this summer to remain with Golden State, Durant looks to have every intention of keeping his options open next year. 

Numerous rumors have circulated about Durant’s next big decision since he recently articulated how much he liked LeBron James’ decision to join the Los Angeles Lakers this year. Could Durant have intentions of joining James next year in the biggest market on the west coast? Possibly, but let’s not forget when Durant made his jaw-dropping decision to join the 73-win Golden State Warriors in 2016—he later credited James for ‘paving’ the way to do so. 

Don’t be shocked if Durant takes another page out of James’ book and entertains signing with the top market in the opposing conference. The league’s most valuable franchise (per Forbes) can help Durant expand his brand to new heights. Winning in a huge market like New York could also repair a lot of negative opinions about Durant that sparked when he decided to join Golden State. 

In the long term, a successful run in New York could cement Durant’s legacy even deeper with the likes of James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and the other all-time greats. Garnering consistent years of success in New York, as well as perhaps a ring or two, would place Durant in the conversation for best Knick ever. Gaining love from the fans of New York and passing franchise greats such as Patrick Ewing and Walt Frazier wouldn’t be nearly as challenging as it would in some of the NBA’s other franchises. 

The 2019 offseason will be a pivotal one for the Knicks’ front office. One wrong maximum contract signing could result in multiple firings, pushing away Porzingis, their franchise cornerstone, and most devastating, another five years at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Targeting these three free agents over anyone else makes the most sense from a basketball standpoint.

Edited by Jazmyn Brown, David Kaptzan.

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Created 9/2/18
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