We’ll see you in 2021: The Knicks punt free agency again

Stefan Bondy, New York Daily News
·3 min read

On to next year.

Maybe there will be a vaccine, and maybe the Knicks will actually use their cap space on long-term solutions.

For the third straight offseason, New York punted free agency, serving as a spectator to the spending bonanza that gripped the NBA in the first two days. Leon Rose arrived with $35 million in cap space, with a clear need to upgrade at multiple positions. But as Gordon Hayward and Fred VanVleet and nearly every player worthy of a large contract were plucked by other teams, the Knicks stood pat and preserved their flexibility.

New regime, same strategy. Cap flexibility is MVP.

To be clear, there is sound logic to punting 2020. The free-agent class was weak after Anthony Davis, who is expected to re-sign with the Lakers after Thanksgiving. The contracts were enormous and scary, none more obscene than Charlotte’s four years, $120 million for Hayward, who would be the fourth-best player on a championship-level squad. VanVleet re-signed with the Raptors at a more reasonable four years, $85 million, but the Knicks, according to a source, never met with the point guard. Apparently New York was under the impression it couldn’t pry VanVleet away from the incumbent team, so it didn’t try.

There is a better draft and free-agent class on the horizon in 2021, headlined, perhaps, by Giannis Antetokounmpo. Maintaining flexibility also provides the Knicks with greater means to facilitate a trade for a disgruntled star, whether it’s Russell Westbrook in Houston or becomes something more appealing like Devin Booker in Phoenix or Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota. Blake Griffin clearly needs to bolt Detroit. But again, these are theoretical scenarios and theoretical members of the Knicks. For James Dolan’s squad, chasing hypotheticals has only resulted in defeats, dismissals and chants of ‘Sell The Team.’

Cap space, despite what the Knicks will sell, is overrated in the NBA. If a team wants to create room for a player, it can easily shed salary and trim around the edges. Winning is a more significant recruiting tool. Just ask Steve Mills about the pitfalls of losing.

As much as New York’s strategy can be justified based on the thin talent of the 2020 class, punting free agency was a surprising move from a front office that has been hyped for its recruiting prowess. Rose brought his Rolodex from his previous career as a power agent, along with consigliere World Wide Wes and win-now coach Tom Thibodeau. Specific roster goals weren’t stated because Rose never held a press conference, which allowed MSG’s branding manager Steve Stoute to set the public agenda.

“With having Leon in, World Wide Wes and myself, the three of us, we’re the best sort of team as it relates to being able to speak with free agents,’' Stoute said. “Our relationship with talent will bring them to New York. They haven’t had this level of talent in the last 10 years that can go out and pitch free agents and convince them why New York is great.’'

We’ll have to wait to see if that works.

As of Saturday afternoon, the Knicks used their relationships to sign Alec Burks for $6 million. They still didn’t have a point guard, or a small forward. But they carried over $30 million in cap space as the free-agent crop dwindled. They still have to use the money for something, and perhaps Rose has a trick up his sleeve beyond plugging holes with stopgaps. If not, though, it’ll be a fourth straight Knicks season chalked up to development.

Obi Toppin’s soaring dunks will be fun to watch and Thibodeau can squeeze out more victories than David Fizdale, but the Knicks again approached free agency by prioritizing cap flexibility over talent.


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