At the conclusion of the 2019-2020 NBA Season, the New York Knicks had a record of 21-45 which placed them at 12th in the Western Conference and 25th in the league. This was yet another season which felt like the Knicks made little to no progress. Their young players have not been given the opportunity to shine in a starting role due to poor coaching and therefore it is difficult to predict how these players will develop going into next season and beyond. The Knicks continue to be unlucky in the draft lottery, falling to the 8th overall pick which could be troubling in a weaker draft class. It will be intriguing to see what kind of impact, if any, the new leadership have over the team’s success. With a new coach in Tom Thibodeau who has proven playoff experience, the Knicks are expected to improve but may still be hindered by owner, James Dolan, like they have been for many years. This offseason, the Knicks will have a number of key decisions to make over their roster. There are currently a number of non-guaranteed contracts in place and as one of the few teams with cap space, they will have to decide if that space is to be used this offseason or held for the star-studded offseason in 2021. Ultimately, no one really expects the Knicks to make any significant moves this offseason and they seem destined to be a disappointing team for yet another season in 2021.
Currently, the New York Knicks have six players with guaranteed contracts for the 2020-2021 NBA season. They have several players with non-guaranteed salary for the upcoming season. Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington and Elfrid Payton have non-guaranteed contracts worth $9.4 million, $8 million, and $8 million respectively, all of which I expect to be waived. While these three players have been useful for the Knicks this season, they are nowhere near the level that would justify a contract worth the mid-level exception. With a new front office, I expect the Knicks to get rid of their bad contracts that have been signed in recent years, and these three are unfortunately part of that. Reggie Bullock and Mitchell Robinson have non-guaranteed salary worth $3.2 million and $1.6 million respectively which I expect to become fully guaranteed for next season. Bobby Portis has a $15.7 million team option which I expect to be picked up by the Knicks. Portis has been a fringe starter for the Knicks and with plenty of cap space and Taj Gibson possibly departing, it makes sense to bring him back for one more year before the star-studded free agency period next year. Theo Pinson also has a $1.7 million team option which I expect to be picked up as well. Damyean Dotson will be a restricted free agent along with two-way player, Jared Harper. Maurice Harkless is their only unrestricted free agent going into the 2020 free agency period. The Knicks project to have the $4.7 million room exception along with a $4 million trade exception which expires in February.
Depth Chart –
The New York Knicks will enter free agency with a projected $42 million of cap space which puts them at the top of the list with Atlanta. Unfortunately for New York, they have become a team that struggles to entice marquee free agents to sign with them and not much has happened that would change this. At this point in time, the Knicks are in a position to have maximum cap space in the star-studded 2021 free agency period and it would make sense not to do anything to compromise this so I expect them to make a series of signings that are not guaranteed beyond next season. Their number one priority will be retaining key free agent, Maurice Harkless, who became an important part of the team’s rotation after being traded to New York from the Clippers. Harkless would be willing to come back to New York on a one-year deal if they paid him a fair chunk of money which the Knicks are able to do this offseason. It is well documented that the Knicks have a weak spot at point guard and have not been able to fill the gap for quite some time. The best place to start would be attempting to sign unrestricted free agent, Fred VanVleet, from the Toronto Raptors. VanVleet is the best point guard on the market this offseason and would fit in well next to RJ Barrett, lifting the team on both ends of the floor. While he won’t be able to single-handedly make the Knicks a respectable team again, he will be impactful enough for the Knicks to be taken somewhat seriously in free agency again. If the Knicks are willing to dip into their 2021 cap space and offer up to around $20 million, they should be able to take VanVleet away from the Raptors to become the new face of the Knicks.
After yet another unlucky night at the draft lottery, the New York Knicks will have the 8th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft along with the 27th pick which they acquired from the Clippers. While the Knicks have been involved in Chris Paul trade rumours which these picks would theoretically be included in, it makes the most sense to draft with these picks and continue to add to their talented youth in RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. It is well documented that this is a somewhat weaker draft class and therefore teams will be looking to draft based on team need over talent. With the 8th picks in the 2020 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks should look to select Isaac Okoro, a 6’6” small forward out of Auburn. Okoro is seen as one of the best defenders in this draft class. He is very solid fundamentally, especially given his age and is able to guard multiple positions due to his size and athleticism. He specialises on the wing, although his offensive game, especially his jump shot, needs some work in order to get it to NBA level. Okoro will be able to provide some energy off the bench, especially on the defensive end and can develop into an Iguodala type player if everything goes right. With the 27th pick in the draft, the Knicks should look to select Zeke Nnaji, a 6’11” power forward/center out of Arizona. Nnaji a strong, movable big man who has enough skill to stretch the floor with a little improvement to his jump shot, which is something the Knicks are lacking with Julius Randle. Nnaji is one of the youngest players in this draft with plenty of upside and time to develop so he is worth taking a shot on late in the first round.
The New York Knicks will enter the 2020 offseason with a brand-new front office and very little expectations. If they can make good choices in the draft and make a key free agent signing, they will be well on their way to becoming a respectable free agent destination with cap room in the much anticipated 2021 free agency period. It will be critical that their young players get consistent minutes in order to develop further and while I don’t expect them to make a playoff push, the Knicks should look like an improved outfit in the 2020-2021 season.
Projected Depth Chart 2020/21 Season –
Players IN: Fred VanVleet, Isaac Okoro, Zeke Nnaji
Players OUT: Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington, Elfrid Payton