New York Knicks: Who Are the Keepers?
The New York Knicks have been in the news a lot lately for a team not in the playoffs, and it has been for all the wrong reasons. Whether it's drama with Phil Jackson, Carmelo Anthony, or losing a coin flip, the Kicks just can’t seem to catch a break. Most Knicks discussions these days revolve around who the Knicks should get rid of, Jackson or Melo. Rather than continue this debate the Knicks should decide who is worth keepings from yet another forgettable season. Not including Chasson Randle, Maurice Ndour, or Marshall Plumlee since they have unguaranteed contracts, the following Knicks are under contract for 2017-18: Carmelo Anthony, Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, Lance Thomas, Kristaps Porzingis, Kyle O’Quinn, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, and Willy Hernangomez. The Knicks free agents include (again not including the unguaranteed contracts) Derrick Rose, Sasha Vujacic, Justin Holiday, and Ron Baker.
Starting at point guard the Knicks need to let Derrick Rose walk. Trading Robin Lopez and Jerian Grant for Rose and Holiday wasn’t a complete disaster. The real disaster was signing Noah to replace Lopez. Nevertheless Rose doesn’t fit with the Knicks. Rose is still a very good athlete, but his injuries prevent him from being one of the most athletic point guards we have ever seen. Without his pre-injury athleticism, Rose doesn’t do enough to be an upper echelon point guard and is a bad fit in New York. His lack of shooting makes him awful in the triangle (which apparently the team is going to emphasize) and his ball dominant style doesn’t work next to Anthony and Porzingis. The Knicks generally played Anthony and Porzingis with a traditional center. This meant Porzingis was left chasing power forwards and Anthony was left guarding wings. Both players are ill suited for these roles. Playing Rose in these lineups gave the Knicks three minus defenders on the floor at the same time. If Rose wasn’t getting to the basket or in the paint for floaters, he wasn’t helping the team enough. Regardless of the years and salary, the Knicks need to move on from Rose. Rose can still get buckets (18 PPG in 16-17), but he does little else. He didn’t get to the foul line enough, doesn’t shoot threes, is a below average facilitator for the position, and is a poor defender. The Knicks should keep Baker and Randle next season on low salary short-term deals. Neither player looks to have much of a shot of becoming a starting point guard, but both guys have a chance to be adequate backups. The Knicks should carry three point guards and Baker and Randle showed enough to be passable 2nd and 3rd point guards on the depth chart. The Knicks biggest priority should be finding a new starting point guard. They should first look in the draft to find a long-term starter. Depending on the lottery, New York will draft 1-3 or 7-9. If the Knicks land a top-2 pick they should take either Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball. If they end up between 7-9 they should take the best player available, but point guards De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith, and Frank Ntilikinia should be heavily considered if available. Point guard is the team’s most important offseason priority, but the Knicks can’t afford to waste a valuable lottery pick or cap space on the wrong guy.
On the wings the Knicks still have Lance Thomas and Courtney Lee on long-term deals. Neither player's contract is a burden or a bargain. The Knicks are fine dealing either guy in the right trade or keeping them throughout the duration of their contracts. Lee and Thomas are both solid role players that won't necessarily move the needle but can play 25-30 minutes a game on a competitive team. Thomas is a bit concerning since he has missed much of the past two seasons with various injuries, but he is still a valuable contributor. Kuzminskas had a good season as a 27-year old rookie and showed some flashes of being a legit rotation player. Kuz was very inconsistent, but it’s hard to complain about having him on the books on an expiring $3 Million deal. Phil Jackson seems to love Sasha Vujacic as a veteran presence familiar with the triangle, but the Knicks should look to better utilize his roster spot next season. The two question marks on the wings are Anthony and Holiday. As many know by now, the Knicks are actively shopping Melo, but Anthony holds a no-trade clause. Anthony will make $26.2 Million in 17-18 and has an early termination option for the $27.9 Million he is due in 18-19, the final year of his contract he signed with Phil Jackson. Given his no-trade clause and large salary, it will be difficult to move Melo, but the relationship between the player and team has become so strained and awkward that it's hard to imagine Anthony in a Knick uniform on opening night. Justin Holiday is a player the Knicks should look to keep, but they need to take care of a lot of other business first. New York’s ability to retain Holiday will depend on who they draft, if they need to sign a starting point guard, and who they trade Anthony for if a deal does go down. If Holiday gets more playing time next year, whether with the Knicks or for another team, he is a good candidate for a breakout season. He can defend either wing position and some point guards, is still young and athletic, can serve as a team’s secondary ball handler, and can knock down three pointers. A player with these attributes can fit to any rotation. With the cap spike of the past two seasons, don’t be surprised if Holiday signs a long term deal for more than $8 Million a season. There have been reports that Justin is looking to team up with his brother Jrue who is also a free agent.
Up front the Knicks have a strong rotation between Porzingis, Hernangomez, and O’Quinn. O’Quinn has great value as a bench big man making $4.1M this year with a $4.25M player option the following season. The Knicks found a bargain in Hernangomez who was a 2nd round draft pick in 2015. The rookie showed promise to become a starting center within the next few years. The Knicks are lucky to have him for under $1.5M a year for three more seasons. As most fans know by now, Porzingis is the organization's top building block. Porzingis possess all the skills you could ask for from a modern day big and is still just 21 years of age. It’s hard to know if he will ever become a true superstar, but at the very least Porzingis looks the part of a 2nd or 3rd option on a true title contender. Unfortunately for the Knicks, they have another big on the books in the form of Joakim Noah. As I have said before Noah’s deal is hands down the worst contract in the NBA. Noah is due to make $17.765M in 17-8, $18.53M in 18-19, and $ 19.295M in 19-20. Noah is already 32 years old, has had a steep fall in production for three straight seasons, and cannot seem to avoid countless injuries. Noah had arthroscopic knee surgery in February and reports are that Noah needs surgery on a torn left rotator cuff this summer, the same shoulder he had surgery on in the end of his tenure in Chicago. As if things could get any worse, Noah still has 12 games remaining on a 20 game suspension for a failed drug test. And just as a reminder, Noah cannot start serving that suspension until he is deemed healthy enough to play. The only hope the Knicks have of getting rid of Noah is packaging him with this year’s lottery pick or Porzingis, a move that I personally wouldn’t advise.
It wouldn’t be the Knicks without drama circulating the franchise. Like it or not, fans have to accept that James Dolan is not selling the team and keeping Phil Jackson on board for the remaining two years of his deal. The Carmelo Anthony situation is a clear distraction, and Noah’s contract is a disaster, but there are still things to look forward to for the Knicks. Porzingis and Hernangomez have the potential to be the Knicks long-term answers in the frontcourt and they should be able to add another promising young piece in the lottery. The Knicks also have two 2nd round picks (44 and 58) and will have enough cap space to add at least one impact free agent. It probably won't be a quick fix for the Knicks, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.