Could the Knicks reunite with their former first-round pick in free agency?

May 6, 2024; New York, New York, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Obi Toppin (1) dunks against New York Knicks guard Miles McBride (2) during the third quarter of game one of the second round of the 2024 NBA playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

As the New York Knicks continue to search for available free agents to bolster next season’s roster, the idea of reuniting with a former No. 8 overall pick could present itself this summer.

Obi Toppin is a restricted free agent this offseason

Forward Obi Toppin is set to become a restricted free agent this offseason after playing one season with the Indiana Pacers, the same team that knocked out the Knicks in the playoffs this year. After failing to truly break out in his first three years with the Knicks, New York dealt him to the Pacers for the low price of two second-round picks last summer. Now, he is on the market for the first time in his career, though Indiana can match any offer presented to him.

Toppin saw little improvement in his lone year with the Pacers

Indiana Pacers forward Obi Toppin (Former New York Knicks) (1) shoots the ball in the second half against the Washington Wizards at Gainbridge Fieldhouse
Oct 25, 2023; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Obi Toppin (1) shoots the ball in the second half against the Washington Wizards at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The idea of giving him a change of scenery made many Knicks fans feel that Toppin was going to finally become the star that was envisioned when he was drafted eighth overall in 2020, and that the organization would regret moving on from him this soon into his NBA career. Unfortunately for Toppin, he showed little improvement in his game and was essentially the same transition dunker and corner specialist he was with New York, which would not be an issue for either team if he was not expected to become a significantly more versatile player.

This past season, he averaged 10.3 points and 2.9 rebounds while shooting 57% from the floor and 40% from three. While his offensive numbers made a slight jump, the inability to rebound and defend at the power forward position forced Indiana to relegate Toppin to the bench full-time in mid-January after making 28 starts. The Pacers would acquire Pascal Siakam shortly afterward, subjecting Toppin to playing behind an All-Star once again.

It is also worth noting that after acquiring Siakam, the Pacers struggled to find Toppin consistent playing time. He averaged just 18.6 minutes per game after Siakam came to Indiana (h/t Statmuse), which was around the same figure he was playing with under Tom Thibodeau. One of Toppin’s main gripes with the Knicks was that he was not seeing the court a whole lot, and not much changed in Indiana.

The Knicks wouldn’t be a good fit for Toppin after the roster revamp

May 19, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau walks off the court after losing to the Indiana Pacers in game seven of the second round of the 2024 NBA playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
May 19, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau walks off the court after losing to the Indiana Pacers in game seven of the second round of the 2024 NBA playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

There are younger teams out there that could benefit from adding the 26-year-old Toppin, but for the Knicks, it makes little sense to have a reunion. The Knicks completely shifted their rotation mid-season this past year, acquiring veteran OG Anunoby from the Toronto Raptors and doing away with their younger former draft picks in Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett.

In fact, only two members of the Knicks’ current rotation were drafted by the Knicks: Deuce McBride and Mitchell Robinson, both of whom came off the bench during the stretch run and the postseason this past year. Therefore, their direction is clear, as they are now past the player development phase of their championship-building strategy and are ready to sign or acquire established star talent, a clear indication that they are ready to win now.

On top of that, there is no clear alley for Toppin to find consistent minutes with this current Knicks group. Assuming that the Knicks bring back the whole rotation from this past season, Toppin would be the 10th guy off the bench, and Thibodeau has not run a 10-man rotation in two seasons.

The Knicks also need to use their finances towards their main core, such as the looming extensions of Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle and the potential re-signings of Anunoby and Isaiah Hartenstein. Using some of that money toward a player that will barely crack the rotation would be a bad decision made by the Knicks’ front office.

Therefore, it is unlikely that the Knicks seriously pursue Toppin in free agency this offseason, as the team is simply not a strong fit for him. He would not get the additional playing he has been looking for if he were to return to New York, and after seeing the experience fail once already, it is not worth attempting to make it work during a championship window.

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