The New York Knicks have done a tremendous job building a team capable of winning now but also preparing for the future. Financially, they have invested in quality players but opened the door for a potential big signing down the road, with the majority of their new extensions and acquisitions on 2/3-year deals with an out in the second season.
For example, the Knicks signed point guard Kemba Walker to a two-year deal and extended Derrick Rose, Nerlens Noel, and Alec Burks to three-year contracts that aren’t guaranteed for the final season. They can easily move on after two years, giving the roster consistency in the short term while also eyeing potential star players in the future.
However, one of the reasons they set up their salary cap this way was to prepare for the rise of RJ Barrett, who they were incredibly confident in heading into this season.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau listed a variety of reasons Barrett was primed for a breakout year:
RJ has great work capacity. He wants to be good, it’s important to him, he’s very coachable, he’s a great teammate. When you see how he approaches things, he has toughness, he has basketball IQ, and he has competitiveness. When you have those three things to go along with your talent, you can really improve.”
The Knicks are in a perfect spot financially and talent-wise:
RJ has two more years on his rookie deal before entering the qualifying offer stage, where he would earn $14.3 million. The Knicks will likely extend him before that if he continues to improve and show elite qualities, and the only contracts that will be on the team are Julius Randle, Evan Fournier, and Quentin Grimes. Of course, they will bring in new players and extend current ones, but they will have 90+ million in available cap space to offer Barrett a sizable contract with more to spare (given they don’t spend a massive amount on another star, which is possible).
They will have room for three max contract players, opening the gates for another star to come to New York and help build a super team.
So far this season, Barrett is averaging 19.1 points, 2.6 assists, 5.6 rebounds, and is shooting 49% from the field and 41.7 from three point range. With those numbers, he is well on his way to earning an All-Star appearance in the next season or two. Barrett should also be thanking fellow teammate Julius Randle for his healthy contract, giving the front office some room to maneuver in the future. Randle signed a four-year, $117 million extension, keeping his AAV below $30 million for the majority of the deal.
At the very least, Barrett will have a familiar face to grow alongside in Randle, given the rest of his teammates depart at some point. Obviously, they will continue to add talent Via the draft, but their healthy financial situation puts them in an advantageous spot moving forward.