After an uneventful summer in 2019 followed by yet another disappointing season, the mounting pressure on the Knicks to spend big has reached its climaxing point. With Marcus Morris traded to the Clippers, the Knicks are now one of the few teams that have the cap space to make some significant adjustments to their squad this summer. Working with roughly $45 million in cap space, the Knicks have the funds to woo over a top free agent. However, it remains unclear how effective they might be considering that the Knicks have struggled to produce a formidable, sustainable structure built for success.
But what makes this 2020 free agent market so interesting, is that the Knicks won’t have a lot of competition because many teams are preparing their cap space for a looming, star-studded free agent selection come the summer of 2021. So as a result, the top free agents this summer won’t exactly have that much leeway to explore many options, which grants the Knicks a nice advantage to showcase their new mission and goal as a franchise. With promising youngsters like RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and Mitchell Robinson serving as key building blocks, the most important positions the Knicks require are a playmaking, scoring-savvy, point guard and another big man who can dominate the paint on both sides of the ball.
That being said, despite having the luxury to spend big, the Knicks should save some of their cap space for next summer as well. With a strong chance to land a Top 5 draft pick, the Knicks could address both gaps in their lineup by simply basing their free-agent signing on the draft pick they decide to go with. For example, if they get the opportunity to draft LaMelo Ball, they should snag him and sign a big man over the summer, which would leave them some cap space to build upon for 2021. But what remains to be quite fascinating about this example in the first place, is that it’s a possibility that could very well happen. The four teams that might surpass the Knicks in the draft lottery, all have their point guard position covered, whether it’s the Warriors, the Hawks, the Cavs, the Timberwolves or even the Pistons who have Derrick Rose on a contract until 2021 (Spotrac). So if the Knicks draft LaMelo Ball, what big man would be the best fit for them to acquire?
1) Montrezl Harrell: The most ideal option, would have to be Montrezl Harrell. This man is truly one of the most exciting, two-way big men in the league and will be available this summer as an unrestricted free agent (Spotrac). At the age of 26, Harrell is playing his best basketball and is continuing to grow into a powerful force inside and around the paint (ESPN). Despite shooting a career-low from the field this season at 58% (which is still pretty good), Harrell is posting career-high averages in points and rebounds with 18.8 ppg and 7.1 rebounds per game (ESPN). Essentially, Harrell is only getting better every year, which is why the Knicks need to go after him. Alongside Mitchell Robinson, Harrell could lead the charge in transforming the Knicks into a Top 10 defense.
However, what the Knicks are going to have to sell him on, comes down to two major factors he is not receiving from the Clippers: This includes one, a starting role and more playing time than the 28 minutes he gets per game off the bench this season, and two, a fat, big new contract that would be a major upgrade to the current $6 million dollar deal he has (ESPN). Harrell is not a max contract player just yet, but the Knicks should be prepared that he may ask for a lot, and fairly so. Nevertheless, if the Clippers don’t make the NBA Finals this season, Harrell could want a change of pace and what better way to do that than by joining a new-look Knicks team with LaMelo Ball.
2) Serge Ibaka: Although it may seem risky to go after a 30-year-old unrestricted free agent, Serge Ibaka would make for a great addition, and for a variety of reasons (Spotrac). First and foremost, he’s been playing exceptionally well in Toronto for the last two seasons, shooting over 50% from the field, grabbing over 8 RPG and scoring over 15 ppg as well (ESPN). Moreover, Serge has adapted well to the way the league is changing for big men, shooting a stellar 39% from behind the arc this season (ESPN). But debatably the most invaluable component Ibaka brings, is his veteran experience he’s accumulated with two of the three teams he’s played for during his career, first with the Oklahoma City Thunder and then with the Toronto Raptors (ESPN). Not only did Ibaka get a ring last season with the Raptors, but he’s shared multiple playoffs runs alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. And with a Knicks team that is young, Ibaka would be a great leader that brings a ton of knowledge and insight about the game that this crew of young guys doesn’t have.
However, what remains tricky about Ibaka is that he’s coming off his biggest contract to date with the Raptors, making over $23 million a year (Spotrac). Despite breaching the 30-year-old threshold, he may be looking for a similar contract extension, which the Knicks don’t have much room for. Nonetheless, Ibaka is not a regular starter in Toronto, particularly when Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol are healthy, so the Knicks could bait him over with bigger minutes and a starting role (ESPN). If the Knicks can’t get Harrell, Ibaka would be a great plan B.
3) DeMarcus Cousins: What?! The guy the Lakers just waived off their roster for Markieff Morris (ESPN)?! The answer is yes and why not! Ever since his tenure with Sacramento and New Orleans, DeMarcus Cousins has been dying to be relevant again and find a starting role that he can own. With over a year of rest after not playing a single game with the Lakers, Cousins should be primed for a bounce-back year. For five straight seasons between 2013 to 2018, Cousins was a wrecking machine, posting over 22 ppg and 10 RPG with a shooting percentage that didn’t drop below 45% (ESPN). Although his traditional position tends to be at the center, he can play the four perfectly fine, and in fact, stretches the floor well. Despite being 29-years-old, Cousins is coming off two straight seasons with small, one year contracts such as the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Lakers (Spotrac). As a result, the Knicks could snag him for fairly cheap if things don’t pan out with Harrell or Ibaka. And as long as he stays healthy, Cousins would be a great pickup for the New York Knicks.