The New York Knicks remain a mystery despite a playoff run that purged the long years of misery. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from Leon Rose’s leadership after a year of operating in the shadows is that patience is a virtue.
There’s already a pattern we can deduce from the way they approached last summer’s free agency and last Thursday’s NBA Draft.
Last summer, the Knicks created over $40 million in cap space, yet their signings didn’t scream sexy and fancy. Instead, they went after grimy stuff and made them shiny once the sexy names like Gordon Hayward went off the board.
Last week, we saw the same kind of maneuvering from the Knicks in the NBA Draft when they took a calculated conservative approach once their targets were off the board. They got away with Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride, two rookies who could become rotational pieces after the once-grimy stuff they stumbled upon last summer sign fancy deals somewhere else.
They followed up that conservative Draft Day by exercising their $1.8 million team option on Mitchell Robinson and waiving Norvel Pelle and Frank Ntilikina. Now, they are armed with the most significant cap space — $52.6 million — in the NBA landscape this summer.
All moves are indicative of one thing — creating the largest cap space as much as possible.
The thing is, the Knicks also want the shiny stuff like the rest of the league. Even their two-time NBA Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau pleaded for stars, whether from free agency, trade market, or at the very least, organically developing one through the draft. But after returning to relevance with a first-round playoff appearance, the third option is no longer viable. And it’s no longer as impossible as it was a few years back for the Knicks to land a star via free agency.
Rose moves in mysterious ways. He may be silent, but the Knicks’ actions are pretty telling. His silence is synonymous with the Knicks’ patience.
Based on their recent actions, here is my educated guess on what the Knicks free agent board look like:
Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard remain this summer’s biggest prizes despite overtures that they will re-sign with their respective teams, Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Clippers. Things can change quickly in the NBA.
The Knicks can easily slot one of them to their cap space and possibly work a trade to dump salaries if both A-list stars want to team up in New York. The operative word here is “if.”
If Paul and Leonard opt not to move, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will dictate this summer’s free agency. Both former All-Stars are on their last legs, and reuniting in a contender would be a dream come true for the best of buddies.
Pat Riley has his eyes set on Lowry via sign-and-trade and DeMar DeRozan for the Miami Heat’s full MLE.
The Knicks have all the cap space in the world to scuttle those plans and immediately solve their glaring holes in the point guard and wing spots while still having the option to have either Derrick Rose and Reggie Bullock or both of them re-sign via their Bird rights.
Lowry and DeRozan starting alongside Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, and Robinson with Rose and Bullock leading the bench with Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin will make them more formidable than last year’s overachieving roster.
This move makes them a bona fide playoff contender for the next couple of years while they continue to organically develop their young core and angle of the next disgruntled star.
Just like last year, the Knicks could always go back to the route of signing underrated players to shorter deals to preserve cap flexibility. If Stephen Curry, Jimmy Butler, Bradley Beal, and Zach LaVine won’t sign an extension this year, next summer’s free-agent market will be loaded.
Zach LaVine wants his respect when it comes to his contract extension with the Bulls. He’ll be one of the coveted FAs next summer, a prime Knicks target, if he couldn’t agree to an extension. pic.twitter.com/Xfkf1TndQD
And there’s always the allure of the trade market as Damian Lillard’s clock in Portland has begun ticking or even Beal if he sees the Wizards heading to a rebuild rather than contending soon.
But having the cap space to absorb the exorbitant contract of a disgruntled star isn’t enough for the Knicks to become a major player in the trade market. They can use this free agency to get solid pieces that can help them in the present and become salary fillers in a blockbuster trade in the future.
If the Knicks decide to punt this summer again, here are some names to watch outside their own free agents:
The Knicks have all the tools to upgrade — cap space, stable organization, family environment, and a team on the rise. They will strike when the opportunity arises. This summer gives them a small opening to get that shiny stuff and not settle with the grimy one that needs elaborate work. But they are also disciplined and wise to acknowledge when they couldn’t crack that opening wide enough.
Let’s see if the patience the Knicks have shown so far finally pays off.
New York Knicks president Leon Rose has a past connection with point guard Chris Paul as his former agent, which could lead to the organization targeting him in free agency if he elects to leave Phoenix. Having just lost in the NBA Finals, Paul could feel as if there’s unfinished business with the Suns and star teammate Devin Booker, but if he is seeking a new challenge and a bigger payday, the Knicks could represent potential destination.
Coming off one of his best seasons to date and showcasing his quality at 36 years old, Paul has the leverage in the situation, and he’s seeking a multi-year contract.
Phoenix will try to bring him back on a substantial deal, but if Paul demands more, a stalemate could ensue.
“And if there’s a stalemate [with the Suns], keep an eye on the New York Knicks as a potential suitor for Chris Paul,” Bobby Marks of ESPN stated regarding the situation.
Marks also mentioned that the Knicks are one of the only teams with enough money to realistically acquire Paul on the off chance he leaves Pheonix:
If Paul declines the option, that is an indication a new contract is waiting from Phoenix or there is a secondary option with a team that has cap space. The Suns could offer a contract for up to four seasons, and a team such as the New York Knicks that projects to have more than $50 million in room can sign him to a three-year deal. In the unlikely scenario that Paul does leave, Phoenix would have $27 million in cap space.
Paul has a player option for $44 million next season, and if he declines, it will open up the flood gates for him to explore free agency, which would only drive up his price tag. Phoenix would like to avoid any potential bidding war for Paul, and he will likely try to complete a deal before things get crazy during August — he will only benefit from that reality.
This past season, he averaged 16.4 points, 8.9 assists, and shot 50% from the field, including 39.5% from three, over 3.7 attempts per game. As one of the league’s best facilitators on offense, he helped carry Phoenix to the Finals but was simply overshadowed by Giannis Antetokoumpo. If he’s looking for a new challenge, MSG would give him the platform to elevate not only the team but also the city.
There are two particular big games in Sharife Cooper’s young career that convinced his coaches he’s going to be an elite point guard in the NBA.
In 2019, with McEachern’s perfect season on the line, Cooper led the Indians to a come-from-behind win against his AAU teammate-turned rival BJ Boston and Norcross in the state semifinals.
“I’ll always remember playing against Norcross in the state semifinals during his junior year,” McEachern coach Mike Thompson told Empire Sports Media.
The game was a rematch of the previous year’s quarterfinals, where Norcross knocked off Cooper’s team. It looked like a deja vu was in the offing.
“At halftime, we’re getting beat. He and Isaac (Okoro) were not playing very well. Sharife had not played well in his freshman or sophomore year in the last game that we had. And I wore him out really bad. I got on him as hard as I’ve ever got into a kid at halftime,” Thompson recalled.
Then something happened. Cooper turned on the switch button.
“He looked me in the eye and took everything that I’ve said. He went out and dominated the second half against Norcross and took us to the state championship. And we won the state championship,” Thompson said.
Cooper willed the Indians to an epic 66-62 win. He led the scoring with 26 points while Okoro, his partner-in-crime and the fifth pick in last year’s NBA Draft with the Cleveland Cavaliers, had 18 after the duo combined for only eight in the first half.
“[Sharife] was very coachable and I was always excited for him because I felt like that was the time he took the most pressure-packed moment and he turned into the very best player in that situation. That I will never forget,” Thompson said.
That year, the Indians went undefeated in 32 games for McEachern’s first state title in school history and became the first undefeated team in the highest Georgia classification since 1995. Cooper averaged 27.2 points, 8.1 assists, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.3 steals per game in an MVP season that spilled over several tournaments after that historic run. Prior to his stellar high school career, his AAU team went undefeated during his middle school.
Fast forward to January of this year, Cooper’s much-anticipated college debut after missing Auburn’s first 11 games due to eligibility issues.
“Players of less character and less commitment to the team would have walked away,” Bruce Pearl told Empire Sports Media.
“He came in everything that he was allowed to come to. He was 100 percent supportive of his teammates throughout that process. And I tell you what, that is rare. That fervent leadership with nothing to be gained by him. He was gonna stay ready. He missed 72 days of practice. And the night before we played Alabama, an early afternoon game, he found out he was eligible and he came out the next day. He scored 23 in the second half in his first game.”
Cooper is a hooper. Without a single practice in the last two-and-a-half months, he was thrown into the fire but still dominated the game. He overcame a jittery start and ended up with a game-high 26 points and nine assists in a narrow 94-90 loss to in-state rival Alabama.
Quite a debut for Auburn's Sharife Cooper, 26 points + 9 assists. Valuable ability to create easy finishes + open 3s for teammates. Tough to stay in front of. Skilled/creative passer OTD. For now you accept the TOs, bad shots. Should jump right into the lotto discussion. pic.twitter.com/pbPgp6Wixo
Right at that moment, Pearl saw up close how special Cooper is. He was as good as advertised.
“Sharife is a once-every-ten-year fast-breaking, playmaking, transition, and ball-screen floor general with his ability to make plays for himself and others,” Pearl said.
Cooper supercharged a lethargic Auburn offense. He produced 39.6 points per game via his own scoring or assists, the best in all of the college basketball last season, per Synergy. He tops all guards in the upcoming NBA Draft in points created via assists, per Shot Quality.
🚀NBA DRAFT SZN🚀
Sharife Cooper and Jason Preston lead NCAA as the best passers among NBA draft guards (ShotQuality Passing Points created per game).
It shouldn't be based on how many assists you have, but rather how many points you create from those assists! pic.twitter.com/gaRDZdFWU4
In the 12 games that Cooper played, Auburn averaged 83 points while its offense sputtered and coughed up only 72.5 points in 15 games without him.
“He had a pied piper effect. He has the ability to bring other guys along with him which is great for a point guard,” Pearl said.
Ira Bowman, Pearl’s assistant coach and the guy assigned to Cooper during his time in Auburn, marveled at the point guard’s effect on the team.
“[Sharife] is one of those guys who see what the group needs. He is the guy that’s gonna be vocal when he needs to. He’s a leader by example guy but he’s a guy that brings people together. There are guys who are good distributors, good playmakers but he’s the type of guy that makes people around him really, really good,” Bowman told Empire Sports Media in a separate interview.
“Sharife is a unique player. I’ve been in the SEC for five years but I’ve never seen anyone like him. He’s one of the hardest-working kids I’ve been around and he’s a sponge for the game. He has certain God-given gifts that you can’t teach. His ball-handling, his passing, his vision, his leadership are unparalleled.”
The NBA Playoffs saw how Trae Young made Clint Capela a lob threat, how Chris Paul unlocked Deandre Ayton. Cooper had the same effect on every team he’s played with, from AOT in the AAU circuits to McEachern and Auburn.
“If you look at Isaac Okoro, who was the fifth pick in last year’s Draft, he’s a much different player when he was playing with Sharife. You talk about BJ Boston, looking at a lot of these mock drafts they have him in early second round. But when he played with Sharife, he was a Top-5 player in his class. Then there’s Allen Flanigan, Devan Cambridge and so on,” Bowman said.
“That’s just kind of what he does because he’s elite with playmaking, passing with either hand. Because no one can stand in front of him and he can get to wherever he wants to go on the floor. He’s naturally gifted who looks to make a pass first and find easier shots for the other guys. Again, there are people who train their whole life that can’t do those things and he’s naturally gifted,” Bowman said.
The Cooper effect in Auburn was on full display during his brief stint there.
In the 12 games Cooper played, Cambridge had 8 double-figure games. JT Thor, the other Auburn player expected to go in the first round of the NBA Draft, had also hit in double figures in eight games. Flanigan did it in 11 games, including four with at least 19 points.
In the 15 games without Cooper, Cambridge could only hit the double-digit mark in just six games, Thor in eight games, and Flanigan in 10 games.
“I felt like at Auburn, if they had anybody who could knock down shots, he might have averaged 20 assists a game there,” Thompson said.
Cooper will greatly benefit from the floor spacing and better overall talent in the NBA than the young team he had at Auburn.
As much as he’s adept in making plays, he’s also producing buckets in a variety of ways. Those are the two swing skills that intrigued Pearl when Cooper was making waves in Georgia.
“His ability to score and play in traffic. That being undersized, you thought physically you could bounce him around. But he has an uncanny way of delivering passes on time, and on target, and scoring in really crowded places. The other thing is he is ambidextrous. Whatever he could do with his left hand, he could do with his right hand,” Pearl said.
It’s so easy to nitpick his size or the lack of it. But Bowman swears he doesn’t see Cooper regressing in the next level.
Despite being undersized, Cooper has that competitive edge, dog mentality which Bowman attributed to his father Omar, who grew up in the New Jersey-New York area before uprooting his family to Atlanta.
“When you go up against Sharife, the things that you’ll realize is that he’s faster than you think, he’s bigger than you think, he’s stronger than you think. I’ve been around him probably half his life and I haven’t seen him bullied on defense and I’m a thousand (percent) sure it won’t happen in the next level,” Bowman said.
Cooper joined Young as the only freshmen to average 20 points and eight assists in college basketball in the last 30 years. Aside from sharing that record with Young, Cooper also draws comparison to the Hawks’ rising superstar for his propensity for drawing fouls. In 12 games with Auburn, Cooper averaged 8.6 attempts and converted a solid 83 percent.
“I think he’s gonna be a championship-level point guard who’s gonna be a multiple All-Star guard. I’ve been around long enough. I watched Kyrie as a freshman — before he went to St. Patrick’s School, before he became who he was. I watched Chris Paul before what people thought he was. The crazy thing is that Trae Young, having the success that he’s having now, Sharife did what Trae did in the EYBL circuit,” Bowman said.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the teams that doubted Donovan Mitchell, that doubted Trae Young, they will be the same teams who’ll wish they have [Sharife] because again the things he brings to a team, you can’t teach,” he added.
The last seven NBA champion teams have an elite point guard — Tony Parker (Spurs), Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers), Stephen Curry (Warriors), Kyle Lowry (Raptors), and Rajon Rondo (Lakers). Paul is trying to join that club this season. Young could soon follow.
Each point guard has his own strengths and weaknesses but what stand out is the elite vision, playmaking, and championship poise that propelled their team to greater heights.
Cooper possesses those qualities. If there’s an only blemish on his dominant college run, it was his shaky outside shooting. But his coaches believe that he is a better shooter than what his 23-percent clip from the three-point range suggests.
“I think because he’s so gifted getting into the rim and getting others the ball that his mindset was to make a play and score first, shoot last,” Pearl explained. “That was a function of why he didn’t shoot a great percentage. And of course, he didn’t have a lot of opportunities. I think he’ll really be a good NBA shooter because there will be times when he will be hunting for his shot. He’s so productive breaking his opponent down. That’s his first and second thought.”
Bowman offered another layer of context.
“People say, look at his shooting percentages. But he’s a much better shooter than his shot and the numbers he showed in the sense that he played the season after sitting out for 72 days of practice and never really got his legs. All the stuff that he does, he’s a leader. I’ve been in this [coaching] for a while and never coached a kid that can do everything on the floor. And obviously, he’s gonna will his way to be a great player. He will never be satisfied with being great,” Bowman said.
“As far as working on his game, he’s shooting thousands of shots a day. The percentages don’t show where he is but he’s always been a good shooter. He’s gonna be a great shooter with a year of training camp because like I said, he jumped right in the middle of the season and didn’t have his legs and played catchup for the rest of the year. Because he’s so gifted in doing the other things and nobody can stand in front of him, it’s just one of those things where he got settled with some of those shots. So, I’m not concerned at all.”
Thompson, meanwhile, pointed to Cooper’s shooting display in his Pro Day at the Draft Combine in Chicago to prove that it was just an outlier.
“He shot it really well during his junior year and I think he really did a work on that heading into the Draft Combine and his Pro Day. And he showed in his Pro Day that he can really shoot well. As a matter of fact, he got a standing ovation from a lot of executives,” Thompson said.
In the EYBL circuit during his junior year, Cooper shot 35 percent on 5.7 attempted 3s in 10 games, per Real GM. There were no available statistics that show his shooting percentages during his undefeated run with McEachern. But his solid free-throw shooting clip in college provides hope that Cooper’s struggle from long-distance at Auburn is just an aberration.
More than 20 NBA teams have reached out to Pearl and spoke with him at great length about Cooper. All of them had the same question: “At his size, what do you think? Is he gonna make it as a star in the NBA?”
“That question has always been asked. It’s been asked in his high school career and he was the national player of the year and went undefeated during his junior season. It was asked in college and he averaged 20 points and almost 10 assists. And so, it’s gonna be asked at the next level but Sharife has always proven everybody wrong. That’s for a fact,” Pearl said.
How will he do that? By just staying true to himself.
Bowman gave us a peek at what made Cooper successful in every level he’s been to, which will translate well in the NBA.
“I’ve been watching him since the seventh grade. You see young kids that make mistakes and just shrug it off but he’s somebody who was obsessed with not turning it over, obsessed with making the right plays. I’ve seen him do things that didn’t work and come back and make adjustments. He does it on the fly. You rarely see him make the same mistakes twice. Those are things you can’t teach. That’s the basketball junkie that he is. He’s obsessed with being great. That’s what’s gonna happen,” Bowman said.
During his one-and-done season at Auburn, Bowman and Cooper were almost inseparable.
“He’s somebody that made me stay in shape with the amount of time that he was in the gym,” Bowman said in jest. “It’s just like having another whole job. Being able to make sure he’s getting satisfied with his basketball skill work. It was refreshing in the sense that it’s a throwback. He’s not somebody that sits around and hopes things happen. He’s gonna figure out what to do and how to make it happen.”
Cooper starts his day with what he called a ‘Breakfast Club’ at 6’o clock in the morning with basketball on his plate. After an early morning shootaround, he eats his real breakfast and attends his class. After lunch, he hits the weight room before going to practice. Then after practice, he does extra shooting before retreating to the film room. After dinner, he comes back for more extra work until 11 at night.
“He’s a gym rat,” Bowman said. “Night, morning, he’s always in the gym. He’ll do everything that we, coaches, asked our players to do and he’s gonna do more. He’s not gonna get outworked. The first guy in the gym, the cliché, last to leave but he’s also coming back. His work ethic is unparalleled. His mindset was already a pro.”
Any team in the NBA would love to have that type of player. He blew away a lot of teams during his Pro Day workout.
Young went No. 5 in his class, Paul went No. 4. So his coaches believe that Cooper, who had done stuff that Young did in high school and college and has the court smarts of Paul that elevates his teammates, is lottery-bound.
Overall, 10 of 12 the teams in the lottery have either met or scheduled to meet with Cooper: Houston Rockets (No. 2, 23, 24) Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 3), Toronto Raptors (No. 4), Orlando Magic (No. 5, 8), Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 6, 16, 18), Golden State Warriors (No. 7, 14), Sacramento Kings (No. 9), New Orleans Pelicans (No. 10), Charlotte Hornets (No. 11) and Indiana Pacers (No.13).
The other teams from the outside (of the lottery) looking in who are confirmed to have either met Cooper or worked him out are the Washington Wizards, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Hawks.
According to a source, that list is expected to grow to 25 teams before the NBA Draft on July 29.
“Everything (mock draft) I read has him going to New York. I think that’d be a great fit. They need a point guard. I think he’d be great in that city. That city would embrace him,” Thompson weighed in.
“He’s spent a lot of times in New Jersey. That’s where his family is originally from. He knows [the Knicks] really well. I think his mind — his psyche – that’s one of the strongest suits he has. I think he’ll just be fine there. He’s an entertainer and he will be a perfect fit in New York,” he added.
Curiously, the Knicks haven’t met Cooper yet. However, ESPN’s Draft Analyst Jonathan Givony noted on ESPN’s latest NBA Mock Draft after the Combine that “the Knicks’ front-office brass and head coach Tom Thibodeau were front and center in Chicago for Cooper’s pro day, where he had a strong showing.”
Pearl also highlighted Cooper’s New Jersey roots.
“Here’s the thing, he identifies with New Jersey. That’s where he’s born. That’s where his dad played ball. Even if he played high school ball in Atlanta, he knows his roots. He knows where he’s from. He’s just a loyal kid that is grateful for the opportunity,” he said.
But both the New York teams are outside the lottery. According to a source, the Knicks have a level of interest after doing their due diligence on Cooper. With Cooper already on the radar of eight lottery teams, both the Knicks and the Nets might have to trade up if they really want the star point guard out of Auburn.
Bowman believes Cooper is the best pure point guard of this class, and he’s a plug-and-play guy right away, noting the impact of Trae Young and Chris Paul in this NBA playoffs.
“At this point, you don’t know who has the most interest. Everybody is doing their due diligence. I will just say that there’s a group of teams that needs a point guard,” Bowman said. “That they would be more successful if they have a guy like Sharife and I’m not saying who I like or who I don’t like. But I’m gonna say, whoever gets him will be lucky.”
“But you look at the Knicks and what Trae Young did to them, and the Sixers on what Trae Young did to them, and you look at the Lakers on what Chris Paul did to them. So you talk about the Lakers, Clippers, the Rockets who are rebuilding who don’t have a point guard. There are tons of teams who can plug him in and help immediately. But obviously, being from the Northeast, we talk about, you see the Knicks and the Sixers how they played.”
“Any team that sees the value in a true leader and a guy who’s gonna make people around him better, I think anybody would be lucky to have him. But I like Golden State. I don’t think Steph Curry is a point guard in a grand sense of things because he’s coming off so many screens and can do a lot with the ball if he had somebody who can set him and Klay Thompson up coming off the screen. I just see [Sharife] getting successful at about every stop,” he explained.
Pearl views Cooper in the same mold as the top point guards in today’s NBA. And he hopes whichever team that picks his former star player will trust him the way he did, akin to how Monty Williams trusts Paul that propelled the Suns two wins away from an NBA championship.
“Obviously, [Sharife should go to] a team that truly wants a point guard. In this day of positionless basketball, sometimes coaches have different people bringing up the ball on the floor. It’s got to be a coach who wants to put the ball in Sharife Cooper’s hands and let him run the team,” Pearl said.
“Lead point guards are not for every system, not for every coach. And I think that’s where the question – does Chris Paul, Trae Young, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, their ability to run a team and break people down and get everybody involved interests you? – if that’s a fit for that head coach, then great. But if he’s a coach who doesn’t care who leads the break and brings the ball up the floor, then Sharife wouldn’t be attractive to them. I couldn’t do anything more productive offensively than putting the ball on the hands of Sharife. Give him space, and let him make plays.”
His coaches can’t wait to watch Cooper’s next big game, this time in the NBA, to let his next coach and the fans see for themselves what they saw in him throughout these years.
The most efficient method for the New York Knicks to upgrade the point guard position would be to allocate their funds in free agency rather than parting ways with significant capital in a trade scenario. One option that could be on the market is Chris Paul, but the hope that he will be available is quickly dwindling as the Phoenix Suns make a legitimate run at the NBA finals.
Phoenix dominated the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday evening, as Chris Paul recorded 32 points, hitting on 12-of-19 shots from the field and 4-of-7 from downtown. He also picked up nine assists in the win, indicating he is a bonafide star point guard at his age.
At 36 years old, Paul is in the final year of a four-year, $160 million deal and has a player option for the 2021-22 season at $44.2 million. The expectation was that Paul would opt out and seek a long-term deal, but his incentive to leave Phoenix is diminishing.
According to SNY’s Ian Begley, the Knicks are in a good spot to make a run at signing Chris Paul, based on the assumption he opts out of the final year of his contract, but that’s seeming more unlikely by the day.
Three reasons the Knicks likely won’t have a serious chance at landing Chris Paul in FA:
1.) What’s his incentive to leave the Suns?
Phoenix is on the verge of winning an NBA Finals series and offering Paul his first-ever Championship. What exactly is his incentive to leave Phoenix, other than joining a New York Knicks team that is still a few pieces away from contending for a deep playoff run.
He can easily stay with a stacked team full of great youth talent that can help him win now, rather than taking an unnecessary risk in New York.
2.) Great relationships with the organization and teammates
Paul reportedly has fantastic relationships with his teammates, including Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton. One of the reasons he requested a trade to Phoenix in the first place was because of what he saw in Booker, a fiery competitor with a similar offensive style to Kobe Bryant.
The fact that the team has so much youth contributing and are still winning games, Paul connects as a veteran mentor and the leader of this team, who are currently in the Finals and dominating. Add in his relationship with head coach Monty Williams, and it is hard to find a reason why he would leave the Suns for East Coast pastures.
3.) A new contract could be inbound
Even if Paul desires an opt-out in his contract, the Phoenix Suns could easily offer him an extension, tearing up the final year of his deal. Considering how much cap space they have available, it would be simple for them to offer him a new deal. Only Devin Booker is making over $20 million per season, with the next highest being DeAndre Ayton at $12 million. If they wanted to tear up Paul’s contract and offer him another two-year deal at $40 million a pop, they could do it quite easily.
If you are a Knicks fan, I would be cautiously optimistic with a potential Chris Paul signing, as he does have a relationship with President Leon Rose, but that may only get them so far considering the great situation he has himself in at the moment.
The most efficient way for the New York Knicks to take their roster to the next level would be to retain all of their quality youth pieces and allocate their available funds in free agency appropriately. While packaging the right deal for a player like Damian Lillard is obviously enticing, the Knicks can sit pretty and utilize their salary space to target an option like Chris Paul, who’s having one of the best postseason performances in the NBA this year. Most recently, he scored 41 points in Phoenix’s Game 6 victory over the Clippers to send them to the finals.
Currently, on a four-year, $160 million deal, Paul has a player option for $44 million next season with Phoenix, but reports have indicated that he is considering opting out and seeking a long-term extension. It is possible that Phoenix tears up the final year of his deal and offers him a multi-year contract, but the Knicks will also be in play if he considers departing.
According to SNY’s Ian Begley, the Knicks could be a favorite to land Chris Paul if he fails to reach an agreement with the Suns:
Several agents for point guards in the 2021 free agent class fear New York as a possible landing spot for Paul. Leon Rose was Paul’s agent before Rose became the Knicks president. But, again, New York would only be an option for Paul if he and Phoenix didn’t reach an agreement.
Paul averaged 16.4 points, 8.9 assists, and shot .499 from the field this season. Some would look at his age and question his future health, but the most important narrative is the fact he’s played in 140 games over the last two seasons, indicating consistency and fitness.
The Knicks wouldn’t have to worry about lingering injuries or any health temperaments.
Chris would upgrade the point guard position for New York considerably. With Derrick Rose and Elfrid Payton hitting the open market, the Knicks are in dire need of a point guard — while Rose could be a consideration as a retention option, pairing Julius Randle with Paul would be stellar.
Of course, there are several younger players to consider on the market, like Lonzo Ball or even a draft prospect like Davion Mitchell.
Paul’s future entirely depends on Phoenix’s desire to retain him, but if they let him walk, the Knicks will likely be the favorites to land the veteran PG.
The Knicks ultimately want to be getting younger, not older, this off-season, despite rumors that they could target veteran point guard Chris Paul in free agency. Paul, who is currently 36 years old and looking for a three-year contract extension, is coming off two consecutive All-Star appearances and a solid campaign with the Phoenix Suns this past year. Paul averaged 16.4 points, 8.9 assists, and .499 shooting from the field. He also connected on .395% of the shots from downtown, attempting 3.7 per contest.
Ultimately, Paul still offers quality play at the point guard position for a team like the Knicks, but by the time he’s 39 years old, there’s no guarantee he will be 100% healthy and playing at the top of his game. The Knicks might want to go younger with more potential over a longer period.
In that scenario, Lonzo Ball might fit the bill better than Paul, considering he would be cheaper, and they can mold him to their style at 23 years old. Ball averaged 14.6 points, 5.7 assists, and shot .414 from the field this past season. From three, he attempted 8.3 shots and connected on .378%, a quality number that saw him post a career-high.
According to “AHN Fire Digital,” there’s mutual interest between the Knicks and restricted free agent Lonzo Ball:
According to a source, the New York Knicks and point guard Lonzo Ball have “mutual interest” in a contract this summer. The source also said that the Knicks are not intimated by the fact that Ball is a restricted free agent.
If there is, in fact, mutual interest between the two sides, the Knicks have plenty of resources to acquire Ball and multiple pieces to complement Julius Randle next season. With $60+ million available in funds, plus multiple first-round draft selections, they could look to trade for a player like Pacers’ Myles Turner, who would add a physical body inside who can score from the center position.
Looking at multiple free agents will be available, including Danny Green, Kelly Oubre, and even a player like Trevor Ariza, veterans who offer production are always positive. In addition, considering some of their own players preparing to hit the market like Alec Burks should be a priority.
Retaining Derrick Rose and signing Ball might provide the youngster with a proper mentor moving forward, and of course, Rose offers plenty of value off the bench considering his performance this past season.
Do you think the Knicks should target Paul or Lonzo in free agency, and why? Comment below!
In a perfect world, the New York Knicks would land a star point guard this off-season and still have money left over to allocate toward other complementary pieces. Of course, the Knicks will be connected to most big names this off-season, as they’ve already been in contact with the Blazers regarding Damian Lillard.
Whether or not they actually land any of these big names is yet to be seen, but the Knicks finally have an attractive destination, having made the playoffs this past year and a boatload of cash to spend. With upwards of $60 million, the Knicks have what it takes to offer a max contract while also adding a few quality players to supplement their losses in free agency.
With Alec Burks, Elfrid Payton, Nerlens Noel, Taj Gibson, and Frank Ntilikina all expected to hit the market, there’s no question New York will have to supplement some losses and fill roster spots. While the majority of these players will be on the cheaper side, there is one scenario that leaves them with about $30+ million while also adding one of the best point guards in basketball.
Chris Paul is currently enjoying a strong postseason run with the Phoenix Suns, but the expectation is that he will opt out of his player option for the 2021-22 season, where he’s expected to earn $44.2 million. He is seeking a three-year, $100 million deal, which would offer him less next season but job security until he’s 39 years old. Some believe he could end up making far less than that after opting out, but that’s the risk he’s willing to run for a future contract.
The more realistic contract for Paul may fall well below his three-year, $100 million expectation, which would allow the Knicks to pounce with room to spare.
“The Chris Paul player option — $44.2 million — will be interesting to watch. Execs I’ve talked to peg CP in the three-year, $60 million-ish range on a new deal. Does Paul go for the most guaranteed money? Or does he pick up the option and bet he has another All-Star season?,” Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated wrote.
If the Knicks could land Paul at $20 million per season, that would leave them with over $40 million to utilize on other players, meaning they could bring in a star-studded free agency class, helping them take the roster to the next level.
For example, president Leon Rose could theoretically go out and sign Paul, Kelly Oubre, retain Burks and one of their centers and still have room to work with. There are still quality players that will be available, including Danny Green, Evan Fournier, Tim Hardaway Jr. I would be more willing to settle for Paul on this projected contract than send the farm for Lillard in a trade.
Paul is still a quality PG, earning All-Star appearances over the past two seasons and averaging 16.4 points and 8.9 assists, his highest mark since the 2016 season. While general degradation will certainly play a factor, Paul is still capable of being an elite player for the next season or so.
Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated reported on Thursday that some NBA executives believe the more realistic figure is way below that range.
“The Chris Paul player option — $44.2 million — will be interesting to watch. Execs I’ve talked to peg CP in the three-year, $60 million-ish range on a new deal. Does Paul go for the most guaranteed money? Or does he pick up the option and bet he has another All-Star season?,” Mannix wrote.
If this is true, then there’s no reason why the New York Knicks will not join the Paul’s sweepstakes this summer.
But everything is fluid at this point especially after the 36-year old Paul‘s Game 2 performance added another layer to his legendary ‘Point God’ status.
Chris Paul is the first player with 15 PTS, 15 AST, 0 TOV in a playoff game since…
Chris Paul in 2014, who was the first player to do it since…
Unless the Phoenix Suns flame out, there’s a great chance Paul would stay in the desert.
ESPN Front Office Insider Bobby Marks weighed in and leaned on Paul staying in Phoenix.
“Opt-in and extend for another two seasons. That would be the best direction for him. He holds a ton of leverage over that organization,” Marks replied to Mannix’s report.
Paul has been perpetually linked to the Knicks ever since his former agent Leon Rose became the team’s president. It was widely reported that New York was one of his preferred destinations when Oklahoma City was shopping him in the offseason. But in the end, the Thunder opted for the Suns’ more desirable package.
Paul’s friend and former teammate Matt Barnes also intimated that the Suns’ guard would have preferred the full experience in New York.
But even with the Knicks’ surprising rise this season and their fans getting back to the Madison Square Garden, Marks believe the Suns have the upper hand if Paul opts out.
“He’s made $400M in his career. It’s all about the quality of life and winning. Phoenix has a clear advantage on both,” Marks added.
As this season and playoffs revealed, the Suns have the better roster makeup than the Knicks at this point. So the Suns would be too good to pass up for Paul especially if they overpay him.
But the Knicks’ roughly $50 million cap space can be Rose’s wildcard to convince Paul to come to New York.
Winning in New York would be more special than with a small market team.
If Paul agrees to a $20 million per, that will leave the Knicks more than enough to spend on another superstar to form their version of Big 3 with Julius Randle and a solid supporting cast led by RJ Barrett.
It will be an interesting summer if Paul opts out.
The New York Knicks are heading into a competitive off-season full of teams looking to acquire big players. After a successful 2020–21 season, led by All-Star Julius Randle and one of the best defenses in basketball, thanks to Tom Thibodeau, the organization plans to inject more talent into the roster.
With various players expected to hit the open market, including Nerlens Noel, Taj Gibson, Alec Burks, and more, the Knicks will have plenty of money to go out and find a bonafide star while also retaining some of their more efficient contributors.
However, point guard remains a significant weakness, and it became clear that the team cannot rely on Derrick Rose on an everyday basis due to his age and injuries. Retaining him as a spark off the bench, on the other hand, could be a fantastic move as he showed elusiveness and scoring prowess throughout the season. He was the only Knick to really show production during the postseason series against the Atlanta Hawks, as his experience brought benefits. He already mentioned that returning to New York would be a priority, but he expects the Knicks’ front office to be busy with bigger fish.
Three FA point guards on the Knicks’ radar:
1.) Lonzo Ball
During the trade deadline a few months ago, Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball was at the top of the food chain. He was rumored daily to the Knicks, and after posting 14.6 points, 5.7 assists, and shooting .378 from three-point land this season, he is undoubtedly still on their radar.
At 23 years old, Ball hasn’t hit his ceiling yet, so the Knicks could end up acquiring a player just entering his prime. With four years of experience on two different teams, he has seen improvements in several categories on a yearly basis, including his shot from downtown. His field-goal percentage has also increased from .360 in his rookie year to .414 last season. Averaging 31.8 minutes per game, Ball would be a solid option for a New York team in need of a long-term point guard. While he won’t be as expensive or as proven as Chris Paul or Damian Lillard, his upside is worth gambling on, and I would be content if the Knicks went this route in FA.
2.) Kendrick Nunn
New York has also been linked to Miami Heat point guard Kendrick Nunn, who could make upwards of $15 million per season after earning $1.7 million with Miami this past campaign.
Nunn averaged 14.6 points per game, seeing an increase in scoring proficiency while also hitting on .381 from downtown. His free-throw percentage rose to .933, indicating a very efficient shooter in that category. He has taken steps forward gradually in nearly every section, and at 25 years old, he could offer the Knicks a long-term solution a point guard as well.
“Nunn, per sources, is among the guards who have been on the Knicks’ radar as they consider their offseason plans. Nunn shot 38.1 percent from beyond the arc on nearly six attempts per game this season and shot it remarkably well in the second half of the season. One member of an opposing organization analyzing the market drew a comparison between the 25-year-old Nunn and Terry Rozier, who averaged nine points per game in his last season with the Celtics before signing a three-year, $56 million deal with Charlotte. Rozier’s role increased. His production also increased. The opposing team thought Nunn, who averaged 14.6 points per game last year, could follow a similar path if his opportunities increased.”
3.) Chris Paul
Of course, the big fish would be Chris Paul, who is 36 years old and is looking for a three-year deal. For a player of his age, Paul is still playing exceptional basketball, making the All-Star team over the past two seasons consecutively. His points per game have dropped to 16.4, the lowest since 2010, but he is still providing 8.9 assists and shooting nearly .500 from the field. There is no question that Paul still has plenty of great basketball left in his future, but the concern for injury is real.
The expectation is that Paul could be searching for a contract in a three-year, $100 million range, which would give the Knicks more funds to utilize in other places, but it is still lofty for a player past his prime. The Knicks could be better off sticking with a younger option for cheaper then taking a gamble on an aging veteran like Paul.
The New York Knicks head into the 2022 off-season with a head full of steam, and while some might remain negative regarding a tough postseason series against the Atlanta Hawks, the reality is nobody anticipated this Knicks team making it that far in the first place.
What head coach Tom Thibodeau did in terms of defensive proficiency and extracting the most out of his players was simply astounding. He put the Knicks in the right direction after years of traveling down a one-way street. A good analogy to use in New York, as the Knicks continuously took right-hand turns when they had no choice but to go left. However, they are now preparing to enter free agency with money to spend and one goal in mind, pairing Julius Randle with another star.
It was clear during the postseason that Randle couldn’t handle the pressure alone, so finding another quality player to take some of the pressure off and allow the young players to extrapolate on their talent is exactly what management should be looking to accomplish.
There are several players that fit the bill for the Knicks, but they depend on player options and the decision to stick with their current team or seek a trade. One option is Damian Lillard, given his team has failed to push deep into the playoffs and contend for a championship, but the Knicks have the right coaching pieces and money to spend this upcoming off-season, which can be an attractive thing.
Should the New York Knicks target Chris Paul or Damian Lillard?
Paul is reportedly looking to opt-out of his contract for 2022. Paul would be owed $44.2 million if he accepted his player-option with the Phoenix Suns, but he seems to be more interested in signing a three-year deal in the $100 million range. Luckily, the Knicks still have Julius Randle under contract and about $60 million to play with once August 1 hits.
Paul is still capable of playing at an elite level, averaging 16.4 points, 8.9 assists, and shot nearly .500 from the field this past season. He is a quality player, and while his point production has taken a slight dip over the years, he’s still managed two consecutive All-Star appearances.
There’s no question signing Paul would be an expensive decision, but he would immediately make the Knicks a far better team, especially as they look for an answer at point guard. Rolling with Elfred Payton, Frank Ntilikina, and Derrick Rose is simply no longer acceptable, despite Rose playing exceptional basketball this year. Rose would be a phenomenal player off the bench to supplement injuries and help the youngsters develop, specifically Immanuel Quickley.
The Knicks do have a healthy number of players preparing to hit FA themselves, as they were on one-year deals. Those options remain Nerlens Noel, Taj Gibson, Elfred Payton, and Alex Burks. Of all four players, retaining Noel and Burks might be in their best interest, as both played pivotal roles in a postseason run this year.
Another player, the New York Knicks, could court is Damian Lillard, a 30-year-old point guard who recently dominated a post-season series against the Denver Nuggets, despite his team being knocked out. Over the past five games, Lillard scored less than 28 points just once and reached 55 points on June 1 in a double-overtime loss. Simply said, his team lacks quality defense, which is something the Knicks are proficient in.
Adding a player of his class and offensive prowess to a team with the number one ranked defense in the NBA during the regular season would be a match made in heaven. Rumors have been swirling that Lillard could look to move on from the Blazers if they were knocked out of the postseason, and considering that just became a reality, it could open the door for a maneuver. He is six years younger than Chris Paul and offers them an elite point guard immediately to pair with Randle.
The problem is, Lillard is on a new four-year, $176.2 million deal, so the Knicks would have to part with significant capital to acquire him. Luckily, New York has been stockpiling draft selections for the past few seasons and has two first-round picks next year they can send to Portland.
While the reality of acquiring Lillard is far from optimistic, the Knicks have the money and draft capital to make it work, but it comes down to the player and his desire to either stay with his current team or take his talents elsewhere.