NBA Free Agency Primer: Will Knicks remain conservative or make a splash?

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:

Top Targets

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.”

Backup plan

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.

Place holders

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.

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:

(starting salary range based on ESPN’s projection)

PG: Spencer Dinwiddie ($18-20M), Lonzo Ball ($18-20M), Dennis Schroder ($16-18M), Devonte Graham ($12-14M), Reggie Jackson ($10-12M), Cameron Payne ($8-10M)

SG: Norman Powell ($18-20M), Evan Fournier ($14-16M), Danny Green ($8-10M), Malik Monk ($6-8M)

SF: Duncan Robinson ($14-16M), Josh Hart ($10-12M), Kelly Oubre, Jr. ($10-12M), Carmelo Anthony ($4-6M)

C: Richaun Holmes ($12-14M), Andre Drummond ($10-12M), Javale McGee (veteran minimum)

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.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks: Luca Vildoza to be tested vs Team USA in Las Vegas camp

luca vildoza, knicks

The New York Knicks will have their first look at Luca Vildoza against NBA competition since his signing when Argentina plays Team USA in Las Vegas in an exhibition match next month.

Vildoza will join Denver Nuggets’ rookie guard Facundo Campazzo in Argentina’s backcourt. The Knicks will have the chance to see him go up against a star-laden Team USA’s backcourt led by Portland’s superstar Damian Lillard. Joining Lillard in Team USA’s backcourt are Devin Booker (Phoenix), Bradley Beal (Washington), Zach LaVine (Chicago), and Jrue Holiday (Milwaukee).

Fourth-ranked Argentina is scheduled to play the world’s no.1 Team USA on July 13 (3 pm PDT) at MGM’s Michelob Ultra Arena. Tickets to the game are selling for as low as $62 to as high as $120. You can buy your ticket here.

The exhibition match is part of Argentina’s three-week training camp before flying to Tokyo. The national teams of Nigeria, Australia, and Spain will also see action in the five-day event in Las Vegas.

Vildoza will leave New York on Sunday to join Argentina’s national team, according to his camp. The 25-yeard old Argentinian guard had been working out with the Knicks since his arrival last month. His camp also revealed that three more Knicks players joined him in his final week before leaving for Las Vegas.

Vildoza signed a four-year $13.6 million deal to join the Knicks this season with the next three years non-guaranteed. The Knicks will have the chance to evaluate him further in the Olympics, the Summer League, and the training camp before committing to a full guarantee next season.

Games against Australia (July 10, 8:30 pm PDT) and Nigeria (July 12, 1:30 pm PDT) will serve as Vildoza’s warmup before the much-awaited showdown against Team USA.

Australia also features a backcourt of NBA veteran Patty Mills (San Antonio) and Matthew Dellavedova (Cleveland). Nigeria, coached by Mike Brown, is no slouch either, with several NBA players in their lineup that includes Campazzo’s teammate Monte Morris, OG Anonuby (Toronto), Josh Okogie (Minnesota), Precious Achiuwa (Miami), Al-Farouq Aminu (Chicago), Jahlil Okafor (Detroit), and Jordan Nwora (Milwaukee).

Argentina is bracketed with Spain, Japan, and the winner of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Kaunas, Lithuania, where Dallas’ young star Luka Doncic will attempt to lead Slovenia to their first-ever Olympics appearance.

In the event Argentina will play for the gold medal, Vildoza will have a tight turnaround time between the Olympics and the NBA Summer League.

The Olympics gold medal match will be played on Aug. 6, while the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas is penciled to start on Aug. 8.

Two more other Knicks players — RJ Barrett (Canada) and restricted free agent Frank Ntilikina (France) — will also see action in the Olympics.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau raves about Zach LaVine, could trade be a possibility?

New York Knicks, Zach Lavine

The New York Knicks fell to the Chicago Bulls on Monday evening, making it their second consecutive loss after submitting to the Los Angeles Clippers over the weekend. In the contest, second-year guard RJ Barrett finished with 14 points, his lowest over the past few days, as Julius Randle recorded a team by 23 and 11 rebounds. Rookie Immanuel Quickley logged 16 points over 30 minutes, providing that jolt offense they needed in the fourth quarter. However, it simply wasn’t enough, as the Knicks’ defense failed to rise to the occasion, as they seem gassed/exhausted in the final moments.

However, head coach Tom Thibodeau got a glance at one of his former players, Zach LaVine, who finished with 21 points and shot 50% from the field. He also hauled in five rebounds and recorded three assists. He was dominant in the contest, connecting on multiple three-pointers that sealed the win and sent the Knicks packing.

Thibodeau raved about LaVine after the contest and once again fuels a dim flame that the Knicks could target him as a trade option.

“He’s continued to grow I think each year,’’ Thibodeau said. “I think sometimes we tend to forget the steps that players take to get to the point to where they are today. and for Zach, he started off, I think he scored around 13 or 14 points a game his first year. Then there was another four-point jump. Now he’s up to 26, 27. He’s shooting 50, 40, 90. He’s an elite shooter. He’s a great athlete. … But he’s a great guy, a hard worker. So you knew he would continue to improve. He’s playing at a very high level.’’

The New York Knicks should at least give Chicago a call:

While the Knicks don’t necessarily need another big man, LaVine is more of a shooting guard that can slice and dice to the basket and has also seen an improvement in his defensive abilities. His growth over the past few seasons is noticeable, going from an average of 16.7 points in 2017-18 to 26.6 this season over 19 games. He’s also seen a career-high assist average this year with 5.1 and another personal record of 4.8 defensive rebounds. Some might say he’s a mirage in terms of trade value, but the Knicks desperately need a 6-foot-5 shooter and natural scorer.

It is unlikely the Bulls will even consider trading him away, but if they’re willing to talk, the Knicks should engage and value him highly.

LaVine La Vida Loca: Bulls’ gunner hits dagger in heartbreaking Knicks loss

Around this time last year, Zach LaVine mused about Tom Thibodeau, his former coach in Minnesota Timberwolves.

“Look, I understand the business of basketball,’’ LaVine told Chicago Sun-Times in February last year. “Yeah, he traded me, but for that one season, he did coach me. He gave me an opportunity. He put the ball in the hands of a 20, 21-year-old kid and said, ‘Go hoop.’ That’s bigger than the business of basketball.”

On Monday night, in Thibodeau’s return to the city that gave him his first break as head coach, LaVine showed the confidence his former coach has instilled in him.

LaVine scored 10 points in the final quarter, including the dagger three-pointer that sealed Chicago Bull’s 110-102 victory over his former coach and the New York Knicks.

The Knicks ran into a series of costly turnover, defensive breakdown, and wide-open miss in the final minute that cost Thibodeau a victory over his former team.

Thibodeau’s record against the Bulls since his unceremonious firing in 2015 is now 3-2 following the tough loss.

And LaVine, who Thibodeau unleashed with a 37-minute average playing time during his first coaching year in Minnesota, played a significant role.

An Immanuel Quickley long-range bomb with 3:32 left gave the Knicks their first lead, 95-94, since the first half.

Both teams went toe-to-toe until Coby White answered Alec Burk’s triple with his own to give the Bull’s a three-point cushion, 103-100, inside the final 42.4 seconds.

Julius Randle’s fifth turnover set up LaVine’s dagger that extended the Bulls’ lead, 106-100, with 22 seconds left.

RJ Barrett missed a wide-open corner three off a timeout while LaVine iced the game at the line sending the Knicks (9-13) to their second straight loss.

The Knicks’ defense was able to contain Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen in the fourth quarter. But they had no answer to LaVine, who is reportedly on the Knicks’ radar as the trade deadline approaches, according to Ian Begley of SNY.

Markkanen led the Bulls with 30 points, all coming through the first three quarters. LaVine added 21 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and beyond the arc (3-for-6).

Thibodeau lamented the Knicks’ defensive breakdown that led to LaVine’s killer three-pointer down the stretch.

“The issue with LaVine and the pick and roll, and in some cases, with Markkanen, it’s gonna make you react to the ball particularly late. Like with Zach that we saw at the end when we had a breakdown that left him open,” Thibodeau said during his postgame interview. “He’s a great shooter, a phenomenal shooter. He’s a 50/90/40 guy.”

The Knicks were able to limit LaVine to just 11 points in the first three quarters.

But they couldn’t stop him when it mattered.

The Knicks battled back from a double-digit deficit early in the second half but looked spent in the second night of a back-to-back schedule.

The three-point shooting remained a concern for the Knicks, who ranked last in the league. They shot a paltry 6-for-29 from deep, and they were 2-for-15 in the first half. But thanks to their 17 free throws, they were only down by four, 59-55, at the break.

Randle played his usual all-around game (21 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists), but his last turnover on a spin move would make him lose sleep tonight.

Burks came off the bench with 18 points, while Quickley had another solid outing (16 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists in 31 minutes).

Nerlens Noel was also a massive part of the second unit that kept the Knicks in the game. He got the lion’s share of minutes at center with eight points, seven boards, and a game-high five shot blocks in 28 minutes. Mitchell Robinson, who picked up three quick fouls, played only 21 minutes and produced nine points and eight rebounds.

Barrett, who the Knicks and Thibodeau hope would develop into a go-to-wing like LaVine, struggled for 14 points on 7-of-17 shooting, including 0-for-3 from deep.

The Knicks will have a chance to avenge this loss in their rematch on Wednesday.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks have their eyes on star Chicago scorer in trade

New York Knicks, Zach Lavine

The New York Knicks have been playing far better basketball this year than compared to recent seasons. On Friday evening, they completely dominated the Cleveland Cavaliers, holding them to just 81 points. As for New York, second-year player RJ Barrett scored 24 points, connecting on 8-of-19 shots from the field, and rookie Immanuel Quickley once again looked like a star. He finished the night with 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting. It finally seems as if the Knicks have a few younger players that can produce on a daily basis.

Add in Julius Randle and a few solid depth pieces, and the Knicks seem like a team with positive momentum. In addition, they also have a draft capital and player assets they can utilize in a potential trade. The Knicks have recently been connected to Lonzo Ball, but weigh IQ developing at such an astronomical rate, pairing him with an elite shooting guard makes more sense.

That is where Chicago Bulls star score Zach LaVine enters the fold. Reports have indicated that the Knicks are intrigued by LaVine and believe he could be a perfect long-term solution for them, especially when paired with IQ.

Ian Begley of SNY stated about the Knicks’ interest:

At the very least, the LaVine situation is something to keep an eye on between now and the March 25 trade deadline. And it’s something the Knicks are continuing to monitor.

If Chicago decided to engage on LaVine trade talks, the Knicks have five first-round picks over the next three drafts, so they can offer the Bulls significant draft capital. The Bulls, you’d think, would seek another young star in return for LaVine.

LaVine is a 6-foot-5 and 200-pound athlete who is averaging 27 points per game over 35.6 minutes. He’s primarily played at shooting guard, averaging .502 from the field and .397 from beyond the arc. Overall, he is a phenomenal player who would immediately inject an offensive weapon into the Knicks’ starting five. Considering how many power forwards New York currently has, acquiring an elite shooter that has the size to attack the rim is exactly what they need to take a step forward.

However, acquiring LaVine will certainly be costly, but the Knicks’ draft capital might be intriguing. Nonetheless, the Bulls might seek an added player in the deal, so throwing in Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina might get the job done.

Report: New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets keeping tabs on Zach LaVine

New York Knicks, Zach Lavine

According to SNY’s Ian Begley, the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets “have been monitoring” Zach LaVine’s situation with the Chicago Bulls.

And it’s worth noting that both the Knicks and the Nets are among the teams who have been monitoring LaVine’s situation in Chicago. Per SNY sources, both teams have done background work on LaVine to be prepared for the possibility that Chicago ends up listening to trade offers on the 25-year-old guard.

The Bulls finished the 2019-20 NBA season as the 11th seed in the Eastern Conference (22-43), missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season. LaVine has two seasons remaining on a four-year, $78 million deal, initially signed with the Sacramento Kings and matched by the Bulls in the summer of 2018.

LaVine has been Chicago’s leading scorer in each of the last two seasons. Last season the 25-year-old averaged 25.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 45.0 percent from the field and 38.0 percent from beyond the arc.

The Knicks could potentially offer the Bulls some combination of Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr. and their two first-round draft selections in both the 2020 and 2021 NBA Draft for LaVine. New York has also been linked to Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker.

New York finished the regular season as the 12th seed in the East (21-45), missing the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season. They’re looking to name a head coach for next season.

The Nets could potentially offer the Bulls some combination of Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, Spencer Dinwiddie and their first-round draft selections in both the 2020 and 2021 NBA Draft for LaVine. Brooklyn has also been linked to Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal.

Brooklyn is the seventh seed in the East (30-34), preparing for the NBA restart in Walt Disney World next week under interim head coach Jacque Vaughn, who took over for Kenny Atkinson in March.