New York Knicks fans may not feel great about their squad's second-round loss to the Miami Heat, but this was the Knicks' most successful postseason run in a decade (tying 2013 as their best in 23 seasons).
But naturally, faithful Knicks aficionados expect more from their franchise, especially against an injured Heat team without Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo. Is the Julius Randle/Jalen Brunson/RJ Barrett trio enough star power to propel the franchise into serious contention? Does New York just need to add depth to take that step, or is fundamental change required?
What the Knicks Already Have
The Brunson acquisition last summer was a massive success. Randle earned another All-Star nod and was named to the All-NBA third team. Barrett was a steady 19.6 point-per-game contributor. Yet the Knicks fell short.
Randle shot just 37.4 percent from the field and 25.8 percent from three in the playoffs. No regular rotation players hit better than Barrett's below-average 32.8 percent from deep.
But the Knicks have several productive rotation players like Josh Hart, Mitchell Robinson, Quentin Grimes, Immanuel Quickley and Isaiah Hartenstein. The team is still looking for consistency from Obi Toppin, but overall, New York has a very solid foundation to build upon.
Who Might (or Should) Leave?
In general, New York is in an odd position where every player on the roster is under contract for next season (except for two-ways Trevor Keels and Duane Washington Jr.).
The biggest free-agent question is Hart, who has a $13 million player option he is expected to decline. Most teams won't have more than the non-taxpayer mid-level exception to offer (approximately $12.2 million starting salary), but those with cap room could provide a substantial raise.
"Pencil in Hart to get paid by the Knicks," one Eastern Conference executive said. "CAA represents him, and they have a very strong relationship with the team. I don't know what he'll get, but maybe $18-20 million."
New York needs to decide on Derrick Rose's $15.6 million team option, and it's probably safe to say he won't be back next season. The franchise could opt him in as necessary salary ballast in trade.
Evan Fournier is at a high number ($18.9 million) for falling out of coach Tom Thibodeau's rotation. He has a team option for 2024-25 at $19 million that can easily be declined. Rose and Fournier represent $35.5 million of potentially expiring salary, which could be extremely valuable should the Knicks find a trade partner.
Miles McBride, Jericho Sims, Isaiah Roby and DaQuan Jeffries are on minimum deals. Roby and Jeffries aren't guaranteed and could be offloaded in trade if needed or get a chance to earn a roster spot in training camp. Sims, who has $600,000 guaranteed, is probably worth developing further, as is McBride, whose team option needs to be decided before July.
Rich In Picks
The old-school Knicks had a reputation for throwing away draft picks in trades; the franchise has been significantly more conservative over the last several years (dating through the Phil Jackson regime), which has the team in a pick-rich position.
While the team did give up its No. 23 first in June to the Portland Trail Blazers to acquire Hart, the Knicks may have a Dallas first if the Mavericks fall below 10 in the lottery on May 16. Regardless, that pick will convey by 2025 (top-10 protected; otherwise, it converts to a 2025 second-rounder).
In addition to all of its own future firsts, New York has two or three extra in 2024 from the Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards (both with lengthy protections) and possibly the Mavericks. The Knicks will also get a Milwaukee Bucks 2025 first, provided it's in the 5-30 range.
Only a few teams in the league can match or beat the Knicks in pick currency (notably the New Orleans Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz).
Several NBA sources over the past couple of years have expressed they believe the Knicks will ultimately end up with Karl-Anthony Towns, a CAA client.
If so, would the Knicks want to add Towns to complement their top three or send out Randle or Barrett? No one polled expects Brunson to be available, but sourcing was of mixed opinion on what's next for New York.
Other big names suggested as potential Knicks targets include Bradley Beal, Kyle Kuzma (expected to be a free agent this summer) and OG Anunoby. Generally speaking, the Knicks could be a suitor for the next star who demands a trade.
Should opportunity strike, the Knicks may not have to break up their top-three players with Rose and Fournier as outgoing salaries. If so, the team could include its haul of picks and some of its younger players like Robinson, Quickley, Grimes or Toppin.
Beware the Second Apron
Finally, under the incoming collective bargaining agreement rules, teams face harsh restrictions and punishments for spending over the second apron (projected to be $179.5 million for 2023-24).
But the price the Knicks are paying for their top-three players (under $30 million apiece) is a relative bargain—and why breaking it up is less likely than supplementing the trio. The team could add the $50.1 million Towns is set to earn for 2024-25, re-sign Hart and others, and still manage under the second apron in future years.
Sacrifices would be made—perhaps Mitchell, Toppin and at least one of Grimes or Quickley—but New York has sufficient flexibility to make a bold move without stripping its core to the bone.
The team is progressing positively following its second-round postseason run with draft and financial flexibility. And while the Knicks chose not to go all-in on Donovan Mitchell in trade talks this past season, look for the franchise to be in a similar, ready and willing position to make a big offseason move.
The question will be what comes available, and will the Knicks be willing to pay the price?