Can the Knicks Be Contenders in a Year?

The New York Knicks have not been good in a very long time. That is no secret. They aren’t expected to be any good in the upcoming season, but they may be able to move towards contention after that.

This year’s Knicks will, and should actively try to be bad. Kristaps Porzingis is out for at least most of the season, and likely all of it, with a torn ACL. The Knicks have no reason to rush him back, because it isn’t like just adding him back makes them contenders for a championship, so I am on board with sitting him all year and having him all the way healthy.

Like I said, the rest of the team is also bad. The Knicks are obviously tanking this year to get another top pick, as they should, and bringing back Porzingis would also cost them some valuable losses.

Assuming the Knicks tank fairly successfully and are in the top five picks, preferably top three, of next year’s draft, then they will be in position to pick a superstar, preferably at a guard spot, or anywhere from the 1, 2, or 3 positions, really. That is obviously big.

But the Knicks will be in position to also do some cool stuff in free agency.

Right now, their starting lineup is something like Frank Ntilikina/Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, Lance Thomas, and Enes Kanter. Hardaway, Lee, and Kanter all make pretty sizable salaries, but the Knicks will lose Kanter’s near-$20M contract, and Lee is expected to be moved before the start of this season, so their money is off the books, clearing a max contract slot.

The Knicks will be able to make at least one splash in free agency with that slot, and the obvious fit right now is Kyrie Irving.

I usually try not to get too excited about upcoming free agents. I was burned as a teen when I expected LeBron to come to the Knicks in 2010- a foolish thought. However, I am all-in on this Kyrie possibility.

Kyrie is from New Jersey so he has at least a little bit of an attachment to the area, but he has also made it clear that he wants a team where he is the leader, which he would be in New York. He wanted that in Boston, but it hasn’t really happened, and it’s even less likely to happen now with the reinsertion of Gordon Hayward into the mix.

Kyrie, even with Porzingis on the roster, would be the main guy, without a question. Porzingis is loved, sure, but I think everyone knows that for the next several years Kyrie is still better individually than KP. I also think they could work well together. We haven’t seen Porzingis play with a great point guard yet, and it seems like his play style would be great to match with a guy like Irving, who can go get a bucket for himself but also work pick-and-roll with KP.

Between adding Kyrie, another top-three pick, reinserting KP into the equation, and the further development of Ntilikina and 2018 first rounder Kevin Knox, that would be a playoff team, but they could aim even higher with a little creativity.

The Knicks will still have some costly contracts on the books even with the assumed departures of Kanter and Lee. Lee is on the books for next year, but his contract is tradable, and the Knicks will trade it, even for just a second round pick.

After those two, though, they still have Joakim Noah’s $19 million hit and Tim Hardaway’s contract which will basically 2 years and $36M left on it.

Noah will be on the last year of the deal. Throw in a future first or even a couple of seconds and some team will probably take on that contract for one year. After that, they will be right around the price point to get another max player, if my calculations are correct, but not quite enough for one. They’ll need to find a suitor for Hardaway, who I think is a good player, just not worth what his salary is.

If, and it is a big if, the Knicks are able to get rid of Hardaway’s salary, then they will be able to sign another max player and have more space to boost the bench.

Some say that max player could be Kawhi Leonard because he said that he wanted to be traded to either Los Angeles or New York when he requested his trade from San Antonio, but I don’t buy that, and I don’t think Kyrie would really want to play with him, because Kawhi is the better player.

Jimmy Butler, though, will be a free agent and could be another very good complementary piece to fit in and make a big three with Kyrie and KP, who will also be on a max salary by then, but they can still make that work.

With that signing, they would have a starting lineup of:

  • dynamic playmaker Kyrie Irving
  • 3-and-D specialist Frank Ntilikina (that three pointer is going to develop)
  • Two-way star Jimmy Butler
  • Young, potentially budding superstar Kevin Knox
  • Kristaps Porzingis

Knox had a great summer league, which doesn’t actually mean much but has gotten everyone excited and seeing some of that potential that he has. Knox could probably start at the 3 or the 4, and it seems like he will be able to score and play some good defense, especially if he’s not expected to be the number one guy.

Ntilikina was already the No. 1 pick-and-roll defender in the NBA a year ago. His defense is special, so if he can be even an average off-ball three-point shooter, then they’re set with him as a nice starter who can offset Kyrie’s relative defensive limitations.

KP’s natural position is the center spot, so this lineup would push him there where he will reach his full potential with some teammates that can actually play a bit.

With this team, they would also have Mitchell Robinson off the bench as a potentially elite rim-protector and whoever their draft pick is in 2019, presumably a shooting guard or small forward who can score a bit as the sixth man like Cam Reddish or RJ Barrett, if the tank goes well. If nothing else, they’ll have another good role player off the bench regardless, assuming they don’t mess that up.

There will be room to add another bench piece or two in this dream-scenario. Maybe that would be Enes Kanter, who I think has a lot of value as a bench piece rather than a starter, coming back on a team-friendly deal after making his big money?

I won’t call this scenario likely, but there are reports that Kyrie and Jimmy Butler have discussed the move with each other, and I think it has a decent shot of happening if the Knicks’ front office can get creative, which I expect Scott Perry and Steve Mills to do, at this point.


Featured Image via Flickr/Erik Drost

I am a direct product of the 1996 World Series Championship. I love talking about the Yankees, Knicks, Giants, or just about anything else! Feel free to follow me on Twitter (@BigBabyDavid_) and Instagram (@bigbabydavid)

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