How the Knicks can become contenders
The New York Knicks figure to have around $38 million in practical cap space available for the upcoming off-season. That is before resigning Kristaps Porzingis and a bevy of other players. Now for the Knicks to be able to create a big 3 of Porzingis and two other all-stars they would need to let Porzingis go into restricted free agency so they do not limit themselves financially. The next step is to find a way to create at least another $30 million in cap space. The steps in doing that are not simple but they are clear. First off they need to trade Lance Thomas and Courtney Lee for expiring contracts. This would be a simple affair, Courtney Lee is a serviceable 3 and D player capable of guarding ones to threes and shooting with the best shooters in the league, as shown by him shooting over 40 percent from 3 on around 3.6 attempts per game over the past two years. Lance Thomas is a very versatile defender and can knock down open shots.
There are two trades that could be done for these players that would benefit everyone involved. One possible trade is with the Philadelphia 76ers, in that trade the 76ers would get Lance Thomas and Courtney Lee in exchange for Wilson Chandler, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2nd round pick. The 76ers get players who can defend and shoot, which would give them added depth and are the perfect players to pair with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and to help the 76ers refute the depth, floor spacing, and defense of the Raptors and Celtics. The Knicks would get 2 expiring contracts which would open up another 20 million in free agency.
The other possible trade is to the New Orleans Pelicans for Nikola Mirotic, Alexis Ajinca, and Ian Clark. The Pelicans losing Mirotic would be a noticeable loss, but they do have Julius Randle to play PF and Lance Thomas could slide into that position as well. In this trade, the Pelicans would get two 3 and D players that would be great fits alongside Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday and they get off paying Alexis Ajinca who is essentially getting paid to not play. The Knicks get 3 expiring contracts and some veterans to help mentor their young players. Especially Ian Clark who has seen firsthand what a championship atmosphere is like. With these trades, the Knicks would have around $59 million in available cap space.
The next step is to stretch and waive big man Joakim Noah. Doing that would save them $12.9 million in cap space for next year, but give them a $6.4 million cap hit for the two summers after that. It is a risk to stretch and waive Noah especially since there is no guarantee that they will get top free agents, but if they could it would be worth it. Obviously buying him out and getting him off the books would be better, but that does not seem to be an option as of now. The next step will be difficult, but if they can find a suitor they need to trade Tim Hardaway Jr. Tim so far has been inefficient, injury prone, and a lackluster defender. There is something to be said for him averaging 17 ppg last year and showing he can create his own offense and him being 26. Teams like the Pistons, Celtics, Raptors, Spurs, Jazz, Clippers, and Bucks would love his ability to create offense for himself. The Jazz could offer Alec Burks and Thabo Sefolosha for Tim Hardaway Jr and a future 2nd round pick. The Knicks would get two expiring contracts, and Sefolosha is a stout defender, a quality that is certainly lacking with this Knicks squad. The Jazz gets a scorer who can start or come off the bench and develop into a reliable scorer who can close games.
These moves would give the Knicks close to $94 million in cap space. With that space, the Knicks could sign 2 all-stars to form a big three with Kristaps Porzingis and be at the top of the East every year and spend the rest of the money on some 3 and D pieces. Or the other route would be to sign 3 all stars and create a legitimate big 4 and then use bird rights and minimums to fill out the roster. The ideal 3 all-stars would be Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant. Then they can legally match whatever Porzingis and Mudiay get, and roll out a starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Kevin Knox, and Kristaps Porzingis. That is a roster full of youth, defensive versatility, shooting, and veteran experience. Of course, there is a noticeable chance they do not go those specific all stars but in a class including Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, DeMarcus Cousins, Al Horford, Khris Middleton, and more, the Knicks have a good chance of getting all-star level players if they create the salary space. Now despite writing this article, I would recommend the Knicks do all but stretching Noah, that is an extremely risky move, and they would be better off just keeping his contract and following all the other steps. If they are successful, we will all be witness to a new era of New York basketball, and the mecca of basketball will become the home of competitive, entertaining basketball once again.