The Perfect Knicks Offseason: Win-Now Edition
Last week, I kicked off the "Knicks Perfect Offseason" series - in which I'm analyzing all the different paths Leon Rose could take to improve the team - by looking at the route many Knick fans wished they took this season: doubling down on the draft and internal development.
Judging from the responses on Twitter (which is obviously representative of the entire fan base), this seems like it would be met with much joy.
And why wouldn't it be? The Knicks may not have a bona fide star like Luka, Ja or Zion, but RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson provide enough intrigue and promise to make fans feel like they're worth building around. If New York hands the reigns to a rookie point guard they pick in the draft, they'll not only add another piece to the young core but also position themselves nicely for a loaded 2021 class.
It's far from a foolproof plan, but with the amount of foolishness that has taken place within this organization for a very long time, it provides as good a chance of success as any.
It also might not be realistic. When longtime Knicks' scribe Marc Berman joined me for a conversation earlier this month, he opined that Leon Rose was brought here for one reason and one reason only: to chase stars.
And that was before COVID-19 came and disrupted our way of life, to the point that many empty seats at MSG - which boasts the third highest ticket prices in the league - may become the norm. The Knicks may be worth some $4 billion, but like every other owner, James Dolan is not above being concerned with the bottom line.
Which brings us to Scenario No. 2 in our series: trying to win now.
Before we get to these steps, a caveat: trading for Chris Paul may be the most obvious first step on this path, but there's a real chance his contract scares off the Knicks, even if the asking price is low. For today's purposes, we'll go in a different direction (plus I already wrote about what a Paul trade might look like earlier this month)
Step 1: Trade Julius Randle to the Suns for Kelly Oubre Jr.
No, you're not seeing things. This is the same Step 1 as last week, but it just goes to show that Randle is detrimental to just about any direction the Knicks might want to take (unless that direction is some sort of torture experiment involving their loyal fans).
I went through six realistic Randle trade scenarios on Friday morning here. None are exciting, but when you have an inefficient, defensively indifferent, turnover-prone player making nearly $20 million annually, this is what you're left with.
Of the trades I discussed, Randle and a second round pick for Kelly Oubre Jr. would fit this plan the best.
Step 2: Decline (almost) everyone's team options
It's not hard to come up with an argument for keeping around Taj Gibson or Wayne Ellington if there's no incentive to win next season. Both established themselves as respected vets on a team that needed every ounce of leadership it could get.
But if the goal is to win games, keeping each at $9.8 and $8 million respectively doesn't make sense. Bobby Portis' $15 million team option would also be declined. Elfrid Payton at $8 million is a bit rich, but as a backup, his lack of shooting is more workable, especially if the Knicks can surround him with some floor-spacers.
Reggie Bullock is the closest thing to a lock to stay. He tailed off following a hot start, but at $4 million, he provides enough value to be worth keeping.
Step 3: Package this year's draft pick in a larger trade
This year's likely top ten players in the lottery offer a diverse set of skills, but they all have two things in common:
1. None are sure things
2. No one figures to be helpful right away
For that reason, trading the pick for something that would return immediate dividends makes sense. The problem is that the value of the pick isn't going to be very high. This is even true if it lands in the top two or three, as there's a real chance Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball, James Wiseman or Deni Avdija don't play up to the cost of their rookie salary scale at that high of a selection.
But teams always talk themselves into the unknown. One of those teams - hopefully - is the Chicago Bulls.
Step 4: Go get Markkanen
Who knows what the Bulls' asking price would be for the soon-to-be-23-year-old stretch four that slumped to 42 percent from the field and 34 percent from three in his third season? Mark Schanowski of NBA Sports Chicago recently wrote this about the future of the Bulls' big man:
"Markkanen’s future is the biggest question facing the franchise right now. Was he held back by the changes to the offensive system this season, or does he simply lack the aggressiveness necessary to average 20 points and 10 rebounds over a full season?"
He posits that Chicago may balk at offering Lauri a near-max extension, which he'll be eligible for this summer, and could look to trade him for an established star.
In lieu of finding one though, might the Knicks offer the best package - say, Kevin Knox, their own draft pick, and one of the Dallas picks? That much would at least get them on the phone.
Regardless of what Chicago demanded, there's a good chance New York would be able to meet the asking price without surrendering one of their own unprotected future first rounders...not that trading away multiple draft picks for an unproven Bulls big man has ever come back to bite the Knicks before.
--rolling eyes emoji--
Step 5: Sign Fred VanVleet
Even if everything above comes together for the Knicks, they'd still need someone to run the show.
Enter Fred VanVleet, who was averaging 17.6 points and 6.6 dimes when the season was put on hold, not to mention is a 38 percent shooter from downtown on high volume.
Will it take close to a max contract to get him? It's entirely possible. But the Knicks are one of the few opposing teams who'll be able to do that and still have room to spare, especially if the cap ends up going down by a significant amount.
This would result in a starting lineup of VanVleet, RJ Barrett, Oubre Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Mitchell Robinson. Not bad.
It could also be even better...
Bonus Moves: Trade for Bradley Beal and sign DeMar DeRozan
You wanna get nuts? Let's get nuts!
RJ, Mitch and two future unprotected Knicks' first rounders might actually represent the best return for Beal that Washington could expect. No, it wouldn't provide the Wizards with a sure-fire future All-Star for the league's best traditional shooting guard, but it's unclear whether such a player would be available anywhere else.
This would beat the theoretical LaVert/Dinwiddie/Allen package the Nets could offer, and Gary Harris' down season means that Denver's Harris/MPJ package might not be as enticing as it otherwise would have been. Absent something crazy from Philadelphia, there is no other obvious candidate.
If the Knicks acquired Beal and got rid of Payton along with every other non-guaranteed contract, they would also likely have enough room to sign DeRozan to a contract that would get him in the door (four years, $90 million?), even with the salaries of VanVleet and Oubre Jr.
Rose would then have to fill out the roster with minimum salaries and find a decent rim-running center, but that shouldn't be too hard given the appeal of a revamped team.
On the insanity scale of 1-10, this plan would rank at about a 13.
It also doesn't mean it can't happen.