The Knicks don’t have to worry about the pesky playoffs as their season mercifully came to a screeching halt last week.
Team president Phil Jackson can now fix his eyes solely on the upcoming free-agent market and which targets to woo. His first order of business may be trying to convince some of his own talent in returning, led by Lance Thomas, who will be an unrestricted free agent and could cash in following a better-than-expected season after signing a one-year, $1.5 million deal last offseason.
Thomas’s deal last season was a little higher than the league’s veteran’s minimum. And his new upcoming deal shouldn’t have much effect on the Knicks’ projected cap space of $20 million once he seeks greener pastures, because even if the Duke and St. (New Jersey) Benedict’s product decides to go for bigger money, the Knicks could get him to return for the mid-level slot, which starts at $4.5 million per.
A hometown discount isn’t out of the question.
But for the Knicks – and Knicks fans – they want to outsource the help, and acquire a big-name.
During his exit meetings, Jackson said he believes it’ll be easier to sell prospective free agents on this franchise than last summer, when the team was coming off a 17-win season. Things looked awfully bleak then, and they had just drafted an unknown rookie which Knicks fans themselves booed – and cried – over. But flash-forward to this summer, and the Knicks are armed with salary cap space, they’ve improved by 15 wins, and that same rookie now appears to be on the verge of greatness.
“We’re talking about a team in the making,” Jackson said, adding that he’s heard through the grapevine that Kristaps Porzingis is a guy people would enjoy playing alongside. “We’ve had so many people come up to us and say they really want to play with a guy like KP, which is a nice thing to hear from various agents who have players who want to play with a young guy who’s progressing, [and] who has ability to rise in this league … we feel we have an attractive product here.”
Will the product be attractive enough to sell stars on joining Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony? Knicks fans anxiously await that answer.
Metro takes a look at a few names on Jackson’s wish list.
1.Kevin Durant: One of the purest scorers the league has ever seen, no Knicks free agent wish list would be complete without the four-time scoring champ. Durant, who averaged 28.2 points per game, is surprisingly a forgotten man when the debate of best player in the league comes up, as he’s lost some shine to Steph Curry, LeBron James, and even his own teammate, the walking triple-double Russell Westbrook. With apologies to Anthony and Porzingis, Durant would be the unquestioned go-to option here. And the allure of finally being the alpha-dog in the alpha market could be a great lure. Keep in mind that when it comes to winning and making deep playoff runs, while a Durant-led Knicks squad won’t be the team to beat, he’d at least have an easier road of getting to the Finals through the Eastern Conference. It’s a long shot that Jackson lures Durant, but it’s a shot he must take.
2. Mike Conley: He may be the best available free agent point guard, with apologies to Rajon Rondo. While Rondo is good buds with Anthony and would likely welcome the recruitment to New York, Conley is a better fit in the Triangle offense – even though Anthony cringes at the thought of even using the word "triangle" in any selling pitch. There are other options that can be had by the Knicks, including Minnesota's Ricky Rubio and Atlanta's Jeff Teague, but both have one year left on their respective deals, and could only be acquired via trade. Jackson tried and failed on two separate occasions with both, so Conley would be the less messy option. Just show him the money, and he’d likely leave Memphis and don a Knicks uni. Even coming off an Achilles injury, Conley would be a vast upgrade at the point guard position over Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant.
3. Nicolas Batum: Just now hitting his stride, Batum, 27, is coming off a career year in which he averaged a career-high 15 points, to go along with six rebounds and six assists per game. He also shot a respectable 35 percent in 3s and added nearly a steal and block per game. Those may not scream must-have numbers, but if there’s ever a fit for Jackson’s Triangle offense, it’s Batum. The 6-foot-8 Frenchman is a diverse player who can play four positions effectively, including point forward in this offense. Jackson had Scottie Pippen in Chicago do many of the same things, and while Batum is certainly not on that level, he’d be a fantastic fit in New York’s style of play. Anthony and Porzingis will man the forward spots, but Batum is such a chameleon that he can be plugged into the starting shooting guard slot and be an immediate upgrade over Arron Afflalo – who the Knicks are essentially trying to get him to opt-out of his 2016-17 player option anyway.