The Knicks had spent the previous two days creating a baseline for what they hope will be the first steps toward righting the long-struggling franchise, with Leon Rose staging a draft night that satisfied fans, making trades that seemed competent and ripping apart the remnants of last season’s roster.
But the work to be done is arduous, and the competition was put on display as the doors to the free-agent market swung open Friday night.
After decades working on the other side as an agent, Rose reached agreement with a free agent for the first time as a team president. It wasn’t one that would make a splash but simply an efficient deal for a helpful piece, adding Alec Burks on a one-year, $6 million contract.
Burks is a solid short-term acquisition, a 6-6 combo guard who shot 38.5% from beyond the arc last season, but he hardly is the big name fans were hoping for with Rose in place.
A less-than-star-studded free-agent class received an addition when Gordon Hayward opted out of the final year of his contract with the Boston Celtics. As one of two teams with the salary-cap space to absorb his asking price, the Knicks might seem like a fit.
But league sources indicated that Hayward is not placing the Knicks at the top of his wish list, instead hoping to help orchestrate a sign-and-trade deal to return home to Indiana, where he grew up and attended college at Butler.
The Boston Globe reported that there was a huge schism between Boston and Indiana in terms of a sign-and-trade, with the Pacers offering Myles Turner and Doug McDermott and the Celtics asking for Turner, Aaron Holiday and Victor Oladipo.
If the Knicks want to spend, they emerged from the first few hours of free agency holding the most cap space of any team after the Atlanta Hawks agreed to a three-year, $60 million deal with Danilo Gallinari. The Knicks have $35 million in cap space but seemingly nowhere to spend it unless the Pacers’ efforts to acquire Hayward fail.
The Knicks not only have the cap space to sign free agents but the space to absorb contracts, such as Russell Westbrook if they opt to revisit that trade possibility.
The other name that has been on their list of targets is Raptors free-agent point guard Fred VanVleet. As in the case of Hayward, however, with the Raptors hoping to keep VanVleet in place, the Knicks approach the market as a long shot. And for the price that it will cost — believed to be approximately four years and $80 million — VanVleet might have more value to the Raptors than serving as a leader of a rebuilding team such as the Knicks.
The Knicks are more likely to bring in a fallback such as Jeff Teague, who played for Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau and is regarded as a solid locker room presence for a young team.
As the night wore on and the Portland Trail Blazers came to terms with Rodney Hood and Derrick Jones Jr., spending much of the room they had — in addition to dealing for Enes Kanter earlier in the day — sources began to wonder aloud if that might pave the way for Carmelo Anthony to return to New York. His parting was acrimonious, but Phil Jackson is gone now, and Rose has had a long and close relationship with Anthony.
The Knicks were believed to have interest in Timberwolves wing Malik Beasley, but he agreed to a four-year, $60 million deal with Minnesota on Friday.
The Knicks had interest in Christian Wood, who flourished last season with Detroit, but that waned after they drafted Obi Toppin on Wednesday.
Unlike years past, perhaps as a result of the Sacramento Kings and Milwaukee Bucks finding themselves the subject of an NBA investigation after a failed sign-and-trade involving Bogdan Bogdanovic, there was no mad rush of deals being announced at the 6 p.m. start time.
Goran Dragic announced his own deal, a two-year contract to remain with the Miami Heat. And there were odd moments, such as when Dwight Howard tweeted out his excitement about sticking with the Lakers, then promptly deleted the tweet. He later agreed to a deal with Philadelphia.
Notes & quotes: The Knicks acquired the rights to Immanuel Quickley, the 25th pick in the draft; Mathias Lessort (who was the 50th pick in 2017) and a future second-round pick in a three-team trade with Oklahoma City and Minnesota. The Knicks sent the rights to Leandro Bolmaro, the 23rd pick, to Minnesota.