Enes Kanter had more than 18 million reasons to stay with the Knicks, and he opted for that over free agency.
Kanter has picked up his $18.66-million player option for the 2018-19 season and will remain the Knicks’ starting center. He announced his intentions on social media Friday, which was the deadline.
Kanter posted a picture of himself in a Knicks jersey in front of a podium with a sign that read: “Make Knicks Great Again.” The Knicks were informed that Kanter was opting in shortly after that, a league source said.
With Kanter officially on the books for next season, the Knicks will have only the $8.6-million midlevel exception and $3.4-million biannual exception to spend on free agents, but they’re not expected to be big spenders this summer. Team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry said as much in the last week. The plan is to have as much salary-cap room as possible for next summer, when Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker and Kevin Love can be free agents.
The Knicks were thin at center before Kanter, 26, opted in. Kyle O’Quinn opted out and will be a free agent. Joakim Noah’s future with the Knicks remains cloudy at best. Second-round pick Mitchell Robinson is a project.
Kanter is a good short-term solution. In the upcoming season, the Knicks will need Kanter’s scoring and rebounding, especially with Kristaps Porzingis sidelined indefinitely after tearing his left ACL in February.
Kanter is a liability on defense but was one of the most productive Knicks last season and is one of the best offensive rebounders in the league. He averaged 14.1 points and 11.0 rebounds — 3.8 off the offensive boards — after coming to the Knicks from Oklahoma City in the Carmelo Anthony trade. It was the first time in his seven-year career that Kanter averaged a double-double.
Had Kanter opted out, it would have been a surprise. He often professed his love for New York and the Knicks last season.
“I told everybody I want to retire as a Knick,” Kanter said in April. “I understand it’s a business, but I told everybody I want to make New York my home.”
It will be for at least one more season.
Despite reports that multiple teams had interest in him, Kanter undoubtedly weighed his options and realized that he wouldn’t have received a salary close to $18.66 million next season if he opted out. He’s an old-school center who plays inside at a time when the NBA wants more athletic big men who can shoot from the perimeter and guard multiple positions.
The Knicks have 12 players under contract for next season, including Trey Burke and Troy Williams, who have partially guaranteed deals. The Knicks also have to sign rookies Kevin Knox and Robinson, which would put them at 14. They could re-sign Michael Beasley by using part of the mid level exception.
Teams are allowed 15 players on the roster, plus two two-way players. Those are for players in the G League, who can spend up to 45 days in the NBA. Luke Kornet and Isaiah Hicks were two-way players last season. The Knicks have reached an agreement in principle with Arizona shooting guard Allonzo Trier on a two-way contract for next season.
By opting in, Kanter will have another opportunity to use the stage and platform that comes with playing for the Knicks and in New York to share his political beliefs.
He continues to speak out about the Turkish government and specifically President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Prosecutors are seeking more than four years in prison for Kanter on charges that he insulted Erdogan on Twitter. They want to try him in absentia.
His father, Mehmet Kanter, reportedly has been charged with “membership in a terror group” by the Turkish government and could face five to 10 years in prison if convicted. Enes Kanter believes they’re trying to punish his father because of things the center has said.
“No matter what happens, I will continue to keep fighting for human rights and freedom of speech, justice and democracy above all,” he said in a statement. “I will stand for what I believe in. All I’m doing is trying to be the voice of all those innocent people.”