When the clock hit 6 p.m., the official start to free-agent negotiations, it took less than a minute for the first deals to trickle in. Lonzo Ball to Chicago leaked out. Then Kyle Lowry to Miami. Mike Conley signed on to remain in Utah and Chris Paul agreed to remain in Phoenix.
Left out of that flurry of point guard signings were the Knicks, who entered the free-agent market flush with cash and in dire need of help. But before the night was over, they came to an agreement with Evan Fournier on a four-year, $78 million deal and brought back three of their own free agents.
Bit by bit, they made their way through the market, agreeing to bring back Alec Burks on a three-year, $30 million deal, Nerlens Noel with a three-year, $32 million deal and Derrick Rose for three years and $43 million. The Fournier deal is reported to include a team option on the fourth year.
Fournier, who will turn 29 in the opening weeks of the season, averaged 17.1 points last season, converting a career-best 41.3% from beyond the arc on 6.7 attempts per game.
While Fournier, a wing with range and ballhandling skills, is an upgrade for a team desperately in need of shooting and offensive creators, it’s hard to look at the current roster configuration and see how the Knicks can repeat their No. 4-seed showing of this past season.
For the third straight offseason, the Knicks entered the free-agent market with high hopes and left with fans wondering what exactly has changed. Two summers ago, the Knicks hoped to chase Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving and wound up settling for other pieces — although Julius Randle certainly has changed some of that thinking. Last summer the Knicks pursued Gordon Hayward and Fred VanVleet before signing a handful of one-year deals.
This time, hopes of a big splash again left them with a trickle of talent coming back.
It wasn’t just that the Knicks entered the market with the most free-agent cash of any team and had the usual draw of the Garden and New York. The Knicks had a functional 2020-21 season that put them in the playoffs, a Most Improved Player in Randle and the Coach of the Year in Tom Thibodeau, as well as young talent to lure players to sign on.
Is this all there is? For a team that set the bar high this season with the arrival of Thibodeau and the ascension of Randle and RJ Barrett, the Knicks seemed set on taking the next step.
But on draft night last week, they resisted the high cost to move up in the draft and actually moved back instead, still in asset acquisition mode.
They grabbed wing Quentin Grimes and point guard Miles McBride in the draft, neither of whom projects as a starter. The three players they brought back were all key contributors last year but were brought in as bench pieces. Noel had to step in and performed admirably when Mitchell Robinson was injured. Rose took over the starting point guard job in the playoffs over Elfrid Payton. Burks was a backup to Reggie Bullock, who agreed to terms with Dallas.
The Knicks still have assets in place — a surplus of draft picks and some reasonable contracts — to use if they want to enter the trade market. But the deals brought them right to the edge of the $112 million salary cap, meaning any additional signings would dictate some sort of creativity, a sign-and-trade deal or a bargain short-term deal.
Fournier currently is playing for France in the Olympics, where one of the Knicks' other point guard options, Luca Vildoza, has been playing for Argentina. Vildoza, who was announced as part of the Knicks' Summer League roster Monday, has a non-guaranteed contract worth $3.4 million for next season.