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Interesting upgrades will be available if Knicks want to splurge in free agency

Fred VanVleet #23 of the Toronto Raptors handles

Fred VanVleet #23 of the Toronto Raptors handles the ball on offense against the Brooklyn Nets during a preseason game at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York on Friday, Oct 18, 2019. NBA Basketball between the Toronto Raptors and the Brooklyn Nets. Credit: Steven Ryan

Part of the NBA season — and sometimes it’s more exciting than the regular season — occurs when the clock signals the start of free agency and players suddenly come to terms on a new deal within seconds of their liberty.

It’s a big enough event that the NBA last season moved up the beginning of that period from the usual 12:01 a.m. on July 1 to a 6 p.m. start the day before, allowing the news to draw fans in real time rather than the middle of the night.

But now the uncertainty of where players will wind up is just a part of the discussion, because there is no way of knowing when free agency will begin.

With the NBA season suspended since March 11 because of the coronavirus crisis and no concrete plans for a return to play, any efforts to resume likely will push the season past June 30, the last day of yearly contracts and the start of free agency.

Representatives of the NBA and the NBA Players Association said the issue has not been addressed yet, given that the plans to finish this season remain uncertain. But contracts will expire and free agents will be free at some point, and the Knicks certainly will be prepared to secure talent.

Leon Rose remains the lone secure fixture for the Knicks. The team president was in place for less than two weeks when the doors were shuttered on the league.

The Knicks’ last foray into free agency turned quickly into a Plan B when they could not even secure a meeting with top targets. The Knicks signed seven free agents and now have all but one of them on team options for next season. That gives Rose the freedom to remake the roster.

Though the 2021 free-agent class is eyed as the next star-studded shopping spree, for a team such as the Knicks with plenty of needs, this year’s group — whenever they become available — includes plenty of better players than the ones the Knicks have now.

PRIME FREE AGENTS

Anthony Davis, Lakers (player option): Though Davis is expected to opt out of his contract, he didn’t work so hard to get to the Lakers last season just to bolt now, particularly not with LeBron James showing that he’s far from the end of the line.

Brandon Ingram, Pelicans (restricted): The Pelicans may be building with Zion Williamson as the centerpiece, but Ingram’s ascent to All-Star status this season means they will match any offer to keep him in New Orleans.

Gordon Hayward, Celtics (player option): After a devastating injury cost him his first season in Boston, he recovered this season and began to show some of the potential his arrival promised. With a connection to his college coach, Brad Stevens, and a $32 million option, it’s hard to imagine that Hayward won’t stay put.

DeMar DeRozan, Spurs (player option): He remains a talent, averaging 22.1 points, but will he walk away from a $27.7 million player option for the 2020-21 season and enter the market as a wing who plays a mid-range game that more and more teams are moving away from?

Montrezl Harrell, Clippers (unrestricted): His numbers have continued to rise while his salary remained far below his production, but that will change this time. He has proved his value, even while coming off the bench for Los Angeles, and figures to get a big contract as a reward for his hard-nosed style.

FITS FOR THE KNICKS

Fred VanVleet, Raptors (unrestricted): After joining the Raptors as an undrafted free agent, VanVleet has raised his game and started all 48 games he has played this season, pairing with Kyle Lowry in the backcourt when both were healthy. He is a tough player who spent four years at Wichita State, and his 17.6 points and 6.6 assists per game would move him to the top of the Knicks’ point guard depth chart.

Davis Bertans, Wizards (unrestricted): He already has ties to the Knicks in that the Spurs had to trade him to sign Marcus Morris, only to have the Knicks swipe Morris out from under them. He blossomed with Washington, shooting 42% from three-point range, the sort of shooting that would help the Knicks’ foundation of RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson.

Goran Dragic, Heat (unrestricted): He has started only one game for the Heat this season but has played well and has been a big contributor. He’ll be 34 years old next month, so he might take a one-year guarantee at a big number to hold over the Knicks’ point guard spot for now.

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