With the free-agent market opening Sunday, the Knicks have approximately $70 million in salary-cap space available, an enviable position that the franchise worked to put in place. Now, the hard part is getting someone to take their money.
The Knicks are long shots for the services of the top-tier free agents but will chase them starting at 6 p.m. Sunday, hoping for meetings to sell the stars on their rebuilding plan. Each day this week we will look at one of those targets and detail how he would fit and why he would — or wouldn’t — come to Madison Square Garden.
Upside: Michael Jordan wants to keep him. Do you need to know anything more if you’re a Knicks fan? There is plenty though. Walker played in all 82 games last season, the fourth time in his eight-year career that he has played in at least 80 games. A three-time All-Star, Walker was named to an All-NBA team (third team) for the first time in his career this past season. Well-rounded offensively, he has ranked in the top 20 in scoring four times and in assists three times. He has the ability to stretch the floor, averaging a career-high 8.9 three-point attempts last season.
Downside: While he is well-rounded on offense, he has never been exactly a defensive stopper and in a point guard-driven league right now having a weak point at the top can spoil David Fizdale’s desires to be a defensive-minded team. While he is regarded as one of the top point guards in the game, he has lifted the Hornets into the playoffs just twice. He is listed at just 6-1 in a league that is adding more and more point guards who tower over him. The Celtics are also reportedly the front-runners to sign Walker in free agency.
Why the Knicks should sign him: When the Knicks went 17-65 last season, the message was player development and patience. If that time is past and the Knicks are ready to win it needs to start at point guard and the Knicks don’t have the answer on the roster. Dennis Smith Jr. is a constant highlight reel, but has not shown that he can be a floor general on a winning team. Walker, even though he couldn’t drag the Hornets into the playoffs last season, has developed into a star at the point. He is a New Yorker and there remains nothing more legendary in New York basketball lore than New York point guards.
Why the Knicks should not sign him: Did we mention he’s from New York? The Rice High School product may take pride in his Bronx roots, but he has spoken openly about his affection for Charlotte, making it home to his family rather than seeking a return to New York. Walker also has talked about taking less than the super-max contract he qualified for to facilitate the team adding pieces around him. That may make the salary differences between New York and Charlotte less onerous, but he also has said that the fifth year the Hornets can offer is important to him at 29 years old, aware that this could be his time to lock in his future.