On Monday afternoon, the Knicks will wade into the free-agent market much as they did the previous two years, loaded with salary-cap space. They hope they can convince their primary targets to sign on this time — unlike the previous two offseasons — but still have huge decisions to make.
The Knicks have approximately $50 million in cap space, a figure that drops if they opt to keep their cap holds in place on Derrick Rose ($10 million), Nerlens Noel ($6 million) and Reggie Bullock ($5.5 million).
The free-agent market is not the star-filled list it has been in recent summers or like the summer of 2022 could be. But with a glaring hole at point guard and a desire to not backslide after last season’s 41-31 record and playoff appearance, the Knicks are expected to be players in the chase for some pricey free agents or trade targets.
While their optimal plan might be waiting for Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal to ask for a trade, or to package some of their pieces to take a flier on Cleveland’s Collin Sexton, this is what awaits them if they are ready to spend:
Chris Paul, PG, Suns: Paul is expected to opt out of his $44 million option with the Suns. The question for Knicks president Leon Rose is just how deep the ties are to Paul, with whom he has had a long relationship. Are they good enough to convince Paul to head across the country from Phoenix and his Los Angeles home? Are they good enough to feel confident that handing a 36-year-old point guard a multiyear deal believed to be in the range of $100 million is a smart business decision?
Kyle Lowry, PG, Raptors: Slightly younger than Paul and less inclined to remain in place with his current team, Lowry, 35, makes sense for the Knicks — but he also makes sense for a lot of teams who are working to clear space to pursue him as a floor general for a team seeking to elevate to championship contender. Miami is believed to be the most ardent suitor. New Orleans, Dallas, the Knicks and possibly Philadelphia, not to mention his current team, are expected to make pitches.
Kawhi Leonard, SF, Clippers: Undoubtedly the best talent on the market with reports that he will opt out of his player option, but he comes with a disclaimer: He likely will miss the entire 2021-22 season as he recovers from ACL surgery. He is expected to sign a new deal with the Clippers.
Spencer Dinwiddie, PG, Nets: He’s coming off ACL surgery, so his value may be accompanied by question marks. But he figures to be more affordable and less likely to remain with his current team. He’s not the star the other two are, but he’s younger and fits Tom Thibodeau’s attacking style, although he isn’t the three-point threat that Lowry is.
Lonzo Ball, PG, Pelicans: A restricted free agent, Ball certainly seems available. It’s been reported that the Pelicans made moves in an effort to pursue Lowry, but they still don’t have to let Ball walk out the door with no compensation unless a deal is structured to make matching it prohibitive. Do the Knicks want to commit that sort of deal to Ball?
HAVE TO SPEND IT SOMEWHERE
Evan Fournier, SG, Celtics: The Celtics traded for him and seem intent on creating the space to keep him. But he does fit some of the Knicks’ needs for another scoring option.
DeMar DeRozan, SF, Spurs: With the Spurs in a building mode, DeRozan looks to be available, and he showed some improvement as a playmaker. But the soon-to-be 32-year-old seems like a reach for the Knicks, who have greater needs.