The NBA season still is ongoing, in theory at least, with hopes in the league offices that at some point it will pick up and move forward. But for now, it is halted for at least a month and possibly much longer than that. At some point, the contracts for this season will come to an end and the Knicks will be faced with important decisions.
Leon Rose, still only weeks officially into his role as team President, has inherited a roster that has compiled a 21-45 record and shown little hint of the patient youth movement that his predecessors promised. The lottery picks have not netted them the sort of superstar that fans — and the front office — dreamed of landing as a reward for all of the on-court struggles.
The first decision for Rose will be to decide who is making the decisions. He is expected to change coaches and is likely to bring in his own general manager and front-office staff.
It's easy to make the decisions to keep RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson in place, but the rest of the roster is not a sure thing. The Knicks signed seven players as free agents last offseason, and other than Julius Randle, all are on contracts with just one fully guaranteed season. The best of them, Marcus Morris, was traded at the deadline last month, bringing in another expiring contract in Moe Harkless. So here is a look at the choices facing the front office.
The team stabilized — let’s be clear, stabilized is a low bar, but one that the Knicks weren’t near — when he took over as the starting point guard. Averaging 10.0 points and 7.2 assists per game, he has been a low-maintenance option on both ends of the court. Not as good a defender as Frank Ntilikina and not a threat offensively (shooting just 20.3% from beyond the arc and 43.9% overall). He has a team option for $8 million for next season with a $1 million guarantee. It's not an onerous price tag, but is it worth picking up when the Knicks are tied into Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. for next season and could seek a point guard in the draft?
He's a veteran presence who has served as a grownup in the room, and his value as a mentor to Robinson and the rest of the Knicks' young players is worth more than anything he has provided on the court. But he has contributed, serving as the starting center nearly all season long (56 starts in 62 games played). But at a team-option $9.45 million next season ($1 million guarantee) it’s hard to imagine Rose bringing him back as he tries to remake the roster.
He has a team option for $15.75 million. That’s all you really need to know. Nice guy. Good threat from the perimeter (his 35.8% shooting from three-point range trails only Damyean Dotson on the Knicks). But he’s not a $15.75 million player on a team trying to remake itself.
Perhaps the most sensible team option for the Knicks to bring back. That may not make fans happy as they have seen him take minutes from Kevin Knox. But he’s a three-and-D player who saw his performance drop after a spinal surgery procedure cost him the first three months of the season. His team option is just $4.2 million.
It was surprising that the Knicks didn’t negotiate a buyout with Ellington or waive him once the trade deadline passed so he could get minutes with a better team. With an $8 million team option with a $1 million buyout for next season, it’s hard to imagine he comes back.
THE FREE AGENTS
A strange case. After shoulder surgery slowed his preseason work, he has come on to lead the team in three-point shooting. He is a capable defensive player who at times paired with Ntilikina to form the most productive defensive twosome on the team, and yet he often disappeared from the rotation. He is in his third season but will turn 26 years old in May, so maybe this is what he is and it’s not what the organization is looking for — but not a bad low-cost player off the bench.
It wasn’t long ago that the Knicks were bragging about this undrafted find, but he was buried this season — ranking third in offensive rating on the team and last in defensive rating. He is a scorer and there is a place in the league for that, but probably not on the Knicks. Undersized for a wing, he bristled at attempts to make him into a point guard and more of a distributor. Someone will take a chance on him.