NBA: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks put enormous pressure on themselves.
Before the 2018-19 New York Knicks had played a single game, before they even had a single practice, it was obvious the front office was focused on what might happen at the end of the season. With Enes Kanter’s $18.6 million salary set to come off the books, they projected to have around $30 million in cap space, and there was speculation that they might try to clear more room via trade. At a press conference on Sep. 20, though, Knicks general manager Scott Perry said that management wasn’t even thinking about free agency.
“Our goal this year is really to give this 18-19 team our undivided attention and watch this young group grow,” Perry said then. “You mentioned the potential for cap space — that is really just going to be a byproduct of just how the salary structures of our individual players are right now. And so we’re not going to get too caught up in looking 10 months out because we got eight or nine months of basketball to play and really understand and see what we have.”
This strained credulity. Last offseason, New York signed no one aside from its rookies to deals longer than one year. There is not an executive in the league who makes plans on a one-season timeline, and mapping out potential long-term strategies is especially important for rebuilding teams like the Knicks. No general manager is going to come out and say that an entire season is essentially meaningless, but Perry didn’t have to go so far in the other direction, claiming that all this projected cap room was an accident.
The comment read as a lowering of expectations. New York fans were looking at the names who will be on the market — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins — and imagining (or photoshopping) them in Knicks uniforms. New York hadn’t been successful in recruiting free agents in recent years, and perhaps the team had decided it wouldn’t be wise to come off as too confident.
All of that posturing, though, can be thrown out the window now. Six weeks after team president Steve Mills delivered a similar message, the Knicks made a massive, franchise-altering bet on their ability to attract free agents. By trading Kristaps Porzingis, previously thought to be their franchise player, they shed the contracts of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee, setting themselves up to have almost $75 million in cap space in July. Go ahead, I guess: Photoshop Durant and Irving in blue and orange. It’s (theoretically) possible for New York to sign both.