As we head to the draft and free agency, SNY is doing a series on the different factors surrounding potential free agents for the Knicks.
1. WILL HE BE AVAILABLE?
Paul has a player option for next season worth $44.2 million. Several teams monitoring the point guard market in free agency believe Paul will turn down that option, as Bleacher Report noted last month.
You’d think that Paul would only decline that player option if he has a multi-year deal from another team lined up. You’d also think the Suns are highly motivated to re-sign Paul. He helped lead them to the NBA Finals. Devin Booker, Phoenix’s franchise player, is winning for the first time in his NBA career. Paul has played a significant role in that. So the Suns have plenty of reasons to offer Paul a three-year deal, even if that deal keeps him on the books through age 38.
2. WILL THE KNICKS HAVE A CHANCE TO GET HIM – IF THEY WANT HIM?
The Knicks were one of the teams interested in trading for Paul last summer. They probably could have matched the package that Phoenix sent to Oklahoma City in exchange for Paul. But Paul reportedly had a heavy influence in where OKC sent him, and he ended up in Phoenix. Did Paul choose Phoenix over the Knicks? Matt Barnes said the pandemic influenced Paul’s decision to go to the Suns instead of seeking a trade to the Knicks.
As you’d expect, Paul’s name has come up internally as one of the players the Knicks could target at point guard this summer. And if Paul and Phoenix can’t reach an agreement, the Knicks certainly will have the cap space to make him a multi-year offer.
Several agents for point guards in the 2021 free agent class fear New York as a possible landing spot for Paul. Leon Rose was Paul’s agent before Rose became the Knicks president. But, again, New York would only be an option for Paul if he and Phoenix didn’t reach an agreement.
3. HOW WOULD A PAUL CONTRACT IMPACT THE KNICKS FINANCIALLY?
Before we talk about the money, let’s start here with Paul: He makes the Knicks a better team in 2021-22. New York made a remarkable leap from lottery dweller to playoff team this season. The next step? Building a perennial playoff contender. Going from good to great is, arguably, tougher than from bad to good. Based on his recent play and leadership, Paul certainly would help the Knicks make that leap.
To create the cap space to sign Paul to a deal that’s worth $33 million in Year 1, the Knicks would have to renounce the rights to some free agents. In total, they’d need to create roughly $24 million in space. They could do that by renouncing Frank Ntilikina ($18.5 million cap hold) and Elfrid Payton ($6.2 million cap hold) or any other combination that totals $24 million.
So the Knicks can make the money work. But if they sign Paul to a three-year deal, they’d be using a significant amount of their future cap space on him. Let’s assume they also sign Randle to an extension. The Paul contract could then take them out of the running for another max free agent, depending on who else they sign and the amount of the future salary caps.
Something else to consider: During the season, the Knicks internally broached the possibility of signing a lead guard who isn’t ball-dominant. The reason? Derrick Rose will play regular minutes at lead guard next season (assuming he re-signs). And if Randle and RJ Barrett are going to handle the ball regularly – as they did in 2020-21 – then the Knicks may want to sign a lead guard who’s comfortable with the ball out of his hands. (We looked at some players who may fit that description here).
So, at least at one point in the season, the Knicks weren’t fully committed to the idea of signing a ball-dominant point guard. That’s worth keeping in mind when you consider the factors that go into signing Paul.