The bitterness that followed the Knicks’ 4-1 first round loss to the Hawks is quickly turning into optimism, as eyes turn to New York’s promising offseason. A fourth-seed finish, armed with cap space, a boatload of draft picks and an enticing pitch in joining Tom Thibodeau and Julius Randle is enough to get fans excited about next year.
With a big NBA Draft and free agency ahead, here are three things the front office should have on their offseason wish list.
Sign Julius Randle to a max extension
The current Randle contract situation pins the Knicks between signing the Most Improved Player in the league this season to a four-year extension that would earn him around $26 million a year until he’s 32. Or, the door could be opened to unrestricted free agency next summer, which could potentially let Randle make much more, perhaps for another team. There undoubtedly are risks to both, for both parties, but New York re-signing its best player via the former offers the best option to compete going forward.
First, it shows a commitment to their star player and leaves fewer questions in the air going into next season. Randle’s contract situation hanging overhead for 82 games plus the playoffs isn’t ideal, and it’s easier to pitch free agents with him under contract. In the scenario in which Randle’s 2020-21 season was anything but a complete and total anomalous fluke, $26 million per year is a steal.
The Hawks series may have scared fans off throwing large sums of money at Randle long term, but a five game sample can’t erase what he did in the 72 games prior. Even if we shouldn’t expect 100 percent of last season’s performance, this extension is digestible, and at worst, should be tradeable. Inking your 26-year-old star to a relatively friendly deal should be a no-brainer for the front office this summer, but Randle will have to seize the offer instead of doubling down on himself.
Draft a lottery prospect via trade up
The Knicks currently own the 19th and 21st picks in this year’s NBA Draft, but with their rebuild calendar accelerating, taking a shot at a couple of potential steals – or busts – to develop doesn’t look all that enticing. Instead, New York should package the two picks to move up into lottery range, giving them a better shot at a real difference maker.
While this is still a developing team, it’s hard for some prospects (Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, at times Immanuel Quickley) to carve out and maintain playing time. Adding two more late firsts to a roster trying to be better than its fourth seed iteration isn’t conducive to getting much out of them. However, trading 19 and 21 to Indiana for 13 or Golden State for 14 should give the Knicks a much better young piece, one more likely to play and contribute.
Improve the roster without sacrificing flexibility
This is a broad wish, but encapsulates what the Knicks are trying to do while acknowledging the reality of this offseason. There are few alphas on the table for New York to try to pry towards the Mecca. Leon Rose will have to hope Kawhi Leonard or Chris Paul denies his player option in search of greener pastures, or a Damian Lillard-type trade becomes available without costing half the roster.
As both of those are unlikely, the Knicks probably have their eyes set on the stacked 2022 free agent class, which includes Stephen Curry, the big three Nets, the Wizards’ guards and more. This puts the onus on management to keep cap room open for them, or whatever trade candidate emerges, while still building on last year’s success. Thankfully, they’ve already laid out the blueprint.
New York will need to stick to offering out short-term deals, or longer ones only if the money is right. Think Kyle Lowry for one year, $30 million, or Spencer Dinwiddie for two years, $30 million, but the second is a team option. Reggie Bullock and Derrick Rose could potentially re-sign at discounts in exchange for longer deals.
As exciting as the present felt for Knicks fans in May, this team remains about the future. If they enter this offseason with that lens and a couple of key moves to make, it’ll look bright enough to drown out the darkness that followed the early postseason exit.