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Opinion - February 2, 2019

Ranking the New York Knicks’ Top 5 Free-Agent Targets

The New York Knicks will find themselves in a make or break it spot come July 1, 2019—the first day the team can offer contracts to a stacked free-agency pool.

Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry were pressed to trade All-Star forward Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas early this week after he requested a trade from the team. Rather than losing Porzingis in free-agency, New York received guard Dennis Smith Jr., guard Wesley Matthews, center DeAndre Jordan, and two future first-round picks in return. New York also shelled out guard Tim Hardaway Jr., guard Courtney Lee, and guard Trey Burke to Dallas.

Mills, Perry, and head coach David Fizdale have preached since the beginning of 2018-19 that they want to grow with players who want to be in New York. Porzingis did not believe in New York’s future. The 7-foot-3 big man, who has played in two-and-a-half total seasons since being drafted No. 4 overall in 2015, tore his ACL in February 2018 and has not returned since. In a recent report from ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban announced Porzingis likely will not play a game for Dallas this season.

Why did Porzingis leave New York so soon if he won’t be playing in Dallas this season? Well, he must not have realized the amount of leverage the Knicks have heading into the offseason if their losing continues. Not only will New York—currently the team with the NBA’s worst record (10-41)—have a top-three projected pick with players like Duke’s Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett on the board, but they also have around $74.6 million in cap space. $74.6 million is more than enough to sign two max-contract players and then some. New York may finally break out of their losing spell.

Star players like Golden State’s Kevin Durant, Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Golden State’s DeMarcus Cousins, Charlotte’s Kemba Walker, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, and Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard are in the free-agency pool. Lesser teir, but still valuable players also available to offers will be Los Angeles’ Tobias Harris, Boston’s Al Horford, and Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler. New York will try and fill in the blanks around Smith Jr., 19-year-old rookie Kevin Knox, and Jordan (if they re-sign him).

Ranking the top-five free-agency targets for the Knicks is relatively easy—they have the money offer, and a draft selection of Williamson is a free lure to such players.

 

5. Marc Gasol

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol is tired of losing. Not only has he voiced his desire to get out of Memphis, but the team has he and point guard Mike Conley on the trade block as the Feb. 7 2019 NBA Trade Deadline approaches. Sure, New York hasn’t had a winning season in years, but gathering up big names this summer can change that.

Gasol’s scoring numbers are down in 2018-19, but his assists and rebounds prove his versatility. Through 52 games, he is averaging 15.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists. If New York were to go after Gasol, he would be the team’s starting center or if they re-sign DeAndre Jordan, he would slide to the four. Also, he would likely garner a max-contract.

 

4. Tobias Harris

(Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

Tobias Harris is quickly becoming one of the most consistent players for the Los Angeles Clippers. The team’s leading scorer with 21.1 points per game along with 7.9 rebounds on 50.1 percent shooting, Harris was snubbed from the Western Conference All-Star team earlier this week. He has led the Clippers to a 28-24 record, 8th in the West.

Born and bred on Long Island, New York, Harris still holds basketball camps and trains there during the offseason. If New York can’t land Kevin Durant, Harris should be their second option at the forward position. He is still just 26-years-old and improving. Harris too would also garner a max contract or close to it.

 

3. Kemba Walker

Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker is also a New Yorker and a player the Knicks have had their sites on for a while now. Walker, 28, is just entering his prime as he is averaging a career-high 24.2 points along with 5.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. His numbers earned him a starting spot on the 2019 Eastern Conference All-Star team.

Walker is on the cusp of superstardom and should be a main target for the Knicks this summer. Walker has yet to get past the first round of the playoffs in his career and the Hornets have struggled to be a winning team since he arrived in 2011.

Walker may be willing to return home on a max contract.

 

2. Kyrie Irving

(Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

On Friday, Feb. 1, Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving spoke about his upcoming free-agency and spout some intriguing quotes. Although Irving has said in the past that he has faith in Boston and their future, Irving told reporters he “doesn’t owe anybody [nothing]” come free-agency time and that you’ll have to “ask [him] July 1st” about his decision.

The quotes created much speculation and had a number of people assume Irving will either stay in Boston or sign with the New York Knicks. The move would make sense for Irving—he would get a max contract and would be enough to lure in more free-agents.

Everyone is hoping for Irving, Kevin Durant, and Zion Williamson to team up in New York if everything goes right. It’s all over social media, and all three of them know it. Is it possible? Yes. Do a number of things have to happen like Boston falling out of the playoffs early, New York getting the No. 1 pick, and Golden State not giving Durant as much attention? Certainly.

Irving to New York is extremely possible.

 

1. Kevin Durant

It is hard to believe, but the NBA has not seen the best of Kevin Durant yet. Yes—the two-time NBA champion, two-time MVP, and one-time scoring champion has more to prove.

In Oklahoma City, Durant played alongside Russell Westbrook who took touches and some of the spotlight off him. With the Warriors, they have four All-Star players and Durant can’t shine as bright as he would like to. Does he enjoy winning? Of course. But, you have to think Durant wants to be the No. 1 option in a winning environment… not the main option only sometimes. Durant’s perfect fit is in New York.

The Knicks’ main option this summer should be going all in for Durant and building around him. If Golden State wins another championship this season, that will give Durant the incentive to end his time in the Bay Area on a high note and start a fresh, new challenge elsewhere.

Durant is about the legacy—he could not win in Oklahoma City so he signed with Golden State to become a champion. He has heard the hoopla and critical reception from his decision to join a 73-9 team; now he wants to win with less and prove he is the real deal.

As said above, the trio of  Durant, Irving, and Williamson would be a Knicks fan’s dream. Even if it’s not Irving, New York has a great shot at other star free-agents and Durant knows it. If Durant makes the move, expect a new team to be coming out on top of the Eastern Conference.

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