- There is already growing buzz that the New York Knicks could be major players in free agency next summer.
- In a star-studded free agent class, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant have been rumored to the Knicks through connections, relationships, and fits.
- Similar to the Los Angeles Lakers this season, despite a lack of recent success, the Knicks may have a pathway to attracting free agents because of their young core and location.
A fairly quiet NBA free agency this summer may portend a massive free agency next season.
About half of the league’s talent is set to hit the open market next summer, and when the salary cap rises, many teams are expected to have the cap space to pursue those players.
Among those teams is the New York Knicks, who almost completely sat out free agency this year, making only one notable signing (forward Mario Hezonja to a one-year, $6 million deal). That was intentional by the Knicks, as they have said they plan to be aggressive next offseason with their cap space.
Next year’s free agency pool is deep and star-studded. Players like Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, and Kemba Walker can all become free agents, and several teams are already gearing up to make runs at them.
There appears to be growing buzz that the Knicks could be major players for some of those stars. Currently, the Knicks are projected to have about $22 million in cap space next summer. To open space for a max contract, about $33 million, they would have to make some moves to clear salary.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe has several times mentioned that the Knicks will pursue Kevin Durant. Of course, every team with cap space will pursue Durant if he’s available. But as Lowe pointed out in a column on Wednesday, there are some signs that could point Durant to the Knicks.
First, Durant has only signed short-term deals with the Golden State Warriors. Those who know Durant or have been around him reportedly don’t have much of a gauge of what he wants to do, and some wouldn’t be surprised if he changed teams.
Durant’s agent and business partner Rich Kleiman is from New York and has said he one day wants to run the Knicks. As Lowe noted, Knicks GM Scott Perry worked for the Seattle SuperSonics when they drafted Durant in 2008.
Consider what Los Angeles Clippers GM Michael Winger told Business Insider recently of relationships and connections around the league:
“I would submit to you that relationships might very well be the No. 1 element in doing a deal. Some players enter free agency knowing precisely what they want, where they want to be, and how they’ll approach that opportunity … I’d say most connections are based on a pre-existing relationship, somewhere in the family tree, whether that’s in the front office, the coaching staff, ownership, somebody has a relationship with either the player or the agent.”
Furthermore, Lowe, Rachel Nichols of ESPN, and Howard Beck of Bleacher Report discussed the topic on Lowe’s podcast, “The Lowe Post.” All three noted that while it was just pure speculation, and there’s no knowledge that Durant intends to leave the Warriors, joining the Knicks would be the ultimate image rehab for him after many fans turned on him for joining the Warriors.
The Knicks have also been linked to Kyrie Irving. Last summer, when Irving requested a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Knicks were reportedly on his list of preferred destinations. Like Durant, there are connections there. Irving grew up in West Orange, New Jersey, less than an hour from New York City.
He has also complimented Knicks star big man Kristaps Porzingis, telling reporters at the All-Star Game in February: “I told him I would love to play with a big like you, man, when we played them in the beginning of the season when he came to Boston. He’s so versatile.”
Furthermore, Yahoo’s Chris Mannix reported that the Celtics are “scared” that Irving may leave in free agency. Mannix said Irving used to tell people in Cleveland that he one day wanted to play with the Knicks.
Irving has said he won’t sign an extension with the Celtics, noting it doesn’t make financial sense. He has said he wants to remain with the Celtics and win a championship. It’s also not unusual for star players to compliment other stars around the league. But that hasn’t stopped speculation about his next move.
While the Knicks have missed the playoffs the last five seasons, failing to win over 35 games in the last four years, they may be positioned to attract free agents going forward. They have a star big man in Porzingis, who has caught the attention of the NBA world (his recovery from a torn ACL is, of course, a big subplot in the Knicks future). They have two young lottery picks in guard Frank Ntilikina and forward Kevin Knox, the latter of whom has impressed at Summer League. They seem primed to have a high lottery pick this season.
And they have New York City. As seen with LeBron James choosing the Lakers, if star players want to go somewhere for the cultural fit, they’ll go. Any star player choosing the Knicks knows they’ll be getting a big market and the possibility to be the player that “saves” the team.
A lot can happen between now and next July. But a full year away, there is already buzz that the Knicks could be the next team to land a big star, and it’s unlikely to die down during the season.