The Knicks can take advantage this offseason as a team with plenty of cap space to absorb a (bad) contract attached with other assets.
Earlier this week, SNY’s Ian Begley reported that the New York Knicks would be open to using some of their ample cap space to take on bad contracts in exchange for asset compensation. And from the fanbase, there was much rejoicing. After all, one of the main criticisms of the team’s 2019–20 offseason strategy (other than the power forward stockpiling) was how quickly they self-immolated the cap space they had acquired as the centerpiece of the Kristaps Porzingis trade after missing out on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. This left them no room to take on, say, Andre Igoudala’s contract when everyone and their mums knew that Golden State was looking to dump it.
So to hear that the front office is at least open to this very basic strategy for bad teams to profit off the cap inflexibility of better teams was refreshing, to say the least. While it’s true that there are fewer atrocious deals now that the absurd contracts given out in 2016 have mostly expired (Nicolas Batum remains the lone active blemish on teams’ books from that bizarre summer), the uncertainty regarding league-wide finances, combined with the amount of teams without any wiggle room this summer, mean that there are still options to be found.
For the upcoming season, there are six teams projected to have cap space: the Knicks, Hawks, Hornets, Suns, Heat, and Pistons. Out of those five non-Knicks teams, we know that the Heat are looking to preserve max cap space for the 2021 offseason, when they can make a run at Giannis Antetokoumpo or Kawhi Leonard. The Hawks and Suns are desperate to make the playoffs, so even though they have space, there’s a chance they look to get off some of their more onerous deals if it helps them add difference-makers now. The Hornets and Pistons are in similar rebuilding positions (give or take) as the Knicks, so while they have some deals they might rather get rid of, there is no real imperative for them to do so.
There are also four teams projected to be in the luxury tax: the Nets, Warriors, Sixers, and Celtics. These would be the teams most likely to dump money where they can, especially because the first three all have some seriously ugly deals on their books.
Now, not all cap dumps are created equal, so as we go through some potential options here, I’ll also try to delineate the tiers into more manageable categories, starting with the players least likely to hold appeal in such a deal.
The “Way Too Good And/Or Expensive to be Considered a Straight Dump” Guys
There are several players whose deals teams might want to get off of, but the players are still too good to be straight up dumped. The team on the receiving end, e.g. the Knicks, would have to give up something of value to get them—which may or may not defeat the purpose. The other problem with these players is that they’re still on long-term contracts, which makes them much less appealing from the Knicks standpoint.
Those guys would be: Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Tobias Harris, and to a lesser extent, Buddy Hield
These are players who have at least two years on their deal left, and enough Big Name equity to make their current teams unlikely to get rid of them without getting something worthwhile back. For as much as Westbrook and Paul are discussed as Knicks targets, they still hold enough value to start some level of bidding war. It’s probably not worth getting involved from the Knicks’ perspective, even if they were interested. It’s unclear if Wall has anything left in the tank, but it seems like Washington wants to find out before making any moves. I’m sure the Sixers would love to move off Harris’ deal, and in some ways he’d actually be a good fit for the Knicks, but I don’t see the Knicks paying him an average of $37 million over the next four years.
Buddy Hield is an interesting case, as he clearly wants to be anywhere but Sacramento. He got demoted halfway through the season, got into several altercations with head coach Luke Walton, and apparently now won’t return any of Walton’s calls. At 27, he’s too old to be called young, and is about to enter year one of a four-year, $86 million extension. All of that should be worrisome for a team dealing for him, especially with his limitations as a player. But he’s a genuinely elite shooter, which is something the Knicks desperately need. I wouldn’t be surprised if Leon Rose sniffs around a deal, but ultimately finds the combination of asking price and contract size to be too rich for his blood.
The “Good-to-Very Good Players on Player Options/Expiring Contracts” Guys
Victor Oladipo, Mike Conley, Gordon Hayward, DeMar DeRozan, Otto Porter Jr., LaMarcus Aldridge, Steven Adams, Kelly Oubre Jr., and, to a lesser extent, Dennis Schröder and Andre Drummond
This an interesting list of names, as many of them still have a good amount of value for their current teams. The only clear cap dump candidate in this list is Andre Drummond (please, gods, no). Considering where the Thunder are at as a team, Schröder and Adams could be moved if the team moves on from CP3 and Danilo Gallinari. Schroder is coming off his best season in years, and presumably Sam Presti would want something back for both him and Adams, who, at 27, is a solid player entering his prime.
DeRozan doesn’t make much sense for the Spurs at this point, especially with their collection of young guards and wings who need development. It’s conceivable he’s a victim of circumstance and the Spurs are willing to sell low on him. Aldridge doesn’t make a ton of sense for San Antonio anymore either, but he seems likely to have suitors if the Spurs start putting offers out there.
Oladipo, Conley, and Hayward are all good players with some lingering question marks. Hayward and Oladipo come with significant injury risks, and Conley’s first year away from Memphis was an abject disaster, but all fill major roles for their current teams. It seems unlikely that Boston, Indiana, and Utah, respectively, would give them up without getting someone who can fill a similarly important role in return.
Otto Porter Jr. is a tier below those three, but is the only competent two-way wing Chicago has. If they take a wing with the fourth pick, he could become available, but given his in-demand 3-and-D skill set, I would bet on a contender or playoff hopeful taking a run at him.
Oubre is probably the most interesting name so far. At only 24, he flourished in his first year as a starter, averaging almost 19 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game while shooting a career-best 35% from three. He can play either the three or the four (though I think his best position is the four) and does a little bit of everything on the floor. The Suns played their best basketball of the season in the bubble, where Oubre was absent as he recovered from a meniscus tear. It’s possible Phoenix’s success in the bubble would make them more comfortable moving off Oubre, but it’s unlikely that it’s a in a cap dump. Oubre will have real value, even as an expiring contract, and probably would cost more than the Knicks are willing to spend.
The “Still Could Be Pretty Good, but Don’t Make Sense for Their Current Team” Guys
Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Aaron Gordon, Harrison Barnes, Dewayne Dedmon, Thaddeus Young, Patty Mills, Taurean Waller-Prince
The sheer range in talent on this list should tell you a lot. Griffin and Love are former All-Stars who, given their contracts and team situations (and injury history for Griffin) just don’t have all that much to offer their current teams. Gordon has underwhelmed during his young career and plays on a team that collects spacing-challenged combo forwards like they’re collector’s coins. Harrison Barnes is getting paid $60 million over the next three years to jack up iso mid-range jumpers for a lottery team mired in dysfunction. All four of these power forwards cost too much to be worth much as a cap dump, and are all too productive on teams both desperate for production and unlikely to attract free agents to be worth moving off for nothing.
The last four names are more interesting from a cap dump standpoint. Dedmon has two years and $26 million left on his deal with a team paying Clint Capela $51 million over the next three years to play about 25 minutes a night and has John Collins’ restricted free agency on the horizon. The Hawks, as mentioned before, are desperate to make the playoffs, and still need proven wings and a backup point guard. With max cap space and the number six pick, they have avenues to address those needs without giving up assets to shed Dedmon’s contract, but it’s bound to be an option they consider. Dedmon’s ability to protect the rim and space the floor could make him an interesting backup in New York, and if they need extra space in 2021’s offseason, his expiring year is likely movable. That’s still a lot of money for a not very good player.
Thaddeus Young and Patty Mills are both overqualified backups on teams well over the salary cap, and I think it’s plausible the Bulls and Spurs look into moving them. Young has two years left on his deal, and if the Bulls draft Deni Avdija (with whom they’re rumored to be enamored), he’d be even more expendable. Either would be a good fit on the Knicks, and would probably come at a relatively low price. But would their current teams be willing to give up assets to be rid of them? It’s possible, but by no means a likely outcome.
Taurean Waller-Prince is the name that comes up most in these conversations, and for good reason. The Nets are a luxury tax team with championship aspirations, and $30 million over the next two years is a lot of money to be paying a guy who’s never added up to the sum of his parts, especially when they’re on the hook for $30 million for their back-up center over the next three years. Prince and the 19th pick for some combination of the partially guaranteed Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington, and Elfrid Payton (who would almost certainly be cut), plus the 27th pick and one of their future seconds, seems like the best possible cap dump outcome for the Knicks. Is it worth it for the Nets?
The “Looking For Some Wiggle Room” Guys
Justin Jackson, Delon Wright, Dwight Powell, Rodney McGruder, Avery Bradley, Danny Green, Gorgui Dieng, Robin Lopez, George Hill, Ersan Ilyasova, Jake Layman, James Johnson, Darius Miller, Al-Farouq Aminu, Frank Kaminsky, Trevor Ariza (would need to be guaranteed), Jabari Parker, Cory Joseph, DeMarre Carroll, Rudy Gay, Ish Smith
Luka being this good this early means the Mavs need to act fast to improve the talent around him. They’ve got their eye on Giannis in next year’s offseason, which is why they could consider moving off Delon Wright and Dwight Powell’s multi-year deals now. Powell is out likely until sometime after this season begins with an Achilles tear. Delon Wright is solid, but by no means irreplaceable. Justin Jackson’s contract is an expiring, so they don’t need to shed him from a Giannis perspective, but if they want to add a real NBA rotation player, they could try to use him and even this year’s pick to snag a player who helps a little more. Reggie Bullock, perhaps?
The rest of these names fill similar roles: trading them for players they can either use or cut wouldn’t be enough to buy them cap space to make bigger deals, but it would give them a little more flexibility in ensuing deals. It’s unlikely any of these names make the dump cut, but if any were to, George Hill, James Johnson, Frank Kaminsky, Ersan Ilysaova, Al-Farouq Aminu, or Cory Joseph seem like the logical options.
The “Help Us Duck The Tax” Guys
DeAndre Jordan, Garrett Temple, Enes Kanter, Daniel Theis, Mike Scott
The Nets are barely over the luxury tax ($892,918, per Slamonline.com), but it seems a little unlikely either Temple or Jordan get moved in a cap dump. Garrett Temple, by all accounts, is one of the most respected and well-liked locker room guys in the league, and the Nets need wing defenders who can shoot anyway. Jordan should be a prime dump candidate. Jarrett Allen is better, and they have Nicolas Claxton waiting in the wings to take the position as backup five. But if Kenny Atkinson can get fired in part for playing Allen over Jordan, it seems unlikely that the Nets trade him just to duck the luxury tax—even if that would be in the team’s best interests.
The Celtics, similarly, are only $5.5 million over the tax, with four picks in the coming draft, including three firsts. Both Kanter and Theis make around $5 million, and given the Celtics’ success playing center by committee, plus their Mitchell Robinson–lite young center Robert Williams, either seem like prime candidates to be shipped off for cap relief. Theis was genuinely impactful last season, so Kanter would be the obvious candidate, but I don’t think Theis proved himself so valuable that the Celtics would rule out a move like this for him.
The Sixers are $9 million in the luxury, so Mike Scott alone wouldn’t get them under the tax line. A Mike Scott, Glenn Robinson III, and Zhaire Smith deal would do the trick—and Philly is desperate for wing shooters. I was shocked they didn’t trade a second-round pick for Reggie Bullock at last season’s trade deadline, but now could be a good time to fix that mistake.
The “Don’t Touch With A Ten-Foot Pole Contracts” Guys
Andrew Wiggins, Al Horford, Eric Gordon
Please, just… no. All three of these contracts are enough to make a man go full Sam Neill in Event Horizon, and should only be considered if they’re supplemented with an Anthony Davis–Lakers level of asset compensation. Since it’s unlikely the Warriors trade the second pick and Wiggins for Julius Randle and the rights to pay the final $12 million of Joakim Noah’s stretched salary, these deals are best left festering where they currently sit.
Are you still with me?
While there aren’t many ideal candidates for the Knicks to take on in exchange for more draft picks or young players, that doesn’t mean there aren’t options. Between Leon Rose, Brock Aller, and Walt Perrin, I expect the team to be much more creative in terms of using deals than we’ve seen in the past. If there’s a deal out there, I’m optimistic these guys will find it.
And if they can’t find any assets worth the trouble to acquire, well, that’s hardly the end of the world. New York only has one guaranteed deal on the books going into next year’s offseason. The Knicks are well situated to be opportunistic in a multitude of ways: cap dumps, free agent signings, or sitting pat and waiting for the wellspring of talent that will come in the lead-up to the 2021–22 season.
Now let’s sit back and watch it play out.