Both of New York’s top centers could hit unrestricted free agency at once—with O’Quinn already in motion. What will Kanter do, and what will be the impact of the decisions?
The Knicks’ top two centers find themselves at a crossroads. Kyle O’Quinn has officially declined his player option and hit the open market, and Enes Kanter said he would wait until after the draft to decide if he will exercise his. The additions of 18-year-old Kevin Knox and 20-year-old Mitchell Robinson make the team’s plan crystal clear—developing young players. That has led to rumblings that Kanter could opt out this summer rather than next.
Summer 2018 will be another season of transition for the Knicks. Jeff Hornacek’s blandness is now history, and in his place is half–hype man, half–head coach, David Fizdale. Fizdale’s first season will focus more on destroying the remnants of the old regime and rebuilding from the ground up. Such a task typically requires a lot of losing. It’s a chance for the younger guys to continue to grow together. However, it leaves the veterans in limbo.
Both Kanter and O’Quinn can decide to ride out the rebuild. They can also (wisely) look to join a team that plans to play meaningful games past February. The choice is theirs, and theirs alone. What should we expect that choice to be?
Let’s begin with Kanter. He’s only been here a year, but he has the feel of a longtime Knick. He embraced the city immediately, and the city embraced him back. His bully attitude added some much needed toughness, and his Twitter messiness is revered. And regardless of last year’s ups and downs, Kanter remained one of the team’s constants. For the season, he recorded 39 double-doubles (10th in the league) and finished in the top 10 in total rebounds (9th) and the top five in offensive rebounds (4th).
His opt-in, much like O’Quinn’s opt-out, seems to be a foregone conclusion. He is set to make $18.6 million, so unless he is truly confident that another team will give him what he wants, he is most likely staying put for the time being. He has hinted at this throughout the offseason—most recently, by welcoming Kevin Knox to the team.
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) June 22, 2018
This is not a bad thing for the Knicks. Kanter is not washed like Joakim Noah, but that does not mean the plan is for him to stick around. This has nothing to do with Kanter and everything to do with Perry and Mills. For the first time in my lifetime the front office has ditched their Keynesian views on rebuilding. All signs point to their big free-agent push in 2020. This means saving, not spending it.
Unlike O’Quinn, Kanter appears to be making the right amount of money. He could choose to make his $18.6 million this year, then ponder his future next summer. The money is not the issue with Kanter, it’s the fact what he likely wants most from the Knicks is something they cannot give him—stability.
In eight seasons he has played for three teams. He’s 26 years old, so he’s likely looking to secure one more big contract while he’s still in his prime. He loves NYC and has even said he wants to retire as a Knick. His actions have backed up those sentiments.
His recruitment of LeBron to New York 10 seconds after Game 4 of the Finals was admirable:
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) June 9, 2018
He has even gone as far as to say that he would take a pay cut to make the money work, in the scenario LeBron decided to come. You have to love the effort, but LeBron to the Knicks is as Drake really having a career-ending Pusha T diss on layaway. LeBron is not coming. The Knicks will, more likely than not, tank next season—something Kanter was vehemently against last season.
Despite being on different wavelengths, Kanter and the Knicks can still optimize their time together. A motivated Enes playing for a contract could be advantageous to all parties. The first thing that comes to mind is using him as a mentor for Mitchell Robinson. One of the main slights on Robinson is his work ethic. Conversely, Kanter’s work ethic is one of the strengths in his game. Even if it’s just a couple months or one season, the influence that a hard worker like Kanter can have on a young player Robinson is priceless.
Then there is the basketball side of things. He was not only one of the stronger players on the roster but one of the better centers in the league. There also lies the possibility on him progressing his game under Fizdale.
Coach Fizdale expects Kanter to be on the roster when training camp rolls around, and Fiz already gave him an assignment. Start shooting threes.
Per Ian Begley, here is what Kanter had to say about a text exchange with his new coach:
“Actually, he wanted me to start taking threes. That’s what he said. He actually texted me too and he was like, ‘Hey man, have you been shooting threes? Have you been practicing threes?’ I think he wants me to shoot more threes now because he wants me to stretch the court. …”
Kanter got the message:
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) June 17, 2018
If he can effectively add a respectable three to his arsenal, Enes’ value will take a nice jump. It gives teams even another reason to overlook his defensive shortcomings. Instead, they can focus on his tenacious rebounding and improved scoring. Even if a trade does not materialize, a strong campaign can only help Kanter when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Begley reported Sunday that the Milwaukee Bucks, among other teams have internally discussed the possibility of offering a contract. This further backs up that there is a market for him but also makes his decision all the more difficult. He possesses tangible value if he opts in but can also provide value by leaving. No Kanter and Porzingis would leave the Knicks in a position to be offensively vulnerable in the frontcourt next season. Then there is also the chance O’Quinn leaves on top of that.
Kyle O’Quinn’s intrinsic value might carry more weight than his on-court production, which is certainly saying something. He has ventured into the rare territory where he just wouldn’t look right in another team’s uniform. Just try to picture K.O. in a Celtics jersey for a second. Pretty grotesque, don’t you think? Hometown feelings aside, he also carries the unique distinction of being one of the few good things from the Phil Jackson era. Other than the drafting of Porzingis, the O’Quinn was one of PJ’s shrewdest additions.
While all this is nice and well, any good negotiator knows you can’t add feelings to a negotiation (I learned that from the episode of Entourage when Eric considers working for Terrance—other than that, my negotiation expertise stops at fantasy football). Even when removing the intangibles, keeping O’Quinn around makes sense for the Knicks—at the right price.
He has been a constant contributor the duration of his Knicks tenure. The past three seasons, he has averaged 15.3 minutes per game and has produced solid averages of 6.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.1 blocks. While those numbers might not be anything to write home about, if you put his numbers in a vacuum, his production gets the proper spotlight. Per 100 possessions, he has averaged 20.1 points, 17.2 rebounds, 5.1 assist, and 3.7 blocks in three seasons as a ‘Bocker (per Basketball-Reference).
His improvement has been steady, and at 28 years old, it looks like he is still in his prime. That means this contract is his chance to score big. If he wasn’t the best backup in the league last season, he’s damn sure near the top of the list. He does two things big men in the league have to do to stay on the floor—block shots and gobble up boards. He pulled down a career-high 470 rebounds last season and blocked 98 shots (good for 17th in the league).
On offense, he spaces the floor with a respectable midrange jumper, but does not venture beyond that. His best skill on offense is his vision. He has an eagle eye from the elbow and complements it with a nice touch. He also seemed to play well with anyone on the team—he was in four of the team’s best five-man lineups. His vision and overall chemistry with his teammates made him the point forward at times, dropping dimes like this.
To put it bluntly, O’Quinn has outplayed his current contract. Before we proceed any further take a look at the visual breakdown:
What this decision comes down to, for both sides, is simply opportunity cost. On O’Quinn’s side, he has to have a clear vision of where he stands in the league. If he believes he can be a starter, then he should push for a deal in Kanter’s tax bracket. Gorgui Dieng—the same age as O’Quinn—signed a four-year, $64 million deal in 2016 but was 26 at the time and viewed by the Wolves as a starting center capable of playing alongside Karl Towns. It would be tough to see O’Quinn landing a payday in that range, unless he calls the Wizards.
If he truly loves playing in New York but wants to be properly compensated, maybe a deal in the $8 million range could be mutually beneficial to both parties. It’s enough to fill the mid-level exception and would equal the amount of cap space the Knicks would get if they were to renounce his rights. On the flip side, there are contenders, like the Warriors, who can also use their mid-level exception.
As I said before, if he’s not one the best backup center in the league he’s damn close. Who would they be spending their money on if they let him walk? A Nerlen Noel reclamation project? The tanking special of Greg Monroe? A one-year overpay of Dewayne Dedmon? These are the questions Perry and Mills have to run through before making a decision. For O’Quinn, I’m confident the market will be there for him. If this was his last season in New York, he will be dearly missed.
Both would be missed, but to completely honest, it may be for the better. Kanter costs too much long-term and O’Quinn is better served playing for a contender at this point in time. The second-round selection of Robinson supports the notion that the team knows when their window to contend will open.
All dope visuals brought to you by Knicks Film School.