Grudgingly, the Knicks did the right thing after striking out on top free agents, with Scott Perry instead focusing on liquidable assets.

“We want to remain flexible,” has been Scott Perry’s mission statement since he took over as general manager. He said it when he traded Kristaps Porzingis, said it when R.J. Barrett was drafted, and said one more time prior to free agency.

What did Perry mean by remaining flexible? In a nutshell, it means staying resilient to robustness. The NBA is the only league where the landscape can drastically shift in a matter of hours. If you are capped out on bad contracts like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Ron Baker’s, deals Steve Mills dished out right before bringing Perry on, you cannot capitalize on the chaos.

The old Knicks mentality was “spend it cause you got it,” where bad contracts are given out to save face. This is what happened in 2010 after they missed out on LeBron James. Instead of rolling the cap over and taking their loss, Amar’e Stoudemire was given an ill-fated $100 million deal, which would come back to bite them.

It is a copycat league; however, the Knicks have always tried to zig while the rest of the league zagged. They held onto the midrange while the rest of the league migrated beyond the arc. They remained big when the rest of the league went small. And they never committed to a proper rebuild, instead looking to fill their roster holes with abundant sums of cash.

Plans B, C & D

Thankfully, Perry has started to zag. In an identical situation at face value (big star aspirations in a loaded free agency class) as 2010, Perry pivoted rationally when losing out on Kevin Durant.

Minutes after Durant announced he was Brooklyn bound, Perry’s actions matched his words. The Knicks quickly agreed to a deal with the undervalued Julius Randle, to a tolerable three-year deal at around $18 million per year.

Randle’s deal doesn’t kill the cap, and it adds a player that can contribute to winning games today, as well as tomorrow.

The rest of the cap space was spent savvily. With the exception of Marcus Morris, every other free agent was signed to one-and-one deals, only with team options or partial guarantees instead of player options. All had similar profiles; veteran players who can shoot threes and play defense, the two areas that the Knicks have lagged behind for far too long.

Should opportunity come knocking, Perry has the assets and financial flexibility to get a deal done. This flexible gameplan has been the blueprint for the current crop of NBA powers.

Putting Yourself in a Position to Succeed

The Warriors built their dynasty on good draft picks, selective free-agent signings (Andre Iguodola initially signed a relatively cheap four-year, $48 million contract), good trades (Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut), to keep their cap space manageable, which allowed them to pounce when Kevin Durant decided he had enough of Russell Westbrook.

Philadelphia is another example of laying low. They whiffed on Markelle Fultz after hitting the lottery twice with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Fultz’s failure didn’t torpedo them because of the smart moves made under Sam Hinkie. 

They were ready to go all in for title contention. First they added Jimmy Butler, thanks to Robert Covington’s cost-effective contract and Dario Saric’s role player value. They followed the Butler trade up by adding Tobias Harris at the deadline for a relatively cheap cost of Landry Shamet (26th overall pick), expiring contracts, and draft picks. Even with Butler leaving for Miami they were able to hold onto Harris by re-signing him, landed Josh Richardson in the sign-and-trade with Miami, and added Al Horford in free agency.

Then there are the Clippers and Nets. The Clippers completed one the best rebuilds in league history. They traded their generational power forward, Blake Griffin, for Harris, who was later parlayed to Philly. Those draft picks would later be used to land Paul George, which of course brought them Kawhi Leonard. The rest of their current core was acquired from Houston when they traded Chris Paul.

Brooklyn was forced to be more active on the trade market. Smart trades and drafting landed got them Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jarrett Allen—a core attractive enough to lure Kyrie Irving and Durant.

The positive spin on the rival Nets landing two of the top three free agents is the Knicks are in a better spot now than the Nets were in a few years ago. They have all their draft picks, in addition to two more from Dallas. They have a group of young guys with promise, surrounded by veterans who can be useful in New York or elsewhere.

When Opportunity Knocks

Most importantly, they have little money tied up in the future. Randle is the only player definitely on the books for next season. Good players on expiring deals are like vibranium to contenders around the trade deadline. If Perry chooses to blow things up, there will be deals readily available.

Not to be a cockeyed optimist, but the Knicks have not been in this good of a situation since James Dolan took over as owner.

The newest iteration of the core is comprised of players all under the age of 24, with new signing Randle as the eldest. All the veterans signed, with the exception of Morris, were brought in to supplement this core, not to supplant.

If this group doesn’t gel, it’s not the end of the world as Perry can wipe the slate clean whenever he chooses. As I said earlier, playoff-bound teams can always use a rugged Taj Gibson or a 3-and-D shooter like Reggie Bullock. Ditto for Wayne Ellington and Morris.

Bobby Portis and Elfrid Payton, the two youngest one-and-one guys, could play themselves into a lucrative deal elsewhere or become a part of future plans. The possible timelines are endless thanks to the front office.

The next step is awareness. Perry has done a good job of draining the swamp and restocking the war chest. Now they continue to build slowly while keeping an eye on that robust landscape. Should Giannis Antetokounmpo, for example, decide he’s done with Milwaukee, there is something to pitch him. If Devin Booker, hometown product Karl-Anthony Towns, or Bradley Beal demand a trade? Perry can pick up the phone with confidence.

Wins on the court may still be a little ways off, but there is a core worth paying attention to and a real plan. A plan that has proven to be successful.



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