Julius Randle is the breakout star of the Knicks in 2020–21, but he could be cut loose as soon as the summer. It’s worth going over the options for the All-Star hopeful.
New York Knicks fans came into the 2020–21 season wanting Julius Randle off the roster as soon as possible. The 26-year-old forward wasn’t what everyone expected in his first season in New York in 2019–20, averaging 19.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists while shooting 46.0% from the field, and just 27.7% from three.
The complaints about Randle were that he didn’t see the floor well and often spun into double teams leading to turnovers. This completely killed all ball movement on offense and led to minimal floor spacing in what were poor offensive performances seemingly every game. The worry with Randle on the floor as a top option in the offense was that it would hold back 2019 no. 3 overall pick R.J. Barrett, who needs optimal floor spacing to be at his best. Additionally, Randle was a liability on defense, which added to the problem.
The desire to get rid of Randle only increased when the Knicks selected power forward Obi Toppin with the eighth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Now, the worry was that Randle was going to take valuable playing time away from Toppin, thus slowing his development. It didn’t matter if it was for nothing, Julius Randle had to be gone.
That has all changed through the first 23 games of the season, as Randle has performed at an All-Star level, averaging 22.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game on 47.5% shooting from the field and 39.6% from deep. Randle is making teammates better, as his assist percentage is up to 27.2% on the season—nearly double his 15.8% percentage from last season. Furthermore, his defense has improved, as his defensive box plus minus has gone from -1.0 in 2019–20 to 1.0 in 2020–21 (as of before Wednesday’s game at Chicago).
The Knicks no longer look like a joke but rather an organization with a clear direction. They appear to be a team that can compete for the play-in tournament this season, and that is much in part due to the play of Randle. This has left New York in a predicament. What should they do with Randle in the long term? Here are four options that the Knicks have for Julius Randle going forward.
1. Trade Him at the Deadline
The first option the Knicks have is what was probably the plan at the beginning of the season: trading him at the deadline. There are a few benefits for the Knicks that come along with trading Randle at the deadline, one of them being that his trade value will almost certainly be at its highest.
With the numbers that Randle is putting up, he can be an extremely helpful piece to a team that is looking to contend this year. The team receiving Randle would have him for a season and a half, which may make that contending team competitive for two playoffs, rather than acquiring him in the offseason, where that team would have him for just one.
Additionally, the Knicks would be able to give eighth overall pick Obi Toppin extended playing time for the rest of this season, which would potentially help his development going forward. That being said, trading Julius Randle almost certainly would sink any chance the Knicks have of making the playoffs this season. New York’s net difference in Offensive Rating when Randle is on/off the court is +9.7, per NBA.com, a team-high.
This would assuredly help the Knicks get a better draft pick in 2021, a class that is loaded, but as we’ve seen in previous years with New York, tanking doesn’t work well in the league. You still need to get lucky with lottery balls and ultimately make the right selection—both of which haven’t gone in the Knicks’ favor in, well … 36 years.
The Knicks finally are as competitive as they’ve been since the Carmelo Anthony era, so it would certainly be hard to trade Randle at the deadline and punt on the season unless the haul is beyond expectations.
2. Trade Him in the Offseason
Trading Julius Randle in the offseason would only make sense in one situation: acquiring a star. For example, if Bradley Beal or Zach LaVine became available, and Randle could be used to trade for one of them, then that’s something that would make sense.
However, if the Knicks aren’t trading Randle for a star, then it would make no sense to deal Randle in the offseason. The offseason is when Randle’s value will be at its lowest. He’ll be an expiring contract, and it’s extremely unlikely that a team will be willing to pay the same haul that they would at a trade deadline.
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 4, 2021
This is the situation that should be considered one of the least likely for Randle. Even if a trade for a star does come up, I wouldn’t expect Randle to be involved in the deal.
3. Extend Him
This is the situation that I expect is the most likely at this point: a Julius Randle extension. At this point, it’s pretty clear that Randle is going to continue to put up All-Star numbers for the rest of the season. There’s a big enough sample size to tell that Randle isn’t what he was last season and, instead, is a much-improved player.
If Randle can continue to put up these numbers, then why not consider him building block and lock him up long-term? The three-man lineup of Julius Randle, R.J. Barrett, and Immanuel Quickley has a Net Rating of 15.3 in 115 minutes this season, per NBA.com. These three players, along with Mitchell Robinson, can finally be the core for which the Knicks have been looking for such a long time.
The main question is how much would a Randle extension cost. Given the fact that Randle’s contract currently is three years, $63 million, it would likely cost the Knicks $23-24 million per year, if not more, as he’d certainly be looking for a raise. It could end up being more than that number, as the Knicks may have to overpay to prevent Randle from hitting the open market. Leon Rose and Scott Perry need to decide if paying Randle that much money is worth it, especially since Toppin was just drafted by the Knicks with a lottery selection.
If Randle is signed long term, then the Knicks should immediately look at trade packages for Toppin, who hasn’t looked good this season averaging 4.6 points and 2.5 rebounds in just 12.2 minutes per game. If Toppin isn’t traded, then he’d likely be put to minimal use with Randle starting, ultimately leading to his trade value plummeting. It is very possible that Toppin can be used as a trade piece to acquire a star.
These are all things that the front office has to be considering if the Knicks do choose to extend Julius Randle.
4. Let Him Play Out the Rest of his Contract Through 2022
If Julius Randle doesn’t want to sign an extension because he thinks he can get more money on the open market, then he can hit free agency after his contract expires in 2022. This would ultimately be the least smart move the Knicks can make, as it would be possible to lose Randle for nothing.
Julius with the excellent chase down block! pic.twitter.com/YNuRgr5qFx
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) January 30, 2021
Similar to the possibility go trading him in the offseason, this is something that wouldn’t make much sense for the Knicks. As a result, it should be considered one of the least likely outcomes.
Currently, I think that the Knicks are most likely to extend Randle in the offseason. For the first time in years, the Knicks feel like they are finally building a roster that can be sustainable for several years. Since it’s unlikely the Knicks get offered multiple firsts for Randle, there’s a minimal chance that Randle gets dealt at this year’s trade deadline.
This extension will lead to the Knicks being aggressive with what could potentially be multiple lottery picks this summer (depending on Dallas’ record), as one of them could be packaged to land a star.
Regardless of what happens, the Julius Randle decision will be one that a massive impact on the franchise for the near future.