No Knicks rookie has picked up a second contract from the organization since Charlie Ward in 1999, and there’s a chance one in this group will.
The only way to persevere as a Knicks fan is to convince yourself that good news is around the corner; the young players are showing some promise, Giannis is coming, Dolan is fielding offers, the lottery will be rigged for us (R.I.P. David Stern). When things don’t pan out, we divert our hope to some unlikely possibility on the horizon.
Each season, once chances of being a surprise playoff contender are dashed (usually by December), we can look to the draft. Dispiritingly, though, despite missing the playoffs all but four seasons this century, the Knicks haven’t reaped the benefits of being a bad NBA team. As many Knicks fans probably don’t need to be reminded: miraculously, the last Knicks’ draft pick to be given a second contract by the team was Charlie Ward in 1999.
A quick rundown of how that’s even possible: They have often (and often misguidedly) traded first-round picks (2006, 2007, 2010, 2014)—though the current front office has halted that trend. They’ve blown a fair share of selections (Frederic Weis, Mike Sweetney, Renaldo Balkman, Jordan Hill). The Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis trades also shipped out a few candidates.
Oddly enough, they’ve drafted relatively well this century: Nene at No. 7 (2002), Iman Shumpert at 17 (2011), Danilo Gallinari (2008), Wilson Chandler at 23 (2007), Tim Hardaway Jr. at 24 (2013), David Lee at 30 (2005), Trevor Ariza at 43 (2004). But, cripplingly, their drafting within the lottery hasn’t been nearly as fruitful.
Furthermore, the lack of second contracts reflects a generally unsuccessful era of player development. No young player has emerged as an indispensable building block.
The jury is still out on the current batch of neophytes who call the Knicks their first NBA team, and none have established themselves (yet) as guaranteed cornerstones. So who’s likeliest to buck the trend and re-up in New York?
The Obvious Pick
It would be a major letdown if R.J. Barrett didn’t get a second deal. Barrett was the Knicks’ highest pick since Patrick Ewing, and the franchise is fully expecting him to blossom into an All-Star. So far, so…okay. After a strong start to his rookie campaign, Barrett has shot poorly across the board (42.8 eFG%) and his numbers have suffered (13.5 points per game, -0.7 WS). But at 19, he’s shown a relatively mature feel for the game, and it’s still way too early to reassess his ceiling.
The Knicks cap is a blank slate in 2022–23, except potentially the final year (team option) of Barrett’s rookie deal, about $11 million. R.J. probably isn’t going to qualify for the Derrick Rose rule—enabling him to earn 30% of the cap if he started two All-Star Games, made two All-NBA teams, or won MVP—he’ll be eligible for 25% of the cap (projected about $131 million). He would seem to have a chance of being nominated for the Designed Player extension, making him eligible for a five-year extension, rather than the standard four-year limit, meaning a second deal could be upwards of $30 million annually. Ideally, the Knicks’ front office should be in a position to want to pay that, if Barrett has met draft day expectations.
Unless he’s dealt for a superstar, it would be a massive disappointment if the Knicks and Barrett were not in a mutual position to make a second contract happen in New York.
Fellow 2018 draft picks Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson would both figure to have a chance at second deals, though it will depend on what the Knicks’ cap sheet looks like and how much they develop. They’re in line to make roughly $4.3 and $4.6 million (team option) the next two seasons, respectively, with a $5.8 million team option for 2021–22—which the Knicks will hopefully want to pick up. Knox has played better under Mike Miller, but still ranks last in his draft class in Win Shares, and that’s a troubling omen. He’s 20, so there still could be plenty of room to grow.
On the other hand, Robinson ranks second to Luka Doncic on that 2018 draft class Win Shares list (first in WS/48, and just went 11-of-11 against the Blazers. Mitch still has a long way to go with his game—especially keeping his fouls down with increased minutes—but he’s shown as much promise as anybody on the team. As a second-round pick, Robinson is on a generous four-year, $6.5 million deal that runs through 2022, with the final two years as a team option. The Knicks will pick those up for sure, but the question is whether Robinson will round out his game enough through next season to merit a more lucrative extension before that. At this rate, he’s the most likely Knick to get that next deal to stay in New York.
The French Prince
The Knicks picked up Frank Ntilikina’s $6.2 million option for next season, postponing his free agency until 2021. Ntilikina has shown minor improvements in his shooting and general offensive confidence, but has not solidified himself in the team’s future. Neither this front office (nor the next) will be particularly invested in validating a Phil Jackson draft pick by re-signing Ntilikina, so his future looks tenuous at best barring a massive breakthrough in his game. It made sense to pick up the option, but he could be another Knicks lottery pick to have a short-lived New York career (I hope I’m wrong!).
The Knicks picked up Allonzo Trier’s $3.5 million option for this season, and when he’s been on the court, he’s scored at a decent rate (20 points per 36 minutes with a 62.9 eFG%). But injuries and a point guard–laden roster have rendered him as the odd-man out. He may have a place in the league, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely that it’s in orange and blue.
I’m not sure if my guy Damyean Dotson, drafted 44th overall in the 2017, has displayed enough strides in his game to merit another deal when the 25-year-old’s contract expires this summer. They could re-sign Dotson—possibly using the Bi-Annual Exception—but with fellow wings like Barrett, Elfrid Payton, Dennis Smith Jr., and Reggie Bullock signed through next season (not all fully guaranteed), Dotson’s presence may not be necessary.
Ignas Brazdeikis has barely gotten on the court in the pros, but he’s been the main bucket-getter in the G League for Westchester (19.3 points per game). He’s slated to earn about $1.5 million next season, with a $1.8 million team option for 2021–22. We can have this conversation with Iggy after a larger sample size.
Admittedly, the Knicks’ future decision-making is hard to predict—and not just because New York routinely makes confounding decisions that defy logic. Their cap sheet is purposefully open after 2022 in time for a potentially juicy free-agent class, including Kawhi Leonard, Blake Griffin, Paul George, Jrue Holiday, Gary Harris, Aaron Gordon, Zach LaVine, Marcus Smart, to name a few (also Steph and LeBron, for what it’s worth). This upcoming summer, on the other hand, features a barren class that the front office should largely abstain from. Furthermore, everybody on this roster could be traded at any point, and a new front office will implement its own agenda without any personal loyalty to prior draft selections.
Despite the recent wins, another lottery pick seems likely. So far this century, that hasn’t assured a long-term asset. In fact, just the opposite. Maybe this decade will be different. At least that’s how we have to think. Happy New Year.