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RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson, David Fizdale, Knicks

Editorials

3 questions remaining for the Knicks after free agency

The New York Knicks had a sour offseason, missing out on Zion Williamson and instead going home with Duke stud RJ Barrett, whiffing on a chance to pair Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and leaving free agency with veterans on short-term deals.

The Knicks’ free-agency haul includes: Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, Wayne Ellington, Elfrid Payton, Reggie Bullock, and Marcus Morris.

It’s a seven-man addition in free agency for a team that was hoping just one or two stars would join the team instead. The talent is headlined by Randle, the true star potential of the group, and everyone else is on a one- or two-year deal.

Here are the remaining questions for the franchise.

How can David Fizdale integrate the young players with the vets?

Despite the seven-man free-agency haul, Barrett is still the cornerstone of New York’s offseason. The third overall pick was the top prospect heading into the collegiate season this time last year and initially showed growing pains in the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League before exploding in the team’s final three games, including a near-triple-double performance.

That being said, Barrett is a 6-foot-7 wing who should be given every opportunity to succeed and fail in his rookie season. However, the Knicks also employed the services of Ellington and Bullock this offseason while already rostering breakout undrafted rookie Allonzo Trier and 2017 second-round pick Damyean Dotson.

This is just one of multiple conflicting positional scenarios for the Knicks, who also have rising sophomore Mitchell Robinson, who made the All-Rookie Second Team, manning the paint but guys like Gibson and Portis potentially eking out value minutes over the young center. Randle also could garner minutes at the 5.

It’s going to be a long process for second-year head coach David Fizdale, who was criticized last season for his insistent playing of Emmanuel Mudiay at point guard over Frank Ntilikina. Fizdale has to balance playing time for the young players—guys like Barrett, Robinson, Kevin Knox, second-round pick Ignas Brazdeikis, Trier, and point guard Dennis Smith Jr. while appeasing the veterans in Payton, Gibson, Morris, and Portis. The free agents New York signed are signed to expiring contracts that either have team options on the second season or partial guarantees (except for Randle).

The reality is even though the Knicks could be a closer-to-.500 team by leaning into the vets playing heavy minutes next season, Fizdale’s squad would benefit more from keeping the younger players at the center of attention. These guys will be with the organization, probably but not definitively, longer than the next one to two years.

What’s the next step for Mitchell Robinson?

Robinson was a phenom in the final 40 or so games for New York, and he demonstrated why he’ll be a force to be reckoned with again with a great performance in Summer League.

Robinson, a preeminent vertical threat in the league, also has a limited game and didn’t show much else in Vegas. He’s an alley-oop roll man and shot-blocking extraordinaire without a post game or a jump shot. Not that he has to evolve past that to be an effective player, but without any sure-fire star players in the making on the team, it would behoove the Knicks to take Robinson out of his comfort zone on several possessions per game, giving the 7-footer the opportunity to post up or launch from someplace other than the dunking runway.

How do they maximize future cap space?

With the previously mentioned expiring deals the Knicks signed this offseason, they could see a large amount of money come off the books in the summers of 2020 and 2021. Essentially, general manager Scott Perry has instituted a replay mode of free-agency pitching the next two summers due to the nature of the deals signed this offseason.

Does that make New York an instant player for Anthony Davis in 2020 or Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021? The short answer is no, but the long answer is maybe.

Look, first the Knicks need to build a winning or winning-adjacent team. The franchise cannot expect Durant-type free agents to come to them without creating a team that’s semi-sustainable without a true star (see: the Brooklyn Nets). Perry’s acquisition of veterans seemingly fits into that model of improving and not totally tanking a team while giving out options to collect a prized free agent in the near future.

But in the event that fails (again), the Knicks will have to remain patient and hope one or more of their homegrown players turns into a star at some point.