The New York Knicks went from finishing 24 games below .500 in the 2019-20 NBA season to hosting a playoff series the ensuing season (the Knicks finished the 2020-21 regular season as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference with a 41-31 record, albeit they lost in five games to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round).
New York has a trove of assets at its disposal this offseason including four selections in this month’s NBA Draft, $50-plus million in cap space and a handful of compelling young players (trade scenario). Options are aplenty, but what’s the pragmatic — and realistic — way for them to go about the upcoming offseason?
Here’s a three-step offseason plan for the New York Knicks.
Step 1: trade up for James Bouknight
The Knicks need scoring, and UConn’s James Bouknight is adept at filling up the cup.
The two-year husky had a standout sophomore campaign, as he averaged 18.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Bouknight showcased an ability to be a scoring fixture. He gets to the rim off the dribble, sticks jump shots off the dribble and isn’t fazed by hoisting up outside jump shots.
It’s not exactly ideal for a Knicks’ team that’s looking to take the next step to have four rookies under contract next season. They can package their two first-rounders (19 and 21) and a second-rounder to move up for Bouknight. In all likelihood, Bouknight would come off head coach Tom Thibodeau’s bench in his rookie season, forming a dynamic second unit alongside Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin.
New York leaves draft night with a legitimate scorer who has the potential to become an impact player. Plus, they could strive to keep the 32nd pick in trading up, adding another talented young player to their rotation.
Step 2: sign Devonte’ Graham
The Knicks have to add scoring this offseason. Equally as vital is having a set-in-stone point guard for the 2021-22 season. Devonte’ Graham is a savvy option for the Knicks.
The 26-year-old has only improved with age and is a smooth commodity. While he can get a little too three-happy, Graham is an efficient outside shooter (he shot a combined 37.4 percent from beyond the arc over the last two seasons with the Charlotte Hornets) with a well-rounded offensive game. He can get to the hole off the dribble, is a cunning passer and would immediately fill the Knicks’ point guard vacancy.
Graham would facilitate for the Knicks’ offense and assist Julius Randle and RJ Barrett in the scoring department. With the bulk of defensive attention going towards Randle and Barrett, Graham can thrive under the radar. Chances are the Knicks can get Graham, a restricted free agent, for $15-20 million a season, as the Hornets have Terry Rozier and LaMelo Ball in the fold; Graham is expendable to their operation.
Graham fits the Knicks’ timeline, as they’re still a relatively young team and have a coaching staff which did a splendid job developing its young players this past season. The University of Kansas product could be the next player they help transcend.
Step 3: re-sign veteran rotation players and add a shooter
Continuity is pivotal in the NBA, and the Knicks re-signing most of their veteran rotation players from last season helps establish such a rapport.
Two veterans in particular make sense for the Knicks to retain: Reggie Bullock and Nerlens Noel. Bullock is a consistent “three-and-d” player. He shoots the long ball at a high frequency and with efficiency. Last season he shot 41.0 percent from beyond the arc and served as one of their best perimeter defenders. Bullock’s return helps spread the floor for Randle and Barrett to play in isolation, as well as Graham (in this scenario, he’s a Knick) to get clean looks from distance.
Noel was enormous for the Knicks down the stretch, as Mitchell Robinson suffered a season-ending foot injury in March and Noel stepped into the starting center position. The big man denied shots like nobody’s business and became the team’s defensive backbone. He provided a defensive presence off the bench beforehand, too. With Robinson returning from injury, it’s in the Knicks’ best interest to have another starting center present.
Bullock and Noel should each cost roughly $7-10 million per season over the course of a two-year deal. New York should also look to add another proven shooter. Otto Porter Jr. and Kent Bazemore would fit the bill. They’ve shot well from distance in the past and are sturdy defenders. Both players should sign for short-term deals and would likely backup or split minutes with Bullock at small forward.
3-step offseason plan improves Knicks and keeps trade possibilities open
This plan gives the Knicks much-needed scoring jolts, someone to run their offense and players who complement their core. Graham fills the point guard hole, Bouknight adds more youthful scoring, Bullock keeps a wing with familiarity in place and Noel keeps a defensive-minded center present. Furthermore, this offseason plan helps prevent the team from becoming too one-dimensional offensively. In other words, they wouldn’t be solely reliant on Julius Randle and RJ Barrett feeding off the former’s play.
Part of the urgency for the Knicks to advance their roster this offseason is the Hawks’ rise, the prospect of teams like the Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers getting back on track and the Chicago Bulls finally breaking through. The point being a slip up from a record standpoint could put the Knicks’ chances of returning to the playoffs in peril.
This plan also keeps future trade options open. Damian Lillard’s future with the Portland Trail Blazers is an enigma, and it seems Bradley Beal wants to stay with the Washington Wizards, making it difficult to find a perfect trade for the Knicks to make over the next month.
By keeping their core intact and adding suitable youth, the Knicks improve their depth chart, enhance their chances of returning to the playoffs and continue to build an arsenal for a blockbuster trade. Whether it be later this summer, next season’s trade deadline or even next offseason, the Knicks would have Quickley, Bouknight, Toppin, Robinson and three first-round selections from 2022-23 to offer teams for a star player.