On the opening night of free agency, forward Marcus Morris had agreed to leave the Boston Celtics and sign a 2-year deal worth $20M with the San Antonio Spurs. The Knicks, missing out on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, signed a flurry of players headlined by Julius Randle.
The guys the Knicks got are Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington, and Elfrid Payton (am I missing someone?) and those moves used up just about all of the cap space this offseason. Nobody they signed is a long-term commitment and nobody is grossly overpaid. There is merit to what they did, even if what they did is not what we dreamt of this offseason and not done the same way others may have wanted them to do it.
The Knicks had a substantial interest in Morris as a free agent target, according to Ian Begley, offering him a one-year deal worth $15M. They pivoted to the other guys when Morris went to Texas. The interesting development here is that it turns out Bullock is very injured. I don’t know what the injury is, exactly, but it opens up both a roster spot and about $10.5 million in salary-cap space for this offseason since he agreed to a 2-year deal worth $21M. Morris reportedly was getting cold feet about the move to San Antonio and made it clear he would be willing to take the deal the Knicks had left on the table.
We lived in limbo for like 30 hours trying to figure out a few things: Why does Morris want to leave San Antonio? Is he going to renege on his agreement with the Spurs? Does he really want to come to the Knicks? What’s the deal with Bullock’s injury? Are the Knicks going to bring Bullock back? Are the Knicks a world-class organization?
Thursday night, though, it was announced that Morris was coming to the Knicks on that one-year contract for $15M. The Knicks are basically capped out, again, as far as I can tell without sitting down and doing the math. They still have a mid-level exception worth roughly $4.8M, according to Bobby Marks, and it sounds like the bulk of that will eventually go to Bullock. Bullock’s agent and the Knicks have both said they still expect a deal to get done with one another.
It makes some sense why Morris would take this deal instead of the Spurs one. He gets more money this season and can go into free agency again next year. He’ll get a lot more money. I have no idea why he would do it after already agreeing with San Antonio, though. Maybe his agent showed him the work on the math there.
As far as roster construction, this is a weird situation the Knicks are in right now. The Morris signing would make a lot more sense if they didn’t add Gibson and Portis (and Randle, but he’s different) at the power forward position. People were clowning the Knicks already (#SayKnicksForClicks) when they signed those three, all of whom primarily play the power forward position. It was a stupid thing to make fun of them for since basketball is increasingly positionless and they really had zero power forwards on the roster entering this offseason. Now, though, it is more warranted.
RJ Barrett’s most natural position, it seems, is the small forward spot, which we thought was going to push last year’s first-round pick Kevin Knox into a lot of minutes at the four. Knox’s natural position is also SF, but the plan always seemed like the Knicks could push him into becoming something like the Tobias-Harris-mold at the stretch four. That seemed to be where he would get the bulk of his minutes, considering the 1s and 2s on the roster that also deserve to get minutes. Now, with Randle, Gibson, Portis, and Morris in the fold, it’s hard to envision that many minutes for Knox at that spot. Sure, each of those guys has some experience sliding up to the center spot (and Morris down to Small Forward) and can serve as capable backups for Mitchell Robinson, especially with his propensity to get in foul trouble, but those guys all need minutes too. It’s going to be an interesting juggling act for David Fizdale.
Along with Knox, 6-foot-7 Ignas Brazdeikis is going to deserve minutes at both the 3 and 4 spots. He’s been awesome in Summer League. Truly. He seems like he’s too good to be playing the G-League this season like we originally thought he might before seeing him play.
The Knicks might low-key be the deepest team in the NBA. All of the players on the roster are solid NBA players who can contribute to contending rosters. They combine their powers to become one bad basketball team, on paper, but there’s a lot of guys that other teams may eventually want at trade deadlines or as the return for a disgruntled star.
There are like so many dudes who deserve minutes on this roster. Some dudes will get injured (Bullock’s already there) so that will trim the fat a bit and solve some problems, but one would not be out of line to think a trade could come. Even if it was something simple like moving Frank Ntilikina for some second-round picks or something.
The Eastern Conference is very top-heavy. There is an opening at the bottom of the playoff bracket. The question is are the Knicks trying to straight-up win? I think they are. We know they’re not trying to be bottom-feeders this year and they have to say that they’re aiming for the playoffs, but they may actually avoid the lottery this season and that kind of scares me. I don’t want them to be bottom-feeders, either, but does making the playoffs really do anything for them? They cannot win a title and there aren’t any top-tier free agents to be had next summer, as far as we know, so what’s really the point of sneaking into the playoffs, missing the lottery, and having no chance at a top-5 pick. I’m so curious to see how this shakes out.