Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks have executed moves in free agency that go beyond the dollars and dimes.
Modern day free agency is all about the numbers. “How much money is this guy making over how many years?” That’s the bread and butter of Twitter and countless sports outlets. Determining a teams worth in free agency is all about breaking down how much money they’ve spent on every player they’ve signed.
The casual NBA fan would look at Joakim Noah‘s contract and say that four years was way too much and that it was a terrible decision.
While four years was a lot there is a deeper side to every contract, and every signing—especially the ones the Knicks have made this year; that’s the human element of the game
Looking at the human element is difficult, especially since most people don’t have access to a team’s locker room, but it exists more than people realize. You want to create an atmosphere and culture that people want to play in. You don’t want a player coming over looking for money, rather, you want him to buy into what the team is selling, and be proud of the team he is a part of. In order to do that, you need veterans.
The truth of the NBA is that veterans want to play with other veterans.
The Knicks have a declining Carmelo Anthony and a rising Kristaps Porzingis, putting them in limbo. They can’t fully rebuild as long as Anthony is on the team, yet Porzingis needs room to grow. An interesting contrast that’s been talked about is the fact that the Brooklyn Nets have been trying to sign a bunch of young players (Jeremy Lin, Allen Crabbe, Tyler Johnson) in the same city where the Knicks have been signing veterans.
The narrative is that the Nets are making the smart moves while the Knicks are not. Yes, the Nets are making smart moves. With a decimated roster and no young talents, their goal is to make some sort of foundation to build.
Take Bismack Biyombo for example. The Magic signed the big man to a four-year deal worth $70 million, yet nobody is saying “I want to go to Orlando and play with him!” Young players must first prove themselves first in order to gain the attention of the veterans of the league, and then start recruiting.
The Knicks trading for Derrick Rose was a nice start; he then recruited Joakim Noah. Noah then recruited Courtney Lee, and all of these moves are being watched by players throughout the league, seeing that people want to go to New York again. Noah brings energy and leadership to a locker room, and he is said to be a great teammate. This is in addition to having a superstar in Carmelo, who wants to win here.
Free agents know that this team is going to be competitive.
You need proof of this working? Well, I give you Exhibit A: Lance Thomas
Thomas has bounced around the league more than a ping-pong ball on draft night. Yet the 28-year-old, Brooklyn-born forward has found his niche in New York the past few seasons, finding success off the bench. Thomas was on an expiring contract this season, but unlike other seasons, he was actually sought after by multiple teams instead of hoping for a training camp invite.
Thomas publicly said he wanted to return to New York, and would even take a discount because of the free agent moves they’ve made. Thomas understands how he fits on the Knicks; his size and versatility allows him to play at the 3, which allows Melo to play at the 4, which is where he is most deadly.
Both of those moves allow Porzingis to play at the 5, where he has not only proven to be effective, but will also limit the minutes of Joakim Noah, allowing the team to maintain his health.
Another example? Well, I give you Exhibit B: Brandon Jennings
Jennings has played seven years in the NBA, and though he is only 26 years of age, he’s considered a veteran. Jennings has averaged 15.5 points and 5.9 assists per game over his career, and could have easily taken a longer and more expensive deal elsewhere. Yet, he decided to sign a one-year, $5 million deal to come to New York and come off the bench.
The perception has already started to shift, and players are noticing
All of this is the human element of the game; giving veteran leaders larger contracts, trying to create a culture to attract other players. The Cleveland Cavaliers do it, and so do the San Antonio Spurs. The Knicks are not only creating a playoff team, but also trying to purge themselves of a reputation that they’re a mismanaged and undesirable destination.
So while fans can debate if the dollars and cents add up, trying to decide if this guy or that guy fits into the team, the Knicks have given contracts that truly go beyond the money.