New York Knicks: How Scott Perry can clear max-level money for 2019

(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The New York Knicks are hoping to be able to sign a max-level star in 2019. What exactly can general manager Scott Perry do to make that possible?

The New York Knicks have stated quite consistently that clearing cap space for 2019 is a task the front office is looking to accomplish. It isn’t necessarily the foundation for the rebuild, but 2019 will be one of the most star-studded periods of free agency in recent memory.

Unfortunately, the Knicks will have to do a great deal maneuvering in order to create the necessary cap space to make a run at the biggest free agents on the market.

The list of stars who are eligible for free agency in 2019 includes Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant, Marc Gasol, Al Horford, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Kevin Love, Klay Thompson, and Kemba Walker.

It could also feature high-level contributors such as Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Taj Gibson, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, T.J. McConnell, Khris Middleton, Nikola Mirotic, Julius Randle, JJ Redick, Ricky Rubio, Jeff Teague, and Nikola Vucevic.

Simply put: There will be an exceptionally rare crop of talent available for the Knicks to attempt to sign—if they can clear the necessary cap space to do so.

The Knicks’ projected cap space for 2019 is negative $38.3 million, per Cleaning The Glass. Renouncing Enes Kanter‘s cap hold would bring that number down to negative $10.4 million, and doing the same with Ron Baker‘s would lead to a more manageable negative $1.8 million.

New York could make the jump to $17.1 million in cap space by renouncing the cap holds on Mario Hezonja and Emmanuel Mudiay, but both will be vying for long-term contracts in 2018-19.

That brings us to Lance Thomas, whose partially-guaranteed salary could be waived, thus bringing New York to $4.9 million in cap space. That’s where things get tricky, as five players could determine the Knicks’ future: Hezonja, Courtney Lee, Mudiay, Joakim Noah, and Kristaps Porzingis.

Holding off on re-signing Porzingis until after the addition of another star would simplify the equation, especially since New York is in possession of his restricted free agency rights.

The hurdle: Making sure that such an approach wouldn’t lead to morale issues with Porzingis as he recovers from a severe knee injury..

Assuming Porzingis approves of this approach, it comes down to Hezonja, Lee, Mudiay, and Noah. If Hezonja and Mudiay play well this season, New York would likely prefer to bring them back—and would have the ability to go over the cap to do so if they keep their holds.

The same could be said for Trey Burke, but his mere $2.3 million cap hold should be retained—unless, of course, a superstar is willing to sign and the Knicks need that extra space.

Using the stretch provision on Noah’s contract would bring New York up to $15.7 million in cap space. It would also require the franchise to pay Noah a significant figure of $7.6 million over each of the next five seasons.

That isn’t exactly an easy dead salary to carry.

If New York then manages to trade Lee for an expiring contract, however, it could reach $28.5 million in cap space—assuming it renounces any cap hold it may receive via the trade.

That could be enough to be able to go out and sign an All-Star or All-NBA level player to a near max-level deal. That, of course, depends on their experience in the NBA, as well as their willingness to take what could equate to one or two million dollars less in the first year.

That could translate to money lost over time, but this measure of cap space would at least give New York a foot in the door.

If Mudiay’s cap hold is renounced, the Knicks would be in business—and Hezonja’s would make it even more possible. In fact, if both players underwhelm in 2018-19, the Knicks could conceivably renounce their cap holds and prevent the need to trade Lee.

Lee only has so much on-court value to an up-and-coming team, but as a 3-and-D veteran on a team with Porzingis and a second established star, the conversation would change.

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If the New York Knicks are going to create the necessary cap space to make this kind of splash, however, they’ll need to make sacrifices.

A long road waits ahead.