New York Knicks contracts: Lance Thomas prediction

New York Knicks Lance Thomas (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
New York Knicks Lance Thomas (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) /

The New York Knicks have a decision to make on Lance Thomas, who could hit the open market this summer.

The New York Knicks have contract decisions to make on most of its roster in the 2019 offseason, sans Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina, to an extent. Most of the team will feature new players, but that does not mean impending free agents can’t return.

One of them, Lance Thomas, was the second-highest paid player left on the Knicks roster to close 2018-19, at $7.11 million, and the oldest player remaining, at age 31.

Thomas is technically under contract for the 2019-20 campaign, but only $1 million of his $7.58 million is guaranteed towards the salary cap. There is a decision to make on the deal Phil Jackson gave the Duke product in the combustible 2016 offseason, and it should be straightforward.

The Knicks can have up to $74 million in cap space to spend, pending they renounce the rights to all of their free agents. Thomas, who averaged 4.5 points and 2.5 rebounds on 39.6 percent shooting and fell to the end of the bench, is an inevitable casualty of this. The production is far from $7.58 million and around the veteran’s minimum if anything.

All the possible is needed for whichever top free agent signs, and Thomas is a foregone conclusion to take just the $1 million guaranteed of his 2019-20 salary. That does not prevent his return, however.

Thomas was the veteran leader of this young, 17-65 team loaded with players age 25 and under. While not a statistic that appears on paper, head coach David Fizdale recognized this value from the preseason and gushed over it to Marc Berman of the New York Post:

"“Lance is just … man is he a good leader,’’ Fizdale said. “He’s just a really good leader. Those guys respect him big time. When he speaks, the gym shuts down and everybody listens.’’"

The organization’s direction is also obvious to Thomas. He wants its success and is aware of the bigger picture, as told to Newsday‘s Steve Popper in February:

"“For someone like myself, no. I know the direction the franchise wants to go in. As a lifelong Knicks fan, I only want success for this organization. I’ve always been a part of things that are bigger than myself. This is one of them. Whatever I personally have to do to make success happen, that’s what I’ll do."

The last sentence is telling, “Whatever personally have to do.” This was commenting on leading young players and putting them in the right mindset, yes, but if it applies to the payroll, maybe he returns for another season on the veteran’s minimum to lead this team vocally, while a top free agent or two arrive and handle what the public sees.

Staying in New York for the potentially brighter times also lets Thomas, the team’s longest-tenured player, watch the evolution of a team that started from the bottom and — maybe — reaches a playoff level.

As for an on-court role, Thomas fits as a defensive-minded role player in the final few bench spots. He can cover a team’s top forward if needed, but with superior, surrounding scorers. At most, for 10-to-15 minutes per contest.

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The New York Knicks have an easy decision to make on Thomas’ contract, but he makes sense to return to witness the evolution of a young team and lead them into the next step. He warrants a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract.