Mitchell Robinson: Wait until he is an unrestricted free agent
When the Knicks signed Mitchell Robinson as a second round pick, they negotiated one of the best contracts in the NBA. Besides getting a first round talent for peanuts against the cap, they built in two escape clauses with a non-guaranteed third year and club option on his fourth year.
What this allows the Knicks to do is make evaluations at different points in his contract before deciding whether to lock him up long-term. The club option in the fourth year is particularly interesting because if it is exercised, it would allow Robinson to become an unrestricted free agent in 2022.
The way the NBA labor market works, players are paid for their past performance as much as their projected future performance. To illustrate the concept, imagine Mitchell Robinson lives up to fans’ wildest dreams and is worthy of a max contract in 2022. If that is the case, he would have been playing as a max-level player for at least the prior season, and the Knicks would have received that production for only $1.8 million if they didn’t offer him a contract extension before then.
Whether he performs as a max-level player in the future, or not, if the Knicks believe they can sign him for a relatively cheaper amount than what he will be worth in 2022 as a UFA, in giving him an extension before his current contract runs out, they would essentially be overpaying for his 2021-22 season, relative to his existing salary, in hopes of underpaying for his production for the extended seasons beyond that.
Why would the Knicks risk letting one of their best draft picks in recent memory reach the open market in two years? Cap space.
Just because Robinson can leave for another team in 2022, it doesn’t mean the Knicks still don’t have an advantage in re-signing him as a Bird free agent, allowing them to outbid their competition, while preserving his incredibly small cap hold ($3.4 million) entering the summer. Meanwhile, they would gain two more seasons of evaluating him as a prospect before committing a large financial outlay.
What’s a better competitive advantage than getting the services of an elite interior defender who projects as a lethal rim runner for less than $4 million over the next two seasons, COMBINED?
The Knicks are in the driver’s seat with Mitchell Robinson. They have a unique talent and several avenues available for them to keep him on a cost-effective contract while considering when they want to re-sign him to a more lucrative long-term deal.