New York Knicks: Why they should do nothing in free agency

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 29: A 'we love New York' is displayed on a billboard outside the Madison Square Garden as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on August 29, 2020 in New York City. The fourth phase allows outdoor arts and entertainment, sporting events without fans and media production. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 29: A 'we love New York' is displayed on a billboard outside the Madison Square Garden as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on August 29, 2020 in New York City. The fourth phase allows outdoor arts and entertainment, sporting events without fans and media production. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images) /

What if George Costanza was general manager of the New York Knicks? Trust us, follow along…

The dream is dead. Sacramento isn’t trading for New York Knicks general manager Scott Perry. Which means that unless he’s willing to leave voluntarily, Leon Rose is gonna have to turn him loose. Not that I dislike Perry or blame him for recent years of dysfunction, but hiring a new GM to complete the overhaul just makes sense.

My first choice for the position? Former Yankees executive George Costanza. He’s built for New York; he’d be the best front-office interview in the League from Day 1; and most importantly, no one understands what the Knicks approach to 2020 free agency should be better than him.

To paraphrase his pitch to Leon:

GEORGE: I think we’ve really got something here.

LEON: What do we got?

GEORGE: An idea.

LEON: What idea?

GEORGE: An idea for free agency.

LEON: I still don’t know what the idea is!

GEORGE: It’s about nothing! Everybody’s doing something. We’ll do nothing!

As in no free agents. Not a single one.


Post-draft, the first thing Leon & Co. should do is take full advantage of the previous regime’s flexible signings and cut ties with Elfrid Payton and at least one of Gibson and Portis (most likely BP). That leaves…

Point Guards: Ntilikina, Smith Jr, Harper (re-signed, min. deal)
Wings: Barrett, Knox, Bullock, Brazdeikis. Ellington
Bigs: Randle, Robinson, Gibson, Wooten (re-signed, min. deal)

…plus 2020 draftees. Assuming only two selections are used (27 and 38 packaged), the roster stands at 14. One full-time slot and two 2-ways available.

Next order of business: reward Lamar Peters for his stellar G-League season with an NBA contract.

GEORGE: No! No! No! Nothing happens!

LEON: Well, something happens!

Don’t worry, George – even if it’s not literally nothing, it’s as nothing as NBA off-seasons get: sign Peters, and fill the two-way slots. (Cutting Ellington to bring in a cheap, previously-underachieving developmental project for Johnny Bryant is also an option, but I’ll keep Wayne for the extra shooting.)

Done. Your 2020-2021 New York Knickerbockers.

Weird, truncated, unprecedented off-season; brand new front office and staff; plenty of money and assets a year out from a stacked draft … there’s no need to make a splash in this free agency; what’s needed is to actually develop what’s already on the roster while instilling a culture and style of play that’ll serve as the organization’s 2021 pitch.

Hot. NBA Mock Draft with Knicks picking 8th. light

But they must win more; otherwise no one will want to come…

And we’re counting on the new coaching staff and the rumored (separate) developmental staff to get it done through internal improvements.

Say what you want about last year’s mismatched roster, but they were talented enough to win more. How many losses as a result of poor execution in the last six minutes? How many horribly-coached fourth quarters? They lost nine games by 5 points or less and a handful of others in which they were leading late. Better coaching, alone, will result in more Ws. Combine that with the establishment of an identity and steps forward for key young guys, RJ Barrett particularly, and the rest of the league will take notice.

These extra wins, this demonstrated improvement…it’ll require spacing, which means we need shooters…

Maybe I’m downright delusional, but I think a more open and cohesive Knicks’ offense is, again, a simple matter of coaching. Good coaches put their players in the right spots / positions to be successful. If Thibs can do this, they’ll be much better than last season’s 27th-ranked 3P% / 28th-ranked ORtg.

Imagine a lineup of Ntilikina-Bullock-Barrett-Randle-Robinson. Not ideal from a pure shooting perspective. But:

  • Reggie Bullock – Career 39% 3pt shooter (began last year injured; never got into a rhythm)
  • Frank Ntilikina – Career 40% 3pt shooter…wait for it…in games he plays 30+ minutes (which finally happens as long as we don’t acquire a veteran point guard); also shot 48% on corner threes last year per, including 58% from the left corner.
  • Julius Randle – First of all, stop laughing and hear me out — he shot 34.4% from 3 in New Orleans when utilized properly; shot 37% from the corners last year, including 47% from the right corner. Just get him to his corner and tell him the next above-the-break 3 he shoots will be his last, and it’ll all be fine.

So we’ve got our 5. Now imagine RJ and Mitch playing pick-and-roll on the right wing. RJ’s going left; Mitch is rolling; and the others are in their money spots:

NY Knicks shot chart (via /

Why can’t this work?

I already know what you’re gonna say – yes, this is only one particular 5-man lineup, and yes, basketball is fluid and everyone won’t always be in their absolute favorite areas of the floor, and yes, this is low volume and some of these percentages likely won’t hold up with the increased opportunities Thibs has pledged to create.

But if anything, this chart shows that the potential is there, and not just with this five. Knox shot over 34% from 3 as a rookie (42% from the right corner), and though he regressed this year – which may be attributable to, among other things, fewer minutes and shot attempts – still shot 46/122 (37.7%, which is above league average) from the wings; Ellington, if kept for shooting emergencies, is a career 38% 3pt shooter (55.5% from the corners last year); Iggy showed shooting potential in the G League last year – 34.4% on 5.5 attempts per game, a number likely to improve at MSG where he won’t be asked to be the entire offense; Jared Harper shot 36% on almost 7.5 attempts per game last year with the Northern Arizona Suns; Lamar Peters shot over 40% on 9 attempts in Westchester.

If it’s W’s we’re after, I’d much rather see the Knicks win because Ntilikina became a reliable jump shooter, because Knox – splitting minutes between forward spots – showed the multi-level scoring flashes for which he was drafted on a more consistent basis, because Iggy and/or either rookie and/or a former G-League diamond-in-the-rough proved to be a knockdown catch-and-shooter…all while maintaining maximum cap flexibility heading into Summer 2021.

And if it doesn’t work out – if I’m insane and they remain bottom-5 in efficiency – well, so what? Hang your hat on defense, and take all the ping-pong balls.

Slogging through another horrible offensive season while trying to develop internally is still better than signing FVV and/or Harris and/or Bertans so they can shoot us to the 12th pick in the draft. And no, this isn’t a pro-tanking piece; I want the Knicks to win more games, but not with overpaid mercenaries. Overpaying role players to win 32 games while torpedoing draft position in a good draft and sacrificing cap room prior to a great free agent class is NOT in any way, shape, or form a good rebuilding strategy. Period.

Any sort of major internal improvement will require leaders in the locker room…

That’s why Gibson and Bullock (and maybe Ellington) are still on the payroll. Not enough? Let someone else step up. Randle’s the next oldest; Frank’s the longest-tenured Knick and plays a leader’s game; Barrett or Robinson…if they’re truly cornerstones, it probably should be them. And if none are ready to rise to the occasion, well, Thibs is no Fiz.

I’m sick of this organization signing veterans in the pursuit of mediocrity only to fall short of that pursuit while playing said veterans over recent lottery picks. The Knicks have two point guards coming to the ends of their rookie contracts (which means decision-making time) and will likely have drafted a third. Ntilikina deserves a bigger role; Smith Jr’s natural ability – and Thibs’ reported feelings for him – warrants one, final look; and the rookie needs to play. Signing VanVleet gets in the way of all three and then some, and for what? To just miss the playoffs? To secure a starting point guard that isn’t even Top-15 at his position? To eventually flip him?

That last point has merit (the Morris deal was the high point of my season last year), but I’m not sure the pros outweigh the cons. I’d much rather let the current guys compete for that starting role. Wasn’t Ntilikina showing two-way promise toward the end of last season? Hasn’t he earned an opportunity? What about the rookie, whether taken at 8 or 27 or somewhere else after wheeling and dealing – shouldn’t he have a chance? Isn’t that why he was drafted?

And the same goes for any other potential free agent target -Danilo Gallinari, Justin Holiday, DJ Augustin, Christian Wood, Carmelo Anthony, et cetera – sure, they’re upgrades, but to what end? For what purpose?

I want to see this roster, minus the guys axed at the top, with real coaching. I want to see Randle in a sensible role. More PnR, less ISO. More catching and finishing, less ball-handling. I want to see him start at the 4, go to the bench early, come back as a small-ball 5 against reserves. I want to see if, in a real system, he can duplicate (or build upon) what he did under Gentry in New Orleans. If he can get closer to that efficiency, and if Thibodeau can get anything out of him defensively (if Thibs can’t, no one can), great. And if not? Cut him loose at season’s end.

I want to see what Frank can do with a coach that values him. I want to see how comfortable he gets offensively with 30 minutes a night.

I want him playing starters’ minutes so that the Lukas and Traes and whoevers of the world never get a break against the Knicks, never get to look at the man across from them and think, Finally… If he takes the opportunity and runs with it, that’s a guy who needs a new deal ASAP. And if not? His contract’s up. Au revoir.

I want Knox to play more than 18 minutes. Like his rookie year, but his time with structure, a defined role, and expectations / consequences. I want to see him at the 4 more, since pretty much every good team has gone to the hybrid there, anyway. I want to see what he can do, as a result of improved team defense, with more opportunities in transition. I want to see if the guy who was always a project – who we knew would need a few years from the get-go – can make progress toward the ceiling that intrigued scouts in the first place. And if he somehow still isn’t ready? Out of the rotation, down to the G-League.

I want Iggy in the rotation, rewarded for his Westchester dominance last season; I want Wooten’s performance acknowledged, too, with a chance to flash skinny Ben Wallace-ness in spot minutes at backup center; I want to see if Harper’s shooting, speed, and length can translate to the NBA…

Yes, of course I want to win, but more than that, I want to know which guys already on the roster can bring something to a future contender. And the best way to uncover that something is to first do nothing.

No outside help. No excuses.

In 2019 after failing to land KD and Kyrie, Steve Mills and Scott Perry offered flexible-but-overpaid deals to a mix of young vets who fit the timeline and older vets who could provide stability and leadership. While it wasn’t the trainwreck mainstream talking heads made it out to be, it didn’t work as intended. Arguably did more harm than good.

I don’t want another 2019. In fact, I want the exact opposite of 2019.


Instead of signing an entirely new rotation, sign no one (except minimums). Instead of leaning on veterans, lean on the homegrown youth. Instead of trying to placate fans with meaningless wins, or by bringing back former Knicks, understand that we are more than willing to take our lumps if it means sticking to a plan and rebuilding this thing right.

Next. 1 FA target from every Northwest team. dark

There’s some more wisdom Costanza could offer if hired – look at what Mills and Perry did in free agency last time, and do the opposite.