What if the Knicks didn’t extend Julius Randle last year?

Mar 4, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) and head coach Tom Thibodeau against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 4, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) and head coach Tom Thibodeau against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

We’ve been seeing “Vintage Julius” recently for the New York Knicks. Julius Randle’s averaging 26.7 points, 10 rebounds, and 5.4 assists in 16 games since Feb. 5. Against the Kings, he set a career-high 46 points and another career-high with eight made 3-pointers.

The effort on defense is there, and despite getting ejected after his argument with Cam Johnson in the loss to Phoenix, he’s been the most engaged since his All-NBA showing last year.

Randle’s contract extension was the centerpiece of their offseason moves, along with signing Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier. The Knicks also extended Derrick Rose, Alec Burks, and Nerlens Noel while letting Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock walk.

New York’s poor play this year has led to a lot of rethinking about what initially looked like a successful offseason, which raises one big question: What would’ve happened if the Knicks and Randle didn’t agree to a contract extension?

What if the New York Knicks didn’t extend Julius Randle last year?

Julius signed a four-year, $117 million deal with New York. At the time, it seemed like he was taking a big discount, being that he would have been eligible for a five-year, $200 million contract after this season.

Would the Knicks have signed Randle to the $200 million max after this year? Not a chance.

However, the 27-year-old Randle’s current deal isn’t a cap disaster. Next season, he’s set to be the 48th highest-paid player in the NBA.

Randle returning to his All-NBA form would make his contract one of the biggest bargains in the league. Yet even if he plays at a level somewhere in between last year and the majority of this year, New York’s more or or less getting what it paid for.

I think even if his extension was put off until this offseason, something close to his current deal could’ve very well still been on the table.

If the Knicks didn’t re-sign Randle, he may have been shipped out ahead of the 2022 trade deadline.

In reality, it wouldn’t have made any sense for New York to trade Randle while his value was at the lowest. If the Knicks want to trade him sometime in the future, there’s plenty of time for him to rehabilitate his value for a good return.

However, if he was going into the offseason as an unrestricted free agent, New York may have had no choice but to settle if the front office was going to let him walk.

Perhaps Sacramento would’ve taken a look at Randle as a cheaper alternative to Domantas Sabonis.

It hurts to write this but the Lakers would’ve definitely made a call, offering either their collection of Talen Horton-Tucker/Kendrick Nunn with their 2027 pick or begged for the Knicks to take on Westbrook.

Most interestingly, New York could’ve gotten involved with its favorite trade partner, the Dallas Mavericks.

The Knicks could’ve tried to figure out a way to get Jalen Brunson before he hits free agency. Or, New York could’ve been part of the latest Kristaps Porzingis trade and sent Randle to his hometown while getting back the package centered around Spencer Dinwiddie, Davis Bertans, and picks.

Similarly, if Randle would’ve chosen to sign with another team, the Knicks would’ve received an even more modest haul in return in a sign-and-trade deal.

New York will clearly continue to build around RJ Barrett, and while Randle may not end his career in New York, he’ll be there for the foreseeable future.

And while Obi Toppin has improved this season, slotting him into the starting four spot in place of Randle seems like a stretch. Would Thibodeau trust Cam Reddish as a full-time small ball four? That’s also unlikely.

So, while Randle’s extension hasn’t turned out to have been the savviest move, it may have beat any of the alternatives.