The New York Knicks did their damnedest to set themselves up to be a winner starting with the summer of 2019.
That didn’t go according to plan. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving took their talents to New York, just not New York, New York. Bundled in that now former free agency class of 2019 is new Los Angeles Clipper, Kawhi Leonard.
But thanks to Leonard, the stars are aligning for the Knicks to line up another swing on a re-building effort through free agency starting in 2021.
Reports first surfaced that Leonard, 28, signed a four-year max contract in his new home with the Clippers. Instead, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported on Wednesday that Leonard signed a three-year deal that’s actually more like a two-year deal. Per the updated report, Leonard’s contract is a three-year maximum contract, but the kicker is the third year. It has a player option in the final year and as Leonard’s proven in the past, despite any championships, he could end up anywhere.
Could that be the Knicks’ time to strike with Leonard? Before Leonard signed with the Clippers, SNY’s Ian Begley reported that people around Leonard viewed the Knicks as a possible destination for him. Even if it’s not landing Leonard, the Knicks could shift their focus to 2021 free agency in a similar way the club hoped the most recent offseason would go.
Along with Leonard, new teammate Paul George, 29, is on a similar deal, The Athletic reports. George was recently traded to the Clippers, joining forces with Leonard. We’re still only scratching the surface on 2021.
In addition, reigning 24-year-old MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is currently slated to be an unrestricted free agent if he doesn’t sign a super-max extension with the Milwaukee Bucks before then. And you’ve surely heard of LeBron James? Currently 34, James will still be a coveted player until he hangs em’ up.
And the surface scratching still is just starting. There’s Blake Griffin, Mike Conley, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozen, Andre Dummond, and Bradley Beal, among others, all slated to be free agents in the summer of 2021.
As the Knicks found out recently, it takes more than the allure of the Big Apple to get players to sign with the organization, but further adding to a potential splashy summer of 21′ for the Knicks is their recent dud.
After missing out on some of the big fish, the Knicks settled on the likes of Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington, Elfrid Payton, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis and Julius Randle. The dollar figures aren’t the important piece in the new faces. It’s all about term.
Randle has a two-year commitment from New York with a third-year team option. The rest signed one-year commitments and the team has options on the second year. By 2021, every one of the Knicks’ new signees can be tossed aside and turned into cap space to two brand new max deal slots on their roster. By signing with the Clippers and accepting his fate as a Toronto Raptor, Leonard’s shown anything is possible in regard to future uniforms he could wear.
The Knicks can sell this idea, but have to sell a new narrative about the team, too. While Leonard had no say in being traded to Toronto , he didn’t make much of a fuss. The Raptors had the pieces in place to make Leonard’s addition a plug-and-play title winning roster.
This past offseason, the Knicks only cleared up space and had little else in place after moving on from younger pieces. Over the next two seasons, while selling the idea of the 2021 free agency period to fans, the Knicks must successfully develop first-round pick R.J. Barrett and perhaps even a player like Randle, a former No. 7 overall pick in 2014, to convince max players that they’ll have help around them when potentially joining the Knicks, much like the Raptors did with Leonard.
There’s always next year when for the Knicks, but now there’s always 2021, too.