After years of scraping the doldrums of the Eastern Conference, the Knicks went toe to toe with the Lakers on Tuesday night, giving the reigning champs all they could handle.
Never mind that Los Angeles was without LeBron James, who is nursing an ankle injury, or that the Lakers eventually beat the Knicks 101-99 in overtime. The story here, as it’s been all season, is that the Knicks have proven capable of playing with any team in the league.
Oh how far they’ve come.
That fact, coupled with some promising financial figures, has left New York in an extremely desirable position ahead of 2021 free agency.
Knicks Positioned Well for Upcoming Free Agency
Greg Swartz, an NBA writer for Bleacher Report, published a story Tuesday wherein he listed the five teams best positioned for 2021 free agency. Swartz ranked the Knicks atop the list — ahead of the Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors, respectively.
The Knicks, according to Swartz, have a max cap space of $72.8 million — far greater than any other NBA team, which leaves them in prime position to potentially sign multiple players to max contracts.
In addition to their ample cap space, a promising young roster and a surge up the Eastern Conference standings work to position the Knicks as a desirable landing spot for big-name free agents. Swartz elaborates more in his Bleacher Report piece:
[Julius] Randle’s contract is only guaranteed for $4 million for next season, but New York is obviously going to keep their MVP candidate at his $20.7 million salary. The rest of the core are all still on rookie contracts.
[R.J.] Barrett (17.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 39.6 percent from three) looks like a future star, while [Mitchell] Robinson and [Immanuel] Quickley could be high-level starters. If the Knicks can find someone to take on the final season of Kevin Knox’s rookie deal, they can clear an additional $5.8 million.
The good vibes around the Knicks this season will only continue if they can secure home-court advantage in the first round and win a playoff series, something the franchise hasn’t done since 2013.
Who Could Knicks Target in Free Agency?
The top prize to be won in 2021 free agency is Kawhi Leonard, the Los Angeles Clippers star who has a player option for next season — which he plans to decline.
“Just for my situation right now, I’m just focused on this season,” Leonard said in December, per the Orange County Register. “Not saying I’m going anywhere else or staying here, but I’m just focused on the season. Obviously, if I’m healthy, the best decision is to decline the player option, but that doesn’t mean I’m leaving or staying.”
If Leonard does decide to leave the Clippers, the Knicks are in position to make a legitimate run at him.
“While few (if any) teams could put together an offer to make Kawhi Leonard consider leaving the Los Angeles Clippers, the Knicks may be the only one,” Swartz writes in his Bleacher Report article. “Imagine saying that a year ago.”
Other players that Swartz lists as potential free agent targets for the Knicks include Chris Paul, DeMar DeRozan, John Collins, Kyle Lowry and Lonzo Ball.