On ESPN’s draft combine show Friday, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said the franchise seeks to “add shooting — not just 3s, but off the dribble as well, wings and guys who can shoot.’’
The Knicks also desperately need a starting point guard, and that’s going to happen in free agency — with close to $60 million in cap space — or in a blockbuster trade.
In fact, that deal could take place on draft night July 29, with the Knicks giving up three of their four draft picks (19, 21, 32, 58). Thibodeau not only talked about “trading up’’ but “trading out’’ of the draft.
When the season ended June 2 against Atlanta in the first round, starting point guard Elfrid Payton was bounced from the rotation, Frank Ntilikina was glued to the bench, and Derrick Rose was gimpy on a sore knee.
In other words, the Knicks’ point-guard situation was a complete mess. Here’s their PG pathways for better future:
Their point-guard pie in the sky. All eyes are on whether the Blazers gamble on rookie coach Chauncey Billups or hire a solid veteran offensive mastermind, Mike D’Antoni. If it’s Billups, the speculation could ramp up the Blazers are starting anew and the disgruntled Lillard could go on the block. The Knicks, who hired Lillard’s Oakland mentor Johnnie Bryant as an assistant, are ready to deliver the Blazers at least three future first-round picks — perhaps on draft night.
Sail Spencer Dinwiddie across the East River
Full of personality, the combo guard spent five years trolling Knicks fans from Brooklyn. It sounded more like jealousy because of the attention the Manhattan franchise merits. A 2019-20 All-Star, Dinwiddie is a slight risk coming off an ACL tear at age 28. The Knicks have interest and can’t imagine the combo guard not wanting to regale in the Garden spotlight and stick it to his former team. Dinwiddie, who averaged 20.6 points and 6.7 assists in 2019-20, is more shooter than playmaker — but that could be as perfect as a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge on a sunny day.
Monitor Jalen Brunson
Let’s get it out of the way: Knicks president Leon Rose loves the son of his first client, ex-Knick Rick Brunson. Rose thinks Brunson is a legitimate starting, playmaking point guard. Now it’s up to Dallas’ new coach, Jason Kidd, to decide if Brunson, a second-round pick out of Villanova, is the guy to build around and lock in long term. The Mavericks will exercise his team option for next season and can offer him an extension. If Kidd lowballs him, Brunson will decline and the Mavericks will be forced to trade him, otherwise risk losing Brunson to 2022 free agency. The Knicks have Brunson on their radar. Thibodeau is a big fan of the lefty quarterback. Rick Brunson was on all of Thibodeau’s prior coaching staffs.
Wait out the Phoenix PG puzzle
Chris Paul surprised many by telling associates recently he will opt out of his $44 million final year and seek another two-year deal at age 36. It’s hard to imagine the Suns not doing everything to bring him back on a two-year package — whether they win the title this season or not. Meanwhile, Cameron Payne, 26, showed plenty of playmaking potential as Paul’s stand-in and will be a free agent. It could be very Knicks-like to overpay a player who has not proven himself as a full-time starter.
Deliver an offer sheet to Lonzo Ball — and his father
Ball, the No. 2 pick of the 2017 draft, is a restricted free agent, but the Pelicans might not match an offer sheet that starts at $19 million. Making Zion Williamson happy is their top priority, though, and it’s been reported they like playing together. Ball is a pass-first point guard the Knicks need, and he improved his 3-point shooting (37.8 percent) but has never performed against a playoff defense. Leon Rose knows Lavar from their past when CAA repped the Balls. The father’s eccentricities are not an issue. Sources believe Lavar, a former Jets tight end on the practice squad, wants all his sons on Broadway, and the Knicks are on Lonzo’s radar.
“He can take the ball out of [Julius] Randle’s hands and he’s improved his shooting,’’ an NBA scout said.
Trade for Kemba Walker with market value at rock bottom
Unless desperate, the Knicks likely won’t make the leap for Walker after Brad Stevens showed exactly how he feels about his current game, unloading him to Oklahoma City in his first move as president of basketball operations. Knicks GM Scott Perry didn’t see Walker as a max player as a 2019 free agent. The knee-impaired Bronx native looked shot in the playoffs — at age 31 with two years and $73 million left on his deal.
Trade for Ben Simmons with market value heading to rock bottom
Though the 76ers told his agent Rich Paul they will deconstruct him and not trade Simmons, a sweeping offer would probably change team president Daryl Morey’s mind.
Even if he’s a playmaker, defender and superior athlete who can finish strong, scouts say it’s tough to have a max contract on the roster if he’s unable to be on the court at closing time because of his shooting yips. The Knicks need more perimeter shooting — not less.
“If the Knicks need a starting point guard, he’s not that guy,’’ one NBA scout said. “For him to be effective offensively, he needs the ball, and it conflicts with Randle. I’d say not a good fit.’’
The former LSU stud just finished the first season of a five-year, $175 million pact that could soon be viewed as untradeable.
“Simmons is a tough one,’’ an assistant GM said. “I still think he is a good player. But it’s hard when your max guy isn’t willing to shoot the ball in the fourth quarter. Or you have to take him out of the game at the two-minute mark so the other team can’t foul him.”
Sign Kyle Lowry to a two-year max deal — with team option
In the past, sources say Lowry — a Philadelphia guy who played at Villanova — wanted to be a Knick. He’s 35, an NBA champion and still can bring shotmaking and playmaking. Don’t discount Lowry re-signing unless the Raptors draft Gonzaga point guard Jalen Suggs. One league executive said giving more than a one-year guarantee at max money makes for a risk at age 35. “He’s better suited for a title contender — and that’s not the Knicks,’’ one personnel man said.
Take the plunge on Dennis Schroder
He might be more suited as a backup point guard at this stage — in the same vein of Derrick Rose. The German turned down an $84 million extension, so he wants the big bucks. The Post reported in April he’s on the Knicks’ radar.
“I like Schroeder but don’t like him running the team as No. 1 point guard,’’ an NBA scout said. “I question his leadership and shooting.’’
Schroder is a Thibodeau-type defender.
The current ensemble
Payton is gone. Ntilikina likely is, too, as he looks to increase his free-agent value on Team France in the Olympics. Thibodeau will push for a Derrick Rose return at the right price, but new signee Luca Vildoza was added as backup PG insurance. Vildoza will get to show Knicks fans his worth at the Olympic for Argentina.