Here’s a look at where things stand with the Knicks after the Kemba Walker acquisition:
After Walker signs, New York will have 14 players on traditional NBA contracts.
Walker will likely replace Elfrid Payton as the Knicks’ starting point guard. You can pencil Evan Fournier in as a replacement for Reggie Bullock at starting shooting guard. Rookies Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride will take up the roster spots vacated by Norvel Pelle and Frank Ntilikina.
At the moment, the club has room for a couple two-way players and another player on a standard NBA deal.
The Knicks and Walker are expected to agree on a two-year deal worth roughly $8 million annually, a source confirmed.
This means Walker is expected to take up the rest of the Knicks’ cap space.
They will have to use exceptions to sign the 15th player. The Knicks have the $4.9 million room exception and can use veteran’s minimum exceptions.
New York can go in a number of different directions with the final roster spot, but the club filled its biggest need on Wednesday by securing Walker.
(Audacy’s Ryan McDonough first reported the length of Walker’s contract).
HOW DID IT HAPPEN?
Walker and the Thunder were close to terms on a buyout early in the week, league sources say. At the time, the Knicks were in need of a point guard. Kyle Lowry (Miami), Chris Paul (Phoenix) and Mike Conley (Utah) all signed three-year deals. Spencer Dinwiddie is in line for a three-year deal with Washington (once the Wizards and Nets complete a sign-and-trade).
People in touch with the Knicks say they weren’t in love with the idea of committing long-term money to any free agents this summer. (The contracts they agreed to on the first night of free agency all aren’t fully guaranteed in the final season, as SNY reported on Tuesday. A source confirmed that the non-guaranteed seasons are team options for the Knicks, as McDonough said).
That approach was always going to make it difficult for New York to sign a top guard on the market.
They were in touch with Kendrick Nunn during the free agency period, but he ultimately chose a two-year, $10 million deal with the Lakers that included a player option.
Reggie Jackson and Dennis Schroder were under consideration, but neither was seen as a top option by the Knicks.
So they pivoted to Walker on Wednesday. Walker, from the Bronx and a legend at Rice HS and the Guachos AAU program, will share point guard duties with Derrick Rose. The smart money says Walker starts and Rose comes off the bench to keep the Knicks’ second unit in tact.
Both Rose and Walker should provide strong leadership/mentorship for young Knicks like Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, Grimes and McBride.
WHAT ABOUT WALKER’S HEALTH?
Injuries limited Walker to 43 games in 2020-21 and 57 games in 2019-20. Walker’s knee impacted him throughout last season, so that will be something to keep an eye during the year.
But when healthy, Walker can still produce. He averaged 20 points, five rebounds and four assists after the All-Star break.
He gives the Knicks something they needed going into the offseason: a shot creator. Walker and Fournier should help lift the burden off Randle and create easier baskets for the Knicks.
If recent history is any indication, the Knicks will drop off defensively next season. Bullock was a pivotal piece of their defense, which ranked fourth in efficiency last season.
But, if Walker and Fournier produce offensively as they have recently, the Knicks should be better in that area next season.
Whether that adds up to more wins in 2021-22 remains to be seen.
The Knicks didn’t take any big swings during this offseason. Instead, they chose continuity and stability. For a team coming off a 41-win season, that makes sense. It also comes with a risk — you can argue the Knicks should have been more aggressive in courting a lead guard or used their cap space to acquire assets (young players, picks).
But they chose stability and mostly maintained flexibility. Rose, Noel, Walker and Burks will essentially be on expiring contracts entering the 2022-23 season. If the Knicks wanted to remain in position to trade for a disgruntled star, they’ve mostly done so. (It could be difficult to create enough cap space to sign a max free agent in 2022).
From a trade perspective, the Knicks have six first-round picks and nine second-round picks in the next four drafts. So the draft capital is there. Whether their packages would be better than Golden State or the Sixers remains to be seen.
But they didn’t forfeit much flexibility over the last few days.