Knicks Mailbag: Are they well-positioned if the salary cap decreases?

Ian Begley

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Here's our weekly Knicks mailbag with SNY's NBA Insider Ian Begley...

@Boujeecoujee: Are the Knicks in a relatively good position with the salary cap projected to go down, and a lot of younger assets under contract for 2-3 years along with stockpiling picks? Could this stoppage potentially help a rebuild in some ways compared to other teams

The short answer? A cap decrease could help the Knicks. But it's unclear how or if it will at this point.

Everyone is expecting a cap decrease for next season, but it's unknown how much the cap will decrease and how the NBA and NBPA will approach it. 

If the NBA's revenue dips significantly due to the coronavirus (and the China/Daryl Morey imbroglio), the league and players could agree to a "smoothing," which, as ESPN's Bobby Marks explains, would allow the cap to take less of a hit than it would under current CBA rules. 


Marks has a great story on eight different ways the coronavirus crisis could change the league financials, including the salary cap for next season. 

Albert Nahmad also has a great article explaining salary withholdings and how a dip in BRI could lead to cap reduction. He suggests in the article that the league and players could agree to set the cap at a number that is based on projections of future revenue. 

But until we know how the league and players association handle the decrease in revenue, it's hard to know how, specifically, the situation could benefit the Knicks. 

One scenario that would help New York? A decrease in both the salary cap and luxury tax, as Marks told the New York Post. This could force more teams to try to shed salary so they can avoid paying the luxury tax. 

At current salary cap projections ($115 million), the Knicks are one of three teams who project to have more than $30 million in cap space (Detroit and Atlanta are the others). 

The Knicks' cap space depends in large part on what they do with contract options for next season. The group of players that has options for next season includes Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Elfrid Payton and Wayne Ellington

Depending on what they decide to do with the players who have contract options and their current free agents, the Knicks can have roughly $60 million in cap space this summer. 

That kind of space would give New York significant flexibility if the cap and tax line decrease. 

The club could absorb big contracts from teams looking to shed salary, acquiring young players or draft picks as a sweetener for taking on the unwanted money. Depending on the math involved, the Knicks could absorb an undesired contract and still have cap space left over to spend on free agents. 

The uncertain cap future also may make it more likely for free agents with player options on their contracts, such as Los Angeles' Anthony Davis, to opt in to their deals. If that happens, it means more players will be free in the summer of 2021, when the Knicks again could have significant cap space. 

You could argue that an increase in free agents in the 2021 class helps the Knicks because it increases the likelihood that they land one of the desired free agents that summer. 

But it's worth noting that the dip in revenue could impact the 2021 cap as well. Adam Silver reportedly told players on a conference call earlier this month that 40 percent of revenue is based on having fans in arenas. If the league plays games with no fans next season, that would impact revenue. As SNY reported last month, the NBPA already has told agents to prepare for a significant dip in revenue in 2021. 

If the coronavirus decreases the 2021 cap, that could also lower the value of the supermax extension that the Milwaukee Bucks can offer Giannis Antetokounmpo this summer. Just speculating, but it seems that a cap decrease would make Antetokounmpo more likely to decline Milwaukee's extension offer and test free agency in 2021.

We have a few coaching questions that I think I can address in one answer below: 

@20manny07: Who's going to be the NYK's coach next season?

@Munschauer: What's the latest on the head coaching situation with the Knicks?

@coffeiz4closers: Knicks coaching situation, please... 

@awiggy000: What are the odds that Tom Thibodeau is the next Knicks coach? 

@Dstewart267: Is Thibs the clear front-runner for HC?

Until the Knicks start scheduling interviews with potential head coaches, I don't think there are going to be many new updates on the coaching front. I don't think New York will talk to candidates formally until the NBA rules out the rest of the regular season. 

As we wrote previously, last month some agents and other coaches with a vested interest in the Knicks' coaching situation believed that Leon Rose would likely hire Tom Thibodeau as head coach. That was based, in part, on Rose's close relationship with Thibodeau. 

But Rose probably has close relationships with many coaches at the college and NBA level because he was a top player agent at CAA for more than two decades. So I think it's premature to say that Thibodeau - or anyone else - is a lock to get the job. I'd expect the Knicks to talk to several candidates before making a hire. 

Video: Will the Knicks draft or sign a future point guard?

We had a few questions about the NBA season that will be addressed below: 

@awiggy000 Do you expect the NBA season to continue this year 

@jiggyyx_1 : How likely is it that the season gets cancelled?? What are the major factors?

I do think the season will resume in some form. A majority of players and owners want it to happen, so I think NBA commissioner Adam Silver will get a consensus from everyone involved. The most likely scenario, obviously, is cancelling the rest of the regular season and starting with the playoffs. This would reduce the number of people involved in the endeavor - and reduce the chances of the coronavirus spreading among participants.

The major factors here are money, as well as the health and safety of participants. 

The league and teams would lose a significant amount of revenue if the season is cancelled. That loss would trickle down to the players. They can avoid that monumental loss by resuming the season. So both sides will have financial motivation to return to the court. 

But I don't think the league or the NBPA would agree to get back on the floor without assurances that there is a relatively safe way to do so. It's almost impossible to eliminate the chances of a participant testing positive for coronavirus. But there are ways to significantly reduce the odds of someone testing positive and spreading it among the group. 

The tricky thing for the NBA and its players is to have enough COVID testing to offer frequent tests to all participants. Let's say the league has enough tests to do this. There could be a perception among politicians and the public that the league is taking tests away from other citizens who need them. That could lead to public criticism of the league. This could possibly be avoided if health officials tell the public that the NBA isn't taking away tests from citizens in need. 

Quick hitters... 

@itbegins2012: Do you have any idea on Kyrie or KD friends that will be joining them this next season in free agency?

If I had this information in a way that I felt comfortable writing it, I would report it. So I don't have specific names to offer here. I'm sure there are many players around the league who are excited about the possibility of playing with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn. This shouldn't come as a surprise. Who wouldn't want to play with two superstars and a strong supporting cast and be one of the pieces that helps the team win a title? 

I think it's silly to speculate until there is something more concrete to talk about, but since you asked: I know that there is at least one respected veteran and one young, talented player who have significant interest in joining Durant and Irving in Brooklyn. Both players' contract situations would make a move to Brooklyn feasible. 

Of course, there's a wide gap between players having interest in Brooklyn and actually ending up in Brooklyn. But I think the Nets will have plenty of attractive options to consider this summer when the club looks to add to its roster. 

@knickityknick: Do knicks front office people see RJ Barrett as their franchise player or more of a Robin?

My guess is some in the front office would say it's too early to put either label on Barrett. He's 19 years old and currently coming off of a 56-game rookie season in which he showed plenty of promise. But even if Knicks front office people see Barrett as a franchise-type player, I don't think that the Knicks would hesitate to pursue someone who is also viewed as a "franchise player" via trade or free agency. Just my opinion.  

@knickityknick Any interest in Cassius Winston 

@knickityknick Would knicks look at trading for Jonathan Isaac?

I don't know if the Knicks have interest in drafting Winston or trading for Isaac but if I get any solid intel on that, I'll certainly pass it along. 

Thanks for all of your questions, @Knickityknick, and thank you to everyone else who has submitted questions. If I haven't answered your question in a video or article yet, I will do my best to get to it in the future.

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