The New York Knicks surprised many with their run to the four-seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs last season.
The Knicks rode their top-5 defense to the upper end of the playoff bracket, but saw their season short-circuited by offensive shortcomings.
New York ultimately bowed out of the first round, suffering a 4-1 defeat to the lower-seeded Atlanta Hawks.
In that series, the Knicks struggled to score, and didn’t break 96 points in any of the last three games.
In an effort to mitigate those offensive struggles, the team landed New York native Kemba Walker in free agency this offseason.
But the 31-year-old guard likely stands on the back end of his All-Star career.
So the Knicks need to look to future free agents to help return Madison Square Garden to its rightful place as the Mecca of NBA basketball.
Knicks fans doing cap-space math to see if New York can create room for certain free agents this summer pic.twitter.com/PPv03eKe78
— #RingerNBA (@ringernba) December 13, 2018
Knicks Cautious With Cap Space
New York entered the 2021 offseason with over $50 million in cap space.
But instead of reaching for the stars, the Knicks opted for continuity.
This seems especially prudent considering the 2022 free agent market looks sparse in light of big-time stars signing contract extensions.
Even Kawhi Leonard, who’s dealing with an ACL injury that might cost him the entire 2021-22 season, inked a new deal with the Los Angeles Clippers.
So the Knicks elected to keep a level of continuity and keep their books clean for a free agent run down the line.
3. Pascal Siakam
The Toronto Raptors pivoted into a rebuild this offseason.
A year after seeing Leonard leave for Los Angeles, the Raptors shipped off Kyle Lowry in a sign-and-trade deal with the Miami Heat.
So Toronto now turns to Pascal Siakam to lead the franchise.
And while Siakam won’t hit unrestricted free agency until 2024, the then 30-year-old could be a major star in New York.
Siakam stands as a one-time All-Star and played a major role in the Raptors championship run in 2019.
Despite struggling through injuries last season, Siakam notched his second-consecutive 20-point-per-game campaign.
He would align nicely alongside Randle in New York as a pair of versatile forwards.
The Cameroonian native doesn’t have direct ties to New York like other free agent options, but he would be a significant star for the Knicks.
This option allows New York to evaluate its young core and let their books clear up for a big-time offer.
2. Karl-Anthony Towns
Karl-Anthony Towns is another name that has long enamored Knicks fans.
Although the former No. 1 pick from 2015 isn’t an unrestricted free agent until 2024, adding Towns in free agency would bring a potential top-10 talent in the league to New York.
Again, the Knicks cautious approach to contracts in 2021 paved the way for a max offer to someone like Towns down the line.
Towns’ ability to stretch the floor as a big man would pair perfectly with a playmaking forward like Randle.
The two-time All-Star stands as a stellar defender and has averaged over 21 points per game in each of the last five seasons.
He’s an excellent passer as well, which would leverage New York’s athletic perimeter players on offense as well.
Although not from New York, Towns grew up in nearby Piscataway, New Jersey, so he’d be no stranger to the bright lights of the Big Apple.
1. Zach LaVine
While Siakam and Towns would force New York to wait until 2024 for a free agent star, landing Zach LaVine could come as early as next offseason.
Coming off his first All-Star berth, LaVine seems like the piece the Chicago Bulls are trying to build around.
Should things go south in Chicago, LaVine may opt for free agency rather than sign a max extension.
If that happens, the Knicks can pivot away from their patient plans and target the freakishly athletic guard.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 24, 2020
Last season, LaVine averaged 27.4 points, five rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game, hitting over 51 percent of his field goal attempts and 42 percent of his threes.
LaVine would be the an excellent pick-and-roll partner for Randle and Robinson.
Pairing Randle, Rose, and what remains of the young core with someone like LaVine could vault New York into the Eastern Conference elite.