Latest on Knicks Free Agency: Elfrid Payton returns and Carmelo Anthony stays in Portland

Carmelo Anthony takes a shot against Memphis
Carmelo Anthony takes a shot against Memphis

A few updates on the Knicks’ free agency:

VANVLEET STAYS IN TOR: Fred VanVleet re-signed in Toronto on a four-year $85 million deal, sources confirm. People with the Knicks, and most other teams around the league, expected VanVleet to end up back in Toronto, as previously noted.

So New York – and those other teams – would have only had a shot to sign VanVleet if the Raptors low-balled him. That didn’t happen. The Knicks added a point guard on Saturday evening, agreeing to a deal with Elfrid Payton. A player who some in the organization saw as a target – Carmelo Anthony – ended up signing in Portland (more on both below).

After the Payton deal, the Knicks remained one of two teams in the NBA with significant cap space.

New York still has its cap space because Gordon Hayward reportedly signed a four-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets. The Knicks had an offer prepared for Hayward but were unwilling to match the $30 million annually over four years that Hayward got from Charlotte.

(It’s a bit of a surprise that Boston lost Hayward without getting anything in return. They had been engaged on talks in a sign and trade. A potential sticking point? In recent talks, Boston had wanted TJ Warren and/or Aaron Holiday in a trade and the Pacers had been unwilling to give them up. It’s unclear if that was still the case before Hayward signed in Charlotte.

Regarding New York, the club seems to be maintaining its flexibility heading into the 2021 offseason, which should feature a strong class of free agents.

The Knicks also have two first-round picks and two second-round picks in the 2021 NBA Draft, which should feature a talented group of prospects.

(**New York received criticism for trading Kristaps Porzingis to open up the cap space and then missing out on all of the top 2019 free agents. That criticism was well deserved. When you trade a player like Porzingis and create cap space to sign stars and don’t sign the stars, you’re going to be critiqued.

After the Knicks missed out on their top targets, they signed several veterans to short-term contracts with the hopes of making the playoffs and also maintaining flexibility. Many of the Knicks’ 2019 free-agent signings (Elfrid Payton, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington) were waived prior to free agency. Obviously, that combination of players didn’t help the Knicks win. But outside of Julius Randle’s three-year contract, the signings didn’t hamper the Knicks’ financial flexibility. Former president Steve Mills and current GM Scott Perry deserve credit for that.

But, at some point, New York needs to turn its financial flexibility into talent basketball players.)

Back to the 2020 offseason: the Knicks signed Payton to a one-year, $5 million deal, Payton’s agents, Aaron Mintz and Ty Sullivan of CAA, confirmed to SNY. 

It’s unclear if Payton will be signed via an exception or cap space. If he’s signed via an exception, the Knicks still have roughly $30 million in space. 

The Knicks have had interest in Jeff Teague. It’s reasonable to assume Teague is off the table now that Payton is back. 

If Payton is the starting point guard next season, the Knicks will have a lead guard who mostly defended well but is a career 29 percent 3-point shooter. Lineups with Payton and Julius Randle lacked spacing, which is something the Knicks will have to work around.

New York declined their $8 million team option on Payton before free agency. They had interest in bringing him back, depending on how free agency unfolded – and here we are.

The Knicks had interest in DJ Augustin, who signed a three-year $21 million deal with Milwaukee, per multiple reports.

It’s unknown if New York had interest in Rajon Rondo, but they could have offered Rondo more annual money than the two-year $15 million deal he signed with Atlanta, per reports.

Worth noting: prior to Rondo’s decision, some Knicks decision makers saw Teague as a more viable option than Rondo.

He’s not a point guard, but New York was also considering Malik Beasley, sources said (as Yahoo first reported). Beasley was a restricted free agent, so New York needed to sign him to an offer sheet or executive a sign-and-trade with Minnesota. “Interest was there, but it just didn’t come together,” a source said. The Timberwolves re-signed Beasley to a four-year, $60 million deal, the Athletic reported.

Other players on New York’s radar: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. As SNY reported Friday, teams monitoring Caldwell-Pope’s free agency expected New York to have interest. New York would have to offer Caldwell-Pope a significant short-term deal to lure him from Los Angeles. The Knicks can offer Caldwell-Pope more annual money than the Lakers, who’ve reportedly added Dennis Schroeder, Wes Matthews and Montrezl Harrell in recent days.

Lastly, the Knicks can look to fill the void at point guard via trade. Russell Westbrook reportedly wants out of Houston and John Wall wants out of Washington, The Athletic reports.

I’d expect New York to continue to take a conservative approach in trades that net a veteran on a long-term contract. We saw them do that with Chris Paul. It’s reasonable to expect them to do that in any future conversations about Westbrook or Wall trades.

With regards to Carmelo Anthony, there were people in the Knicks organization who felt that Anthony would fit well with the young players on the roster. We noted last night that some teams felt Anthony was headed to the Knicks. That was based on the obvious connection between Anthony and Knick president Leon Rose. It was also based on some intel coming out of Portland. Entering free agency, some members of the Blazers organization felt confident about re-signing Rodney Hood and adding another veteran forward. If Portland landed that veteran forward, it would have taken away a role from Anthony. That’s why some teams felt that New York would be a landing spot for Anthony. 

That forward decided to sign elsewhere, leaving a clear role for Anthony.