When the New York Knicks have been linked to star guards in the recent past, it has largely been through potential trades. The idea of pursuing a big name like Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook was to help give the franchise some sorely-needed credibility for future star pursuits. Well, with the Knicks at No. 4 in the Eastern Conference and Julius Randle dominating in his first All-Star season, that credibility has now been restored. That will allow the Knicks to realistically pitch star free agents on coming to New York, and according to SNY’s Ian Begley, they have their eye on a veteran they know quite well.
The Knicks very nearly traded for Kyle Lowry in 2013. The deal fell through at the last second, and Lowry grew into a Hall-of-Famer in Toronto, which happens to share a division with New York. Now, he is set to hit unrestricted free agency right as the Raptors move towards a youth movement, and the Knicks are interested in bringing him aboard as their new starting point guard. When the Raptors discussed trading Lowry at the deadline, it was reported that he wanted a two-year, $50 million deal from the team that acquired him. He didn’t get dealt, but logically, that is likely the figure he will seek on the open market, and it isn’t clear where else he could get it.
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The Miami Heat pursued Lowry at the deadline. He is the godfather of one of Jimmy Butler’s children, and the Heat are widely considered the favorites to land Lowry. The problem the Heat face is a financial one. The Heat would need to decline all of their team options and renounce most of their own free agents to generate the sort of space needed to sign a player like Lowry, and even then, they fall short of the roughly $25 million they need to satisfy Lowry’s contractual wish on a two-year deal. They could work around that through a sign-and-trade arrangement with the Raptors, but doing so would trigger the hard-cap. Miami’s cap space is reliant on low cap holds for Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn, who are both restricted free agents and will therefore need raises of their own. A hard cap might prevent them from fitting those younger players onto their cap sheet. Broadly, the Philadelphia 76ers have a similar problem. They, too, are interested in pursuing Lowry through a sign-and-trade, but they have so much committed to Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris that fitting Lowry in as well would gut their depth. Both teams could fudge the numbers by giving Lowry a partially guaranteed third season instead of squeezing all $50 million he wants into two years, but it still isn’t an easy path for either team.
The Knicks, on the other hand, have almost limitless financial flexibility. If they renounce their own free agents, they could feasibly create something like $60 million in cap space. That would allow them to fairly easily pay Lowry up to his max if they wanted. Lowry’s max as a 10-year veteran would be 35 percent of the projected $112.4 million cap, or just under $40 million. The Heat and 76ers might offer more desirable basketball situations, but if the Knicks were willing to max Lowry out over two years, they’d be able to pay him over $80 million in that span. If Lowry’s goal is to maximize his earnings as his career draws to a close, nobody is beating the Knicks.
The basketball fit is strong, even if the Knicks lack the sort of proven superstars that Miami and Philadelphia can offer. Lowry is comfortable playing with other ball-dominant players, so adjusting to Randle and RJ Barrett shouldn’t be a problem. His shooting would only increase their floor-spacing, and his ability to defend either guard spot would make him an ideal backcourt-mate for Immanuel Quickley if he ascends to the starting lineup next season. His toughness would fit in well on a Tom Thibodeau team. Lowry has led the NBA in charges drawn twice and ranks third this season.
On New York’s end, Lowry represents an ideal bridge star. Yes, they would certainly prefer to add a 25-year-old All-Star over a 35-year-old All-Star, but at the moment, no such player is available. The bulk of the formerly star-studded 2021 free-agent class signed extensions last offseason, and while Bradley Beal is an appealing 2022 option, he could easily be traded elsewhere before he ever hits free agency. The Knicks will therefore have to balance the need to remain competitive enough to lure such a star with maintaining the cap flexibility to actually add one over the next several years. That will only get harder when young players like Barrett and Mitchell Robinson earn new contracts. A short-term deal for Lowry would help them strike that balance, and should the need arise, it would give them a big salary to use in a star trade that wouldn’t be particularly onerous on the other team.
A year ago, the notion of the Knicks luring a player of Lowry’s stature would have been almost inconceivable. But now? They’ve improved enough to become viable contenders for his services. Things are changing in New York, and luring a star like Lowry would only continue to improve their trajectory.