Kristaps Porzingis will be eligible to sign an extension this summer. Obviously, then, the New York Knicks will offer him one.
Or maybe not.
Consider what head coach Jeff Hornacek said to reporters ahead of the Knicks’ Monday night loss to the Orlando Magic, per ESPN.com’s Ian Begley:
Hornacek seems to suggest NY may wait until ‘19 to offer KP an extension: “We're in a good position maybe not for next year, but the year after when somebody like KP, who's up for the extension, that's when you can go over the cap & get a free agent in there & still have him."
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) April 4, 2018
More than a few people don’t expect Hornacek to be coaching the Knicks next season, so it’s not entirely clear how privy he would be to their long-term plans. But this stance, bizarre as it might sound, makes a ton of sense.
Maxing out Porzingis this summer only bilks the Knicks of cap flexibility in 2019. His cap hold in restricted free agency will sit at around $17.1 million. It’ll be around $10 million higher if the salary cap, as expected, gets to $108 million for 2019-20.
That extra flexibility matters. Enes Kanter, Ron Baker and Kyle O’Quinn will all be off the books by then, regardless of whether or not they exercise their player options this summer. Lance Thomas’ salary for that season is also non-guaranteed. Courtney Lee will be an expiring contract by that point and super easy to move—if he’s not traded before then.
Equally important: Assuming the Knicks don’t stretch Joakim Noah this summer, he’ll be entering the final season of his deal as well. Finding a new home for him will still be difficult, verging on impossible. No one will want to eat $19.3 million in what could effectively be dead money. But greasing the wheels of a salary dump is always easier for an expiring contract. At worst, the Knicks could pay him $6.4 million over three years by waiving him, which is far better than paying him nearly $8 million over the next half-decade should they do the same this summer.
Indeed, there’s some risk baked in to this approach. Extensions build goodwill between a player and team, and the Knicks need some extra brownie points with Porzingis following the Phil Jackson fiasco. At the same time, he’s less likely to roll the dice and sign his qualifying offer after suffering a major ACL injury. That gives the Knicks additional leverage. Porzingis might even see the best way for them to flesh out a winning roster around him is to wait, rendering any potential concerns moot.
Either way, the Knicks would be smart to hold off on an extension for their franchise cornerstone—particularly because it also gives them an opportunity to see how his knee and body respond to his recovery.