Good news for Knicks fans: The franchise has drawn one of its best free agents, a rarity for the team this century.
The bad news: It’s a poor free agent class, and this best free agent—25-year-old points guard Jalen Bronson—never made the All-Star Team. He agreed to sign with the Knicks $104 million over four seasons, his agents Aaron Mintz and Sam Rose told ESPN. Rose is the son of the team leader, Leon Rose.
This is a huge investment to make for a player who, in his best four seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, averaged 16.3 points and 4.8 assists per game. He was a full-time player for only one season. But Bronson represents an important upgrade at the guard base, a position in which the Knicks have long struggled to find playmakers. In the last two decades, the Knicks’ starting point guards have included Chris Duhon, Tony Douglas, Trey Burke and Pablo Brigioni. Brunson has excellent paint buoyancy, he is a reliable shooter who can smash defense and press the edge.
Bronson’s father, Rick, who played for the team for a brief period in the late 1990s, is also expected to be a player. Assistant coach on the team next season. Knicks has not announced his appointment, but in early June multiple reports said they were close to striking a deal. The team did not respond to a request for comment.
With younger Bronson on the floor, the Knicks could be a dangerous playoff team, as they were in 2020-21, or one of the worst in the Eastern Conference, as they were last season. That’s how much discrepancy there is with the list as free agency hires begin on Wednesday.
The conundrum facing the Knicks is that rotation players are talented but flawed. Bronson embodies this to its core. He can score in groups, but he’s not an advocate of quality. He’s certainly not good enough to be the best player on an opposing team, and his ceiling is certainly not much higher than what he showed last season.
22-year-old RJ Barrett, entering his fourth season, hasn’t shown enough consistency to be a cornerstone. It’s good at getting to the edge but not at finishing, and the blues need work. Other young hopes, including strength striker Obi Tobin, 24, and main goalkeeper Emmanuel Quikley, 23, have alternated between being a strong contributor and being a liability. Toppin cuts and runs the ground well, but he’s a below average shooter and struggles defensively. Quickley was better at managing attack during his second season in 2021-22, but he is an incompetent player and his size makes him an easy target in defence.
Last season was – benevolently – a step back for the Knicks. It looks like they’re finally finding their way out of the dark with their 2021 post-season run. They signed Julius Randle to an expensive contract extension and offered new deals to veterans Derek Rose, Alec Borks and Nerlence Noel. After that, they missed the playoffs last season, and the weight of those new deals felt their weight. Randle struggled last season, and the veterans didn’t play well enough to be part of the team for the long term.
24-year-old Mitchell Robinson is another good example of a talented but flawed team problem. He’s an excellent rim protector and a hinged threat around the rim, but he doesn’t have an offensive range to speak of and hasn’t improved much in four seasons. However, Knicks agreed to return it Four-year deal worth $60 millionhis agents Thad Faucher and Joe Smith told ESPN.
The Knicks will need to make room for a salary cap to sign Bronson, and that will likely mean moving on from some unsuitable veteran. But then the Knicks need to add players who can help them break out of the mediocre – the worst place in the NBA. .
Veterans looking to chase the ring likely won’t get a pay cut to join them because the Knicks don’t have a roster that can realistically compete for a championship at the moment. If a superstar becomes available, say Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving, the Knicks probably won’t have the best package to offer: not the best young prospects, not the top draft picks, just a mix of mediocre cuts. It’s hard to see this team’s cap as anything above the low seeded in the playoffs.
But the NBA is an increasingly fickle league, and there is real reason to believe that the Knicks can overcome its shortcomings and exceed expectations.
The Knicks will likely start the season with Bronson, Randall and Barrett as head coaches. Even with their weaknesses, this group of playmakers that are better than average in today’s NBA Brunson’s penetration ability will put pressure on Randle, who could use more time not to be his primary attack point. Bronson’s release will give him and Randall more room to work around the basket. If Randall relieves some of that pressure, he can put more energy toward his other strengths, like bouncing and passing. Perhaps the Knicks will restore an All-Star version of Randall.
Bronson’s arrival will also make life easier for Barrett. He had a bigger role in attack after the All-Star break last season and averaged 24.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. He shot just 40.1 percent of the field in those games – talented but flawed! – But he showed potential as Option #1. If Barrett can achieve an acceptable proficiency in the game, he will become a frontier star along with Randle.
To complete this core, the Knicks need consistent shooting around them. They already have someone who can help with that in Evan Fournier, who fired 38.9 percent from depth last year. Quickley didn’t shoot well last year, but in his rookie year, he also shot 38.9 percent of 3.
Rose, who was injured most of last season, should also be able to help. With Knicks, Rose was a surprisingly good shooter and another body to help smash through defenses. At 33, and with a long history of injuries, he probably cannot be the sixth man on the bench, but his return will be a welcome sight for the team. There is a world in which it is very difficult to defend a closing lineup from Randall, Barrett, Bronson, Fournier and Rose.
There is some light after this year – some is word operative. The Knicks have a heap of first-round enlistment picks in the coming years, including picks from Dallas, Washington and Detroit. Next year, the Knicks could have four first-round picks. Many of the shots have conditionals, which reduce their value. And if the Knicks remain okay but not great, their draft picks will likely fall mid to late in the first round, which also reduces their value.
But having a stock of picks is better than not, and the Knicks can use some of them in the trade rather than keeping them to pick out interesting possibilities. Bronson’s signing of a major deal suggests that the Knicks are now trying to win. Leon Rose rarely speaks in public, so the Knicks’ broader strategy is unclear.
The Knicks were one of the worst teams in the league in years, but they still had the key pieces that helped them secure their home ground advantage in the playoffs just two seasons ago. The Knicks aren’t a super team, but in the NBA today, that might be fine.