Why waiting to sign Kristaps Porzingis puts all the risk on KP

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Kristaps Porzingis would be leaving significant money on the table by refusing a max contract offer from the Knicks next season. Even more than people realize.


The Knicks decided not to offer Kristaps Porzingis a rookie extension before the deadline this week, leaving some to wonder if they are making a “risky” move by gambling on a free agent plan in 2019 that could leave them empty handed, and with their own superstar unhappy that he had to wait so long for a max contract.

But does this argument make any sense?

Could Kristaps Porzingis be so upset the Knicks made him wait for his next contract that he would decide to wait even longer for a max deal and try to become an unrestricted free agent in 2020, or force a trade after refusing a max offer from the Knicks?

Only Kristaps Porzingis knows the answer. But let’s look at the math to see why the Knicks made the decision they did, and why it would be incredibly risky for Porzingis to refuse a max offer from the Knicks next summer.

Why the Knicks are waiting to sign Porzingis

The Knicks are looking to maximize their 2019 cap space as they go big game hunting for superstar free agents. Delaying an extension for Porzingis helps accomodate those wishes by reducing his cap hit during the free agent signing period (July 2019) to $17.1 million, or $10 million less than the amount he would be owed on July 1 on the first year salary of a max rookie extension.

Since KP will make less than the league average in 2018-19, his cap hold is calculated by multiplying his 2018-19 salary by 300%. This amount is different than the “qualifying offer” the team would make to him as a restricted free agent, which we will discuss next.

What Porzingis would need to do to become an unrestricted free agent in 2020

Kristaps Porzingis will be a restricted free agent next summer, meaning the Knicks can match any offer another team makes to try to steal him. Even if Porzingis wants to leave the Knicks, it is not his decision at this point; hence, why it is called “restricted” free agency.

For Kristaps Porzingis to leave the Knicks, he would likely need to refuse the max offer the team presents to him next summer, and then accept his qualifying offer so he can play 2019-20 on essentially a one-year deal, before forcing a trade or becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2020.

How much money does Kristaps lose taking a qualifying offer instead of a max contract?

To earn the right of first refusal on any offer made to Porzingis, the Knicks must make him a qualifying offer. The amount of the qualifying offer is determined based on CBA rules.

And this is where things get interesting.

Normally, the qualifying offer for Kristaps Porzingis would be 31.9% over his 4th year salary of $5.7 million, which equates to $7.5 million.

However, CBA rules state that the qualifying offer could be lower than that amount based on whether or not Porzingis meets “starter criteria” after this season. If he does not meet the starter criteria, his qualifying offer can be no higher than the amount of the qualifying offer for the 15th pick in his same draft class, or as little as $4.5 million.

Starter criteria requires players drafted within the first 14 picks (as Porzingis was) to play in at least 41 games or 2,000 minutes during the 4th season of their rookie scale contract, or to average at least 41 games or 2,000 minutes over their 3rd and 4th seasons.

Since Porzingis injured himself last February, he only played 48 games and 1,553 minutes during his third season. That means he would need to play in at least 34 games or 2,447 minutes this season to meet starter criteria.

The Knicks have not provided an update for when we should expect to see the Latvian big man back on the court this season, but for him to play at least 34 games this season, he would have to return no later than January 25, and then play every remaining game on the schedule.

Now, the difference between a $7.5 million qualifying offer and a $4.5 million qualifying offer isn’t much, but it speaks even more to the amount of risk KP would assume by refusing a potential max contract offer from the Knicks next July.

Porzingis has limited choices next summer. If he wants to leave the Knicks, he would have to turn down the guarantee of a five-year, $158 million contract, delaying his payday even longer. He would then need to play the 2019-20 season while making $4.5 million, less than he makes this season, or $22.8 million less than he would make on the first year of a max contract.

He would then need to hope he doesn’t get injured, and either force a trade, or wait until July 2020 to sign with a new team.

So what does this all mean?

It’s simple: the Knicks made a prudent financial decision by waiting to sign Kristaps Porzingis, which, essentially, leaves all the risk on him.