How do the Knicks create enough cap space to sign Kevin Durant?

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Rumors will continue to swirl around the Knicks and Kevin Durant until we reach that fateful date in July when Woj, or someone else, breaks the final news of where he signs.

Putting the reality of the Knicks being able to sign Durant aside, let’s understand the cap mechanics required.

Durant 2019 Contract Options

How much money can the Knicks offer Durant?

Kevin Durant is a veteran with at least 10 years of NBA service, which means he qualifies for a maximum starting salary of up to 35% of the salary cap. With the 2019-20 salary cap projected to be $109 million, that means Durant’s first year maximum salary on a new contract in 2019 would be $38,150,000.

The Knicks can offer Durant a four-year, $164 million contract next summer.

How much money can the Warriors offer Durant?

The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement was written to protect teams from losing players to big market teams. It seems strange to say so in this situation, but the Warriors have the rules in their favor to keep Durant by being able to offer him more money than any other team.

Golden State can offer Durant an extra year and a higher annual raise (8% instead of 5%) than the Knicks. They can try to keep Durant by offering a maximum contract of five-years, $221 million.

Why would Durant ever pass up so much money to come to the Knicks?

While it seems like a big difference between what Golden State can offer Durant and what the Knicks can offer him, the difference in salary mostly comes in 2023.

Between 2019 – 2022, Durant would essentially make the same amount of money no matter where he signs. There is only a slight increase (8% vs 5%) in annual raises between the two offers that equates to Durant making $6.9 million extra between 2019-2022 if he resigns with the Warriors.

The question for Durant would be whether he thinks he can still demand a maximum salary in 2023 to essentially make up for the difference in money left on the table from Golden State.

He could also decide to sign a shorter-term deal in New York, so he has the opportunity to become a free agent one more time during his prime (which he would be smart to do) and then cash-in on a long-term deal at that point.

If Durant wants to get paid, he could make pretty close to the same amount of money whether he stays in Golden State or leaves, it’s just a matter of when he guarantees himself making that money.

How do the Knicks create enough cap space to sign Durant?

By waiving and stretching Joakim Noah, the Knicks opened up close to $13 million extra in 2019 cap space, but there is still work to be done to create enough room to offer Durant the maximum salary of $38.1 million next summer.

The graphic below illustrates the Knicks cap situation by separating what I am calling “core pieces,” all of the young players from recent drafts + their 2019 lottery pick, from players on the roster who might have promise but aren’t necessarily fundamental to the team’s rebuild. The Knicks can waive Lance Thomas and turn his $7.6 million salary in 2019 into a $1 million cap hit, so I will assume they take that easy route in this scenario.

Screen Shot 2018-10-26 at 2.04.02 PM

For the Knicks to create max space for Kevin Durant, while keeping their core pieces on the roster, it sort of becomes a choose your own adventure game.

By keeping Kristaps Porzingis, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Mitchell Robinson, Allonzo Trier, and their 2019 draft pick, they would only have $22.8 million of salary to play with in order to preserve the amount they need to sign Durant.

The graphic above orders the non-core players by the relative level of difficulty to eliminate their salary from the team’s books. Damyean Dotson is the easiest salary to remove, because his salary is non-guaranteed. There is then a long list of players who count against the cap in order for the Knicks to preserve their respective early-Bird or Bird rights, but the Knicks can simply renounce all of them to open up cap space.

Really, it all boils down to Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee.

The Knicks could sign Kevin Durant and have some extra space to sign additional players, IF they are able to move one of Tim Hardaway Jr. or Courtney Lee without taking too much 2019 salary back. It’s more likely they would be able to move Courtney Lee at a lower cost than Tim Hardaway Jr. based on the term and value remaining on their respective contracts. They could also decide to waive and stretch either player.

Any way you cut it, if you want to keep the core pieces and go for broke on Durant, you have some decisions to make with the players highlighted in the non-core area of the graphic above.

So keep this post handy as you hear rumors about the Knicks signing a max player, like Durant, or if roster moves are made to help create 2019 cap space.

And if you want to know whether the Knicks could have enough cap space to sign TWO max players … well, that requires some more work.