What a time to be alive. The World Series is shaping up to be yet another fall classic, soccer leagues worldwide are in full swing and, of course, the NBA is back. Besides the trade of James Harden, we have not had any breaking news in this young NBA season. However, this past offseason was nothing short of dramatic. Damian Lillard became a Buck, LaMelo Ball signed an extension that pays him $260 million over five years and the deadline to extend players from the 2020 Draft Class expired, with many players not reaching agreements. For the last month, if you were a Knicks fan, you were more than likely scouring Twitter during your free time checking to see if Immanuel Quickley and the Knicks agreed to an extension. But the two were unable to get a deal done, meaning the 24-year-old will be a restricted free agent next summer. The New York front office received much blowback for not extending Quickley; however, are Knicks fans’ anger justified?
It’s tough to tell whether it was the right move to let Quickley walk. The exact terms that each side was seeking are unknown, but we can gauge the 24-year-old’s market value based on similar players’ salaries. If there was any deal to compare his to, it would be Jaden McDaniels’ extension. The former Washington Huskies guard inked a five-year $136 million contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves, giving him an average of just above $27 million a year. The forward’s offensive output was almost identical to the New York guard. McDaniels thrives on the defensive end, and that part of his game is more developed than Quickley’s. Coming out of college, there were concerns about how Quickley would fare on the perimeter against elite scorers. However, his athleticism and ability to stay on the ball have quashed any worries, making him an above-average defender. Take his performance in New York’s season-opening loss against the Boston Celtics as one of many examples. In this game, Quickley thrived on the defensive end, shutting down the newly extended Payton Pritchard and All-Star Jrue Holiday. Last season, the Knicks guard was the runner-up for the Sixth Man of the Year award and played a significant role in getting New York back to the playoffs. As good as the Maryland native was in the regular season, there are major questions surrounding how he will perform under the bright lights. In last season’s playoff run, he did not perform like a player who commands $20-plus million a year, albeit he was fighting an injury.
Quickley is good enough to start for some NBA franchises. The problem for New York is that the team already has their premier point guard in Jalen Brunson. That said, the Knicks don’t want to let talent walk out the door with no strings attached, although they do have a salary cap problem. If Quickley were to re-sign for $20 million next season, New York would have $145 million tied up to six players: Quickley, Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson. These six salaries are nine million dollars over the NBA soft cap. That doesn’t even mention the $18 million a year they have tied up with Evan Fournier, who has been nothing short of a disappointment during his tenure in the Big Apple. If James Dolan’s squad didn’t owe Fournier $18 million a year, I would say pay the kid, though, with the current state of affairs, paying Quickley provides much less flexibility to build a championship roster.
Contrary to the panic of some Knicks fans, Quickley will still rep the blue and orange this season. If anything, the front office controls his destiny. The former Kentucky guard is a restricted free agent, meaning he cannot sign a contract with a new team without giving the Knicks the ability to match that offer. If New York matches any accepted offer, he will head back to the Big Apple. If Quickley has another solid campaign, there will be pressure on the Knicks to get a deal done.
On the bright side, the Knicks potentially have some outs. If Quickley regresses this season, which is unlikely, the Knicks will get him in free agency at a discount, which has happened before — just ask Nerlens Noel, who cost himself millions of dollars by declining his rookie extension. Of course, if Quickley plays at an All-Star level, he can command something in the $30 million per year range, which could prove too expensive for the Knicks or, conversely, serve as justification to pay him. With how the Collective Bargaining Agreement is structured, Dolan’s squad can go over the cap without penalty to re-sign Quickley, meaning they can afford a large salary. As tough as it may seem, the team made the right decision by not extending him. If the market stalls out, he could command something in the mid-20s, which is New York’s dream scenario. Something that makes sense, although unlikely, is to create a trade package comprised of Fournier, Quickley and additional talent to acquire Joel Embiid. Quickley’s low salary gives the Knicks this flexibility, and if they trade for Embiid near the deadline, the belief is that they will immediately be competing for a championship. After all, Harden isn’t a 76er anymore and Tyrese Maxey declined his rookie option. If Philadelphia struggles, don’t be surprised to see the Knicks’ front office try and pull off some magic before the Feb. 8 trade deadline.
The Knicks not committing to Quickely is a sign of one of two things. The most likely scenario is that they are betting on him to be commanding a salary near the mid-20 million per year mark, an insurance policy in case he regresses or gets hurt. The less likely situation is that they could be waiting to package him for a trade, and Quickley not having a long-term extension makes it easier for him to be dealt mid-season. It is hard to see the front office letting him walk for nothing. The Knicks will try to get some value out of him, but all we can do right now is watch.