The New York Knicks decided against signing Kristaps Porzingis to a rookie extension prior to Monday's deadline -- a move that will give New York an extra $10 million in cap space in the summer of 2019 and will make Porzingis a restricted free agent in the offseason.
The Knicks plan to pursue top free agents next summer, when a class that includes Golden State forward Kevin Durant, Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard, Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving and Minnesota Timberwolves guard/forward Jimmy Butler is expected to test free agency. Irving, though, said earlier this month that he plans to re-sign with the Celtics.
By waiting until the summer to negotiate an extension with Porzingis, who is currently rehabbing from ACL surgery, New York is closer to having enough cap space for a max player. The club also waived Joakim Noah and stretched the $19.3 million he is owed in 2019-20, the final season of his contract, to create more cap space for next summer.
New York projects to have $31 million in room next summer. The room does not factor in the salary owed to its 2019 first-round pick or the free-agent hold of Enes Kanter, who is in the final year of his contract.
The projected max contract next season for a player with 7-9 years of service is $32.7 million. The projected max contract for a player with 10-plus years of service is $38.15 million.
So the Knicks will need to complete at least one more transaction that reduces their 2019-20 salary commitments in order to sign a free agent to a max contract.
The club hopes to pair that player around a young core headlined by Porzingis. The risk in waiting until July to offer Porzingis an extension is that it gives other teams a chance to sign Porzingis to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent. New York, though, would have an opportunity to match any offer from another team.
The Knicks believe that Porzingis, who is expected to be sidelined until at least December, is on board with their direction.
"KP is engaged, and we're in a good place with him," team president Steve Mills said at a fan event last month.
Porzingis had expressed frustration with the direction of the club after his second season and skipped an exit meeting with then-team president Phil Jackson. The club discussed potential trades of Porzingis with other teams at the time, but no deal was reached.
Porzingis has said several times since that he wants to remain in New York for the remainder of his career.
First-year head coach David Fizdale has commended Porzingis for his leadership during training camp.
"He's been awesome to have in the gym. It's like having another coach," said Fizdale, who directed questions about the extension to management. "The film sessions, he speaks up as much as any coach on our staff. And what he has to say is exactly what we need said. He's engaged in the practices, helping (rookie center) Mitchell (Robinson) along in a lot of this stuff. He's kind of taken him on a little bit to fast-track him. And he asks great questions."
When asked if Porzingis appears connected with the planned direction of the team, Fizdale said there's "been nothing to indicate anything different."
"I'm always looking at it from a connection standpoint. And there is nothing that's told me that there's any disconnection," Fizdale said. "He's having fun with these guys, he's engaging with me, with the staff. I just see a teammate out there, I see a guy that's just trying to contribute in any way he can. And to me that says (he's) a guy that's engaged and locked in."