It’s no secret that the Knicks had been shopping Frank Ntilikina since the offseason began. However, his play during the 2019 FIBA World Cup could have a dramatic impact on which NBA city he calls home this upcoming season.
Heading into the 2019 offseason, I spoke with a rival executive who explained that Ntilikina’s contract simply didn’t provide much upside for a team trading for him. It had less to do with the 21-year-old’s talent than it had to do with the fourth-year option on his rookie deal. Whichever team acquired him would have make a decision on his $6.2 million option (for the 2020-21 season) by October 31, leaving just a couple weeks of regular season play to evaluate Ntilikina’s fit.
If a team declined that option and Ntilikina flourished in his new environment, he’d become a free agent and could potentially walk after just one season with the team. The incumbent team would be limited in what it could offer Ntilikina, as franchises are not allowed to turn down the fourth-year option and offer the player more than what the amount was in free agency (in this case $6.2 million).
Alternatively, the team could pick up the $6.2 million 2020-21 option and take the risk that Ntilikina would further develop and grow into a player worthy of his lofty salary. Through two years of NBA play, there wasn’t much optimism around the league that the point guard would do that.
With a promising 2019 FIBA World Cup on his resume, a rival team may feel more confident taking the second option and that could raise his value in a trade. Yet, with Ntilikina flashing some of the potential that made him a top-10 pick, the Knicks may be less inclined to move him.
General Manager Scott Perry reportedly hasn’t given up on Ntilikina though Frank Isola of The Athletic hears that there’s a minor schism within the Knicks’ front office. Perry’s hand-picked scouts and executives have different opinions than that of the employees remaining from the Phil Jackson era.
“That’s always been the case,” a former Knicks executive told Isola. “They keep a lot of people from different regimes and that causes some friction.” Isola notes that from all accounts, team president Steve Mills and Perry share a healthy working relationship and that Mills remains one of owner James Dolan’s closest confidantes.
The Knicks had hopes for a flashy summer filled with star acquisitions. Instead, they’ll embark on another rebuilding year and New York’s failed blueprint provides the team with another opportunity to see if Ntilikina can earn a long-term role on the team. Whether the Knicks decide to keep the French point guard or move him, they are undoubtedly in a better position now than they were weeks ago with the 21-year-old showcasing his ability on a world stage.