Kobe Bryant recently said he would not help the Lakers recruit free agents. His view is that playing for such a famous franchise should be reason enough to join the Lakers and that you are supposed to want the spotlight of playing in a big city. In a recent episode of the Jump on ESPN Brian Windhorst commented that such views are a thing of the past; being in a big market does not have the same appeal and advantages it once had.
So let's check out the outlook of two big-city teams, Bulls and Knicks. Both franchises had a rocky past few years (or more) and are laying a foundation for the next 5 – 10 years. Which one is in a better position to be a serious contender in the future? Let's analyze their chances through three avenues of improvement: draft, free agency, and in-house development.
The upcoming draft is considered to be top-heavy with scouts saying there are approximately 7-9 quality players that can significantly contribute. These are the current league standings (the ones that will determine draft odds) of lottery teams:
Group 1 (19-25 wins) – these teams all have >99.1% chance for a top 10 pick and with all teams having 11-12 games to play there is a lot that can change within the group but it's not likely anyone else will join them.
Group 2 (30 – 30 wins) – these are lottery teams that are looking at the 10th, 11th, and 12th pick as the most likely scenario.
Group 3 (37 wins) – no one knows who will be in this group. Currently, it’s the Heat and Bucks but your guess is as good as anyones.
We see the Knicks and Bulls are very much in play to land one of those 7-9 very good draft prospects in this year’s draft. The Bulls also have the Pelicans' pick in this year’s draft due to the Mirotić trade which is currently projected to be in the 20s. Both teams own all their 1st round picks in the following drafts.
Verdict: Bulls fan wins – with the extra first-rounder it seems your Bulls fan has more to look forward to in this year's draft. An extra swing never hurts and increases your chances of landing a good player.
This is where the Zen Master did not shine. The Knicks are in a bad position when it comes to their cap situation. Due to CBA rules, they actually have no room in ’18/’19 for free agents unless they offload someone. The Noah contract is one of the worst contracts in the NBA and the optimal solution here is to buy him out, but that would mean James Dolan would have to cut a big check to Noah just to get rid of him. Another option is to trade him but that would require adding draft picks in the trade and that is something the Knicks should not do. ‘19/’20 season shows room for free agency but keep in mind this is the latest Porzingis will get a new contract that will cut into that number. Hardaway Jr. and Lee are overpaid, but they are solid players and contribute on the basketball floor, so trading them if a better prospect appears wouldn’t be mission impossible. All and all, not looking good for the Knicks.
The Bulls have a lot of cap flexibility in the future. Having Markkanen on a rookie scale contract opens up a lot of opportunities. The main thing to look out for in ‘18/’19 is how high will the front office be willing to go to lockdown LaVine. As a restricted free agent, they will be able to match any offer he gets, and as he was a part of the Jimmy Butler deal there could be a tendency in the front office not to lose him. Asik is the only significantly overvalued contract on the books, but it was a good deal to get the Pelicans' pick and with it being around 10% of their cap it’s a price they can afford to live with.
The verdict: Bulls fan wins – The Bulls have significantly more flexibility and can offer several max contracts in the next two years.
NBA is a superstar-driven league, you need top-heavy talent to be competitive. While the first two categories show the Bulls have a greater potential to get such talent through the draft or free agency, this is still just potential. Will it happen depends on many factors and let's be honest, the Bulls front office had many missteps in recent years. Lauri Markkanen has exceeded everyone’s expectations and is definitely a foundational piece, but we still don’t know if he's you’re 1A, the man you build around.
Kristaps Porzingins, on the other hand, is that guy. The Knicks have at last realized that all draft and free agency decisions need to be guided with only one question “How will this player work with Kristaps?”. Porzingis does have an injury history that deserves some pause, but until this year’s ACL tear it has mostly been soreness and similar stuff that is to be expected with the NBA. The history of returning from ACL injuries in the past few years brings hope that if rehab is done properly the player can return to full strength.
The Verdict: Knicks fan wins – you can't ignore the fact that of all of the players on both rosters Porzingis is the best one. Still, if you are a Knicks fan, pray for the Unicorn and his good health.
If you are a Bull's fan potential is the name of the game. Your team has more flexibility in the years to come and can become a contender as the current juggernauts start aging. If a Knicks fan heckles you just tell them ‘’Joakim Noah’’ and walk away.
For our Knicks fan, it’s all about the Unicorn. Getting that top guy is the hardest thing to do and while Phil Jackson did not leave a stellar situation when it comes to flexibility, these are problems that can always be solved….at a price.
P.S. The main concern for both franchises is ‘’Have my owner and GM learned from past mistakes???’’. Good luck guys.
Cap info courtesy of Spotrack.com, Image courtesy of NBA.com