It was announced on Saturday that Josh Hart and the New York Knicks agreed to push back the deadline for when he needed to opt in or out of his player option for next season. Moving a deadline back like this a few days doesn’t seem to have much of a story to it, but it indicates a lot about what an organization may or may not be doing.
It’s pretty self explanatory. Hart has a $12.9 million option for next season that he can opt into right now. If he chooses to decline it he automatically becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any team that he wants. The New York Knicks advantage is that they have his bird rights so they can sign him to any figure they feel comfortable with (as long as they are willing to exceed the luxury cap threshold in order to do so).
Why the delay?
The New York Knicks only have so much wiggle room to make splashy additions, but they have enough players on reasonable deals and draft picks that can be moved in order to bring in a “star”. The desire to parse out what exactly is obtainable for them is likely driving the motivation to push back the timetable a bit.
The big issue is how much cap space is available to the New York Knicks. The likelihood is that if Hart was on the open market he would receive an average annual salary around $17-18 million. That’s a figure that would seem to be fair and justified for his position, age and production from the last few seasons. The thing is that if he decided to opt out and agree to a new deal with the Knicks at that reported number it would put the team over the luxury tax, which would mean that they would not be able to use their non-taxpayer mid-level exception. That figure is a pretty large one as it comes in at around $12.4 million. It’s also a mechanism that not many teams will have access to use (unofficially three teams). Fred Katz listed a litany of players that the Knicks could add at that number such as Bruce Brown, Donte DiVincenzo, and Seth Curry.
The point is that losing out on that salary cap weaponry would hamstring the Knicks into not being able to add talent (unless they made a cost cutting move by dumping salary). Losing out on the ability to add productive players is something that would go against how this current front office regime has operated.
Why would Hart wait?
Obviously he could test the waters now and see how much he could drive up the Knicks bid. The only teams that could offer him over market price are the Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs, Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers and the Sacramento Kings. The Kings are the only real team that can confidently say they are ready to win again next year. Hart got his first taste of the playoffs this spring and it seems important to him to try to make another postseason run.
An opt in and extension for Hart could be 140 percent of his current $12.9 million salary. That would net out at $18.06 million, which could ultimately give him the number he is looking for even if it is a year down the road.
It’ll be interesting to see what ultimately happens with the Knicks and Hart because it will reveal much more than just retaining a high quality rotation player for a team that made the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year.