Projecting the Reports: P.J. Tucker and Dante Cunningham
Would the veteran forwards make sense for the Knicks to sign?
Recently Phil Jackson admitted that the Knicks were, in fact, not on the brink of championship contention. With the die-hards holding a bag over their mouth in shock, we move forward in perusing the latest gossip on the Knicks wire. The recent, non-draft oriented piece of news leaked to the media is the interest the team has in pursuing either of Dante Cunningham and P.J. Tucker.
Wings are good! Defense is good! But the age of the two throws a wrench into the appropriateness of the move, considering the teetering direction this franchise will take this summer. All acquisitions have a rhyme or reason for why it’ll work and why it won’t. Let’s dissect both, and give an estimated market value of the two.
It’s hard to start writing about Tucker without going over the defense. He was targeted by the Raptors during this season because of his versatility in being able to capably shoot from 3-point range while adding the defensive versatility that becomes crucial come playoff time. Teams need wings. The ability to play a variety of styles typically starts and ends with serious depth at this position. So adding a player that can soak up a chunk of minutes at power forward while bringing the ability to cover a slew of positions, and providing enough stretchiness to keep the defense honest is incredibly valuable.
But how valuable is that skill to the Knicks? Well, as previously mentioned beefing up the wings on any team is never a bad direction to go in, but the question basically now comes down to price and what else is available. The issue over the past couple of seasons for the Knicks has less so been the moves that they make but the path the team has chosen to go in. In a vacuum, the moves have mostly been fine, or at least justifiable (albeit the atrocity known as Stickity’s contract). Tucker would be tugging at two dynamics in separate directions, further muddling the clarity of exactly what management is trying to do. Are they seeking Tucker’s services to strengthen a squad they deem close enough to fringe playoff contention? Or is it a move to sure up culture in strengthening the habits of their young core?
The answer likely is a bit of both. The team could use some stronger leadership in the locker room and the MSG stink can sometimes be pushed further away when having someone like Tucker around.
The dark horse in all of this is Jackson making another move to needle Carmelo Anthony.
Contract projection: 3 years, $30 million
I have no insider knowledge of what exactly would make sense for Tucker, but this seems to be right around where he’ll land. He should get about three years, and the $10 million in annual value would be a big bump for him. With what he’s made in his career he may opt to get as much as he can now, and if the Knicks seriously went after him they may have to bump that number a bit higher.
Cunningham had a renaissance season. Becoming more confident in his shot, he knocked down a career-high 39.2 percent from 3-point range and did so attempting nearly as many treys as he did throughout the entirety of his career. That type of long-ball shooting should make him an attractive commodity this coming offseason with his defensive contributions having been a stalwart of his play for the past few years.
Ian Begley pulled an interesting stat about Cunningham in his recent piece linking him to the Knicks.
Cunningham has developed into a solid 3-point shooter (he led New Orleans in 3-point field goal percentage last season at 39.2 percent). Cunningham also proved to be a significant factor in New Orleans’ successes; The Pelicans were 13–8 when Cunningham played at least 28 minutes, per NBA.com (for perspective, that’s a winning percentage that would have ranked top-10 in the NBA).
He doesn’t seem to bring the same veteran leadership that Tucker does, but his play obviously is of the winning basketball variety, a kind the Knicks could use more of. He’s a bit younger than Tucker (30 compared to Tucker’s 32), and may turn out to be a bit cheaper. But the Pelicans have his Bird rights giving them the chance to go over the cap to retain him. The Raptors have that same advantage with Tucker but their salary cap situation makes his return to the team a much larger question mark.
Contract projection: 3 years, $18 million
Wondering whether his shot is for real is a legitimate question that teams will ask when pursuing Cunningham. Regardless, he should still pull off an impressive deal due to positional scarcity and his marked improvement. It’s always good to make strides in your biggest area of weakness a year before you hit free agency.
Both players would unquestionably make the Knicks a better team next season, but it’s fair to wonder if locking in these salaries for the future is a smart allocation of money when the playoffs don’t really seem attainable for next season. Future flexibility and targeting youth may be a wiser choice for the Knicks, but this at least points to a functional game plan heading into July.