Mitchell Robinson’s contract saga with Knicks now seems clear-cut

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Knicks center Mitchell Robinson has to hope his sixth agent in three seasons is up for the new task.

Robinson’s stock may have dropped now that he’s likely out for the season. The 7-foot-1 center underwent surgery Monday on a fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot.

The Knicks had varied options regarding Robinson’s odd contract situation before the broken foot. However, league sources believe Robinson’s foot injury has elevated one option as a crystal-clear move for president Leon Rose.

On Robinson’s team-friendly four-year contract, the Knicks held a team option for his final season at $1.8 million. That is a very modest wage for Robinson, who has proven to be a shot-blocking, rim-protecting stalwart when healthy.

To solidify his long-term future, the Knicks had a chance to not exercise the team option to, by choice, allow him to become a restricted free agent. Then the Knicks could match any offer that wasn’t deemed outrageous.

By doing so, it would prevent the Knicks from risking losing Robinson as an unrestricted free agent in 2022, with one NBA source believing Dallas will have an eye out for the center from Louisiana.

The Knicks' decision on Mitchell Robinson seems clearer now.
The Knicks’ decision on Mitchell Robinson seems clearer now.
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Saturday’s injury in Milwaukee has changed matters considerably. The Knicks don’t know enough about the player they have yet. Or his durability after undergoing two surgeries this season and various ailments in his previous two seasons.

A foot fracture for a 7-footer is also considered a potential red flag with possible recurrences.

The Knicks’ best option might be this, according to league sources: Exercise the $1.8 million team option in July before the draft, then attempt to engage Robinson’s new agent, Thad Foucher, to sign an extension after free agency begins around Aug. 1.

That’s the path Bobby Marks, the former Nets executive and ESPN’s cap guru, would choose. With uncertainty about his durability and offensive versatility, Marks would peg an extension at three years, $30 million, tops. The new pact would begin starting in 2022-23. The most the Knicks could offer in that scenario is an extension starting at about $12 million.

“Coming off a serious injury, I’m not paying him what Christian Wood got in Houston,” Marks said.

Wood, a power forward, received a free-agent deal in November of three years, $41 million. Robinson’s reps could always decline and test his market in 2022 but that would come with big risk. Robinson parted ways with Rich Paul in December to sign with the powerful Wasserman Group – his sixth different agency.

Robinson, 22, will finish this season having played 31 of 72 games with averages of 8.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.

Reluctant to shoot jumpers or even inside post-up shots, Robinson’s shooting percentage is 65.3 percent – based exclusively on putbacks and alley-oop dunks. One alarming figure is his free-throw percentage that dipped this season to 65.3 percent after being at 74.2 percent in 2020-21.

The Knicks desperately wanted to see Robinson finish up as their starting center after returning to action on March 21. The second-round pick missed 15 games after hand surgery.

As a rookie, with assorted ankle and hamstring injuries, Robinson played in 66 of 82 games. Last season he played 61 of 66 games in a shortened season. The Knicks don’t regard Robinson as a student of the game but certainly know he loves to play.

However, Robinson is more injury prone, scouts believe, than most centers because of his active style of defensive play in which he can charge to the 3-point line to block a shot.

If the Knicks do exercise the team option and can’t agree to an extension with Foucher, the Knicks can always trade Robinson. There was interest at the trade deadline last week.

For now, the Knicks will go with Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson as their center tandem and will add a free-agent pivot as “insurance,” according to coach Tom Thibodeau.

The Knicks have done research on former Sixers/Nets center Norvel Pelle, a shot-blocker in Thibodeau’s mold. They’ve had internal talks about Jordan Bell, John Henson, Thon Maker, DeMarcus Cousins and Hassan Whiteside – if the latter is bought out by the Kings.

In Cousins’ and Whiteside’s cases, Knicks brass is concerned about having a player who fits in seamlessly in the locker room.

But counting on Noel and Gibson has its risks for a team with playoff aspirations. Noel missed a game last week with a sore shoulder and took himself out during Monday’s loss vs. Miami clutching his shoulder. He returned and was a defensive stalwart with 11 rebounds and four blocks, including spectacular stop at the rim on Andre Iguodala.

Signed to a one-year, $5 million deal, Noel is averaging 2.0 blocks per game – a career high – and this is his audition as the Knicks decide whether to re-sign him.  

“Nerlens does everything we ask him to do,” Gibson said. “He’s young. He loves playing defense. He can score when he wants to. He has a lot to his game that he hasn’t scratched the surface of.

“He’s a talented young player. He protects the rim all the time. He doesn’t back down from anybody trying to dunk the ball. He goes up for the block and mostly all the time he blocks it. He’s doing a great job, really proud of him. He’s got to keep going.”

The Knicks have no choice but to let him.

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