Kristaps Porzingis will reportedly be a restricted free agent next offseason.
According to Ian Begley of ESPN.com, the New York Knicks will not sign their star big man to a rookie contract extension before Monday's deadline. While that means he will be a restricted free agent and could sign an offer sheet elsewhere, the team can still match the offer and keep him in the Big Apple.
What's more, declining to sign Porzingis' rookie extension will create an additional $10 million in cap space for next offseason when "the Knicks plan to pursue top free agents," per Begley. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard are among the players who could test the open market next summer.
Begley explained the projected max contract for the 2019-20 campaign is $32.7 million for those players who have been in the league seven to nine years and $38.15 million for those who have played 10 or more years.
Between declining Porzingis' extension and waiving Joakim Noah and stretching his $19.3 million for 2019-20, the Knicks are currently projected to have $31 million in cap space for next offseason. However, they will likely also have a 2019 first-round pick to pay and could look to keep big man Enes Kanter beyond his contract that expires after this season.
Begley noted the hope is to pair another playmaker with Porzingis, but there will need to be an additional move or two to create max-contract space.
Even though Porzingis will not be ready for the start of the season as he recovers from tearing his ACL in February, the 23-year-old is still an essential building block for New York. He is coming off his first All-Star recognition and averaged a head-turning 22.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per night while connecting on 39.5 percent of his three-pointers in 2017-18.
He is a matchup nightmare in the frontcourt because of that shooting and ability to beat slower defenders off the dribble and provides optimism for a team looking to reach the postseason for the first time since the 2012-13 campaign.
Porzingis, Kevin Knox (the No. 9 pick in the 2018 draft) and Frank Ntilikina (the No. 8 pick in the 2017 draft) gives the Knicks pieces to work with both in the present and future, but it is difficult to envision the roster as currently constructed competing with the likes of the Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers in the coming seasons in the Eastern Conference.
Adding a max-contract type of player to that group would change the equation, and the decision to not sign Porzingis' rookie contract extension moved New York one step closer to that reality.