Forward Julius Randle remains the Knicks’ lone All-Star as the team seeks to upgrade their talent ahead of the 2021-’22 season (307158)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

NBA free-agency began on Monday, three days after the league’s draft last Thursday. And as the process transpired, the Knicks remained relatively quiet with no major signings consummated. They inked shooting guard Evan Fournier, who finished last season with the Boston Celtics, to a four-year, $78 million contract.

They also retained point guard Derrick Rose, center Nerlens Noel and combo-guard Alec Burks, all on three-year deals. Rose’s contract is valued at $43 million, Noel’s $32 million and Burks $30 million. The 6-7, 28-year-old Fournier, who led the French squad to a tournament opening 83-76 win over the United States at the ongoing Tokyo Olympics, with a game-high 28 points, has career averages of 14.3 points, 2.7 free-throw attempts per game, a .379 three-point shooting percentage and just 2.7 assists per outing in eight NBA seasons. Not eye-popping numbers for someone set to earn an average of $19.5 million per year over the life of his deal.

Including four draft acquisitions, 6-5 shooting guard Quentin Grimes from the University of Houston (No. 25 overall), 6-4 point-guard Rokas Jokubaitis from Lithuania (No. 34), 6-3 point-guard Miles McBride from West Virginia (No. 36) and 6-10 forward Jericho Sims from Texas, the Knicks seemingly were looking more at the long-term dividends they may yield than immediate gains.

On paper, the team, which ended the 2020-’21 regular season 41-31, fourth in the Eastern Conference, but was defeated 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs by the No. 5 seed Atlanta Hawks, neither significantly improved nor regressed following the draft and initial signings. However, their most problematic and glaring issue for the better part of the last 10 years persists.

The franchise lacks a top-tier point guard, which is a virtual necessity for any team with aspirations of being a championship contender. With Kyle Lowry moving on from the Toronto Raptors to the Miami Heat, and Chris Paul re-signing with the Phoenix Suns, the two point guards who were free-agents and fit the aforementioned description are no longer available. And both are well into their 30s. Lowry is 35 and Paul 36.

As of Tuesday, the two best point guard options still unsigned, Dennis Schroder, who was a Los Angeles Laker the past two seasons, and Reggie Jackson, who shined with the Los Angeles Clippers during the most recent postseason, are solid players, but not in the class of some of the NBA’s dynamic young franchise changers such as the Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic, the Hawks’ Trea Young and the Memphis Grizzlies’ Ja Morant.

While reports have the Portland Trailblazers’ future Hall of Famer 31-year-old Damian Lillard likely to be traded, and unconfirmed accounts have the Knicks as his preferred destination, neither Lillard nor the Trailblazers have publicly discussed concrete plans or terms regarding the topic.

Another player who would solve the Knicks’ point guard deficiencies is the Sacramento Kings’ De’Aaron Fox. The Kings have not openly made Fox available, but perhaps they were implicitly sending a message when they drafted Baylor point guard Davion Mitchell with the ninth overall pick last Thursday. He now joins Fox and their first round pick (12th) from the 2020 draft, point guard Tyrese Haliburton, who had an outstanding debut campaign, and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting behind winner LaMelo Ball and runner-up Anthony Edwards.

At only 23, Fox, who may be the fastest player in the league with the ball from end line to end line, averaged 25.2 points and 7.2 assists per game last season. Although his three-point shooting is below average at .326 over his four-year career, the explosive Kentucky product is a 50% shooter from inside the arc and gets into the paint at will, creating favorable scoring opportunities for his teammates.