The New York Knicks added Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier to their starting backcourt in an effort to become more competitive next season. Walker agreed to a contract buyout with the Oklahoma City Thunder so he could sign with the Knicks, while free-agent Fournier signed a four-year deal worth $78 million.
The big moves quelled rumors that the Knicks were in the market to acquire Damian Lillard in a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Knicks were the surprise team in the NBA last season with a 41-31 record, earning the #4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. After being the laughingstock of the NBA for the past decade, the new-look Knicks qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Despite their run good in the regular season, the Knicks fizzled out in the playoffs, losing in the opening-round matchup against the #5 Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks exploited the Knicks‘ lackluster guard play, especially on defense when Trae Young destroyed them on pick-and-rolls. Combined with a horrendous offensive series from Julius Randle, the Knicks made a disappointing first-round exit. The Knicks addressed some of their backcourt problems and locked up key players in their second unit.
Two starters from last season, Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton, signed with other teams. Payton went to the Phoenix Suns, while Bullock signed with the Dallas Mavericks to play in the same backcourt with Luka Doncic.
Kemba Returns Home
Walker, 31, grew up in the Bronx, where he became a playground legend. He played his collegiate ball at UCONN before the under-size guard established himself as a star player for the Charlotte Hornets over the past decade. When the Hornets were unwilling to re-sign him to a super-max contract, Walker bounced and signed with the Boston Celtics.
Walker averaged 19.9 ppg in two seasons with the Celtics, but struggled with neck and knee injuries. The Celtics traded Walker to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the offseason as one of the first bold moves under new general manager Brad Stevens.
Walker never played a game with the Thunder, who agreed to a contract buyout so he could sign with the Knicks. Walker had two years remaining on a $74 million contract. If he stays healthy, Walker will be able to provide a dangerous scoring threat for the Knicks to compliment Randle.
At the Tokyo Olympics, Fournier played for France and lit up Team USA for 28 points in pool play, which snapped a 25-game Olympic winning streak by the Americans. In the gold medal game, the US enacted revenge with a 5-point victory to win gold. Fournier scored only 16 points for France in the final and settled for a silver medal.
Fournier is a 6-foot-7 swingman who can play multiple positions for the Knicks as a solid defender. He struggled in his first two seasons in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets, but came into his own with the Orlando Magic. In seven seasons with the Magic, Fournier averaged 16.2 ppg and shot 37.8% from 3-point range.
The Magic dumped Fournier before the trade deadline, sending him to the Boston Celtics. He averaged 15.4 ppg starting for the Celtics in the postseason. Instead of returning to Beantown, Fournier signed with the Knicks.
Deep Bench at MSG
The Knicks also re-signed Derrick Rose, Nerlens Noel, and Alec Burks. All three players were a valuable part of the bench last season.
Rose agreed to a three-year deal worth $43 million. He played a huge role as a veteran voice in the locker room and had a long-lasting relationship with head coach Tom Thibodeau, which allowed him to be a conduit between the coaching staff and players. Rose also led the Knicks’ second unit, which is one of the main reasons they secured the #4 seed last season.
Noel signed a three-year deal worth $32 million. He started 41 games while replacing center Mitchell Robinson as the Knicks’ primary rim protector after Robinson injured his wrist and knee. Noel averaged 5.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game with the Knicks last season, but his stellar defense is why the Knicks were quick to re-sign him.
Burks signed a three-year deal worth $10 million per season. He averaged 12.7 ppg as the Knicks’ main bench scorer last season. He also shot 41.5% from 3-point range. Burks is a streaky shooter, but when he gets hot, he fires up the crowd at MSG and gets the building rocking.