Kyle O'Quinn outplayed his contract, leaving the Knicks with a center dilemma

ByIan Begley ESPN logo
Friday, April 6, 2018

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- When Kyle O'Quinn came to training camp in September, he was the fourth center on the depth chart.

Over the next few weeks, he outplayed Willy Hernangomez and Joakim Noah to earn the backup center spot in Jeff Hornacek's rotation. And he kept that spot in the rotation by giving the Knicks consistent production all season.

Along the way, O'Quinn outperformed his contract for next season, leaving the Knicks with a difficult decision to make this summer.

O'Quinn, 28, is likely to opt out of his $4.25 million player option this summer. The native of Queens, New York, has said that he prefers to remain with the Knicks and be near his family, but he's also going to draw interest in the open market.

O'Quinn has averaged 14.2 points, 12.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes in 73 games for the Knicks this season. Entering Thursday, O'Quinn is shooting 58.5 percent from the field and ranked seventh in assists per 36 minutes among centers who played at least 1000 minutes this season.

The market for O'Quinn is unclear, but backup centers such as the Chicago Bulls' Cristiano Felicio (four years, $32 million) and Milwaukee Bucks' John Henson (four years, $48 million) may provide framework for O'Quinn's market this summer. New York can exceed the salary cap to re-sign O'Quinn, which is something that, based on coaches and executives' opinions of him, will be considered in July.

Knicks coaches have been impressed by O'Quinn's consistency this season and his ability to find cutters and shooters as a passer.

"We love his passing. I think his consistency this year has been probably greater than it ever has been in his career," Hornacek said of O'Quinn. "That's one thing that we were kind of striving for with him. Again he came in the beginning of the year and he wanted to earn those minutes and he took them. I think he's had a great year."

In addition to making a decision on O'Quinn this summer, the Knicks also have to deal with uncertainty surrounding fellow centers Enes Kanter and Joakim Noah.

Kanter, who announced last month that he was hiringMark Bartelstein as his new agent, has an $18 million player option this summer. It seems likely that Kanter will exercise the option, but opposing executives have come away with the impression that he was leaning toward opting out, presumably to pursue a multi-year contract.

The executives referenced above drew those conclusions before Kanter hired Bartelstein, who, along with Mevlut 'Hilmi' Cinar, Kanter's manager, will help guide the 25-year-old through his decision.

Kanter has said that he will decide on his option after the season and hasn't commented further than that, but has said that he sees New York as a long-term home.

Kanter on Wednesday said his relationship with Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry will play a factor in his decision.

"I think one thing when you see Scott and Steve, they come to every practice and that shows how much they care about their players and this organization," said Kanter, who is averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds per game and shooting 59 percent from the field.

"That shows a lot to me. I think the most important thing for me is seeing those two guys sitting on the sideline it's going to definitely affect my decision this summer. I love those guys, I'm like family with them."

In addition to Kanter and O'Quinn, the Knicks have to figure out how to handle the Noah situation. The Knicks and the 33-year-old have mutually agreed to remain apart following Noah's argument with Hornacek in late January.

The Knicks couldn't find a suitable trade of Noah and the expectation is that they will consider waiving him via the stretch provision after Sept. 1, at which point they would have $6.4 million on their cap over the next three seasons.

But don't discount the idea that Noah could remain with the Knicks if management decides to part ways with Hornacek. If the next coach the club hires is open to Noah returning, it makes the most sense financially for the Knicks to have Noah remain on the roster rather than stretching his contract.

Would the club be able to forgive Noah for how things played out between him and Hornacek in January? That's unclear but some people familiar with the dynamic between Noah and the Knicks believe it is a viable option.