A disruptive Knicks defense, Donte DiVincenzo’s improbable bonuses and more

LAS VEGAS — Unless an unassuming dribbler politely puts the basketball in a defender’s hands, the New York Knicks don’t want your turnover. They say “no thanks” to steals and want no part of pick-sixes. Instead, they prefer that you miss a shot so they can return sensibly up the court with the ball in hand.

At least during this last regular season, the defense was consistent in its morale: Whether it was forcing stop after stop or allowing make after make, it was not for the taking. Steals that appear inorganic are not the Knicks’ thing, nor have they ever been under this coaching staff. Defenders don’t move into passing lanes hoping for an interception, but leave a path to the hoop open as a result. The Knicks at their best are Darrelle Revis, not Antonio Cromartie.

Tom Thibodeau’s defense remains notoriously solid — dating back to his early days as head coach, a time so long ago that it was New York’s actual Revis and Cromartie era. Thibodeau’s teams are disciplined. They aim to cut off as many paths to the basket as they can. The Knicks defense was 25th in the NBA in turnover rate this past season, and that low number was by design.

New York doesn’t play like some other teams. It hasn’t risen above the league’s bottom 10 in turnover rate since Thibodeau took over. But that’s not the only way his team is willing to play. For example, Thibodeau’s former Minnesota Timberwolves team took far more chances. And it’s possible the Knicks’ freshest addition, Donte DiVincenzo, could provide a new element.

New York officially signed DiVincenzo to a four-year, $47 million contract over the weekend. And the former Golden State Warriors guard will add more than extra ball handling and shooting. He is also a pest in passing lanes.

Hyperbole aside, the Knicks aren’t fundamentally opposed to forcing turnovers. They often talk about wanting to run away. Of course, the best way to do that is by taking the basketball away from their opponents. They leaned on takeaways during their first-round playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers last spring. It was one of the main reasons they ousted the Cavs in just five games.

This season’s team could be even better equipped to upset.

It will have a full season of Josh Hart, possibly the best deflector of the group, instead of just a few months with him as it did last season, given that Hart made it to the trade deadline.

And it will have DiVincenzo swarming dribblers, cutting off passing lanes and knowing when to be practical. He’s been tricked into stripping penetrators (he loves a quick, downward swipe) as they go up for layups. He can make plays like the one below regularly, whether he’s darting from the weak side or, as on this one, drifting from the strong side into the driver while still watching his man and understanding when to get back on him.

DiVincenzo averaged 3.4 deflections per game. 36 minutes with the Golden State Warriors this past season, 11th among eligible players in the NBA and far more than any Knicks player has pitched. Put him on the weak side and he can disrupt.

Assuming he comes off the bench and Quentin Grimes continues to start at shooting guard, that trait would work especially well with the Knicks’ second unit, which could be on fire.

Immanuel Quickley pushes the pace at the point. And he’ll have ball handlers around him: DiVincenzo, Hart, Isaiah Hartenstein and possibly RJ Barrett, who Thibodeau likes to mix with the reserves. It gives the Knicks a little more stylistic variety.

DiVincenzo’s effect on the defense is just one of the topics of the week. Here are a few more thoughts on the Knicks’ offseason:

Donte’s dazzling deal

We should have known DiVincenzo’s four-year deal with the Knicks would be offbeat. But this time, contract creativity could have negative consequences for New York.

DiVincenzo’s agent, Jason Glushon, is known in the industry for adding fun quirks to his contracts – purely because … why not? A few years back, he negotiated and wrote the cheapest bonus in league history into Spencer Dinwiddie’s contract: $1 if Dinwiddie’s team wins the title. He also put together the Jericho Sims contract, which is filled with far more dates that trigger guaranteed money throughout the year than your average deal has.

The DiVincenzo contract, meanwhile, is a doozy.

He’s guaranteed $47 million over four years, but will also receive $750,000 per season in unlikely bonuses (“unlikely” is a technical term meaning he didn’t earn them the previous season). That’s a fair contract for a player of DiVincenzo’s caliber. But it’s also confusing from the Knicks’ perspective.

First, let’s dive into the unlikely incentives, which are nothing short of glorious.

According to a league source familiar with the contract details, the deal includes improbables to reach the NBA Finals as well as those to (take a deep breath if you’re reading out loud, and also grab some water if you’re dizzy) win MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, sixth man of the year, most improved player, first team All-NBA, second team All-NBA, third team All-NBA, first team all-defense, second team all-defense and making the All-Star Game.

The technical term for these incentives may be “unlikely,” but in colloquial terms, it’s “not going to happen.” The two sides should have placed an NBA Rookie of the Year bonus in there just for fun. But as spectacular and seemingly harmless as these bonuses are for DiVincenzo, given that he won’t be winning an MVP anytime soon, there should be questions as to why the Knicks allowed these in the deal, especially with the way the new collective bargaining agreement works on.

Improbable incentives that teams throw into deals just for kicks, the ones that are Krispy Kreme for contract nerds like anyone still somehow reading this, should be a thing of the past for teams in the Knicks’ financial position. Because New York gave DiVincenzo more than $5 million of the mid-level exception, it set a hard cap at $172.3 million. In other words: the Knicks’ payroll cannot under any circumstances and at any time exceed that figure.

As Athletics spoke last week, ever since Leon Rose took over as team president in 2020, this team has done what it could to create flexibility to not sign one star but more Act For one. The Knicks have loaded up with first-round picks and negotiable mid-range contracts. But now they are even closer to the hard cap than it seems at first glance.

They are pushing up against the luxury tax threshold, which is $165.3 million, $7 million below the hard cap. And teams aren’t taxed on their improbable incentives (unless a player earns them), but there’s a twist: Whether DiVincenzo wins the MVP or not, his $750,000 a year in improbable bonuses still count against the hard cap. And this is where we get into the Knicks eating away at their flexibility.

Evan Fournier and Barrett already have $4.4 million combined in improbable incentives in their deals. DiVincenzo’s now brings the team total to $5.2 million.

That means the Knicks could push up against the luxury tax line (which is again $7 million short of the hard cap), but would only be $2 million short of the hard cap.

So what happens if things go south in e.g. Philadelphia midway through the season and Joel Embiid says he wants out? The Knicks might have to include someone extra just to make the money work — and that might be because they agreed to include a number of nice (but possibly crippling) bonuses for DiVincenzo.

Toppin the voters

The Knicks received two second-round picks from the Indiana Pacers in the Obi Toppin trade. Chances are, neither pick will be in the 30s either.

The Pacers will send New York the least favorable of their second-rounder or the Phoenix Suns’ second-rounder in 2028, as well as the least favorable of their second-rounder or the Washington Wizards’ second-rounder in 2029.

To get an idea of ​​where these picks might end up, let’s use the same logic that front offices do to determine the value of a draft pick.

NBA teams use modeling to project where picks might end up. And there is one theme in the process: It is nearly impossible to predict how good a team will be five or six years into the future. Plug in any team’s second-round pick in 2029, and the formula will yield a pick around No. 45, right in the middle of the round — exactly average.

But the Knicks have the least favorable of two teams’ picks, meaning models would project them picking slightly lower than exactly average: somewhere in the No. 48 range, or perhaps trickling into the 50s, depending on which team’s formula we user.

That’s not much for Toppin, whom the Knicks drafted No. 8 just three years ago, but that’s the rate for former lottery picks teams look to trade. The Pacers just dealt 26-year-old Chris Duarte, who they picked No. 13 just two years ago, for a couple of far-out second-rounders as well.

(Photo by Malcolm Brogdon and Donte DiVincenzo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

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