After ACL injury, what comes next for Brandon Knight and the Suns?
Before an ACL tear put Suns guard Brandon Knight’s 2017-18 season likely to bed, his future in Phoenix already appeared to be on the ropes.
Last year was telling.
Knight was demoted to the second unit, benched in favor of a 150-pound rookie because of his poor defense and cemented to the sidelines once the trade deadline passed. Throw in a rash of injuries since 2015, and the relationship between the team and the player, who was a borderline All-Star when the Suns acquired him from the Milwaukee Bucks, wasn’t working out.
The torn ACL only makes coach Earl Watson’s rotation more clear-cut this year and anchors Knight’s trade value to its floor. It probably puts the point guard’s next career step in question through next summer.
The only good news for either party: There’s no rush anymore.
The Suns’ commitment to their young players makes their salary cap issue hardly a worry for this year, next and maybe even in 2019-20.
Waiving Knight won’t be necessary unless there’s a big-name free agent to sign, and there will be less pressure to do so now; there’s no disgruntling a player by benching him when that player can’t play anyway. Had Knight been healthy, perhaps there would be more reason to let him move on sooner.
When he finally is healthy, can the Suns still do the right thing and allow Knight to reset his career without paying the money still owed?
What team, now or later, would be willing to take on the contract of a player with, as ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh put it, “one of the saddest NBA story arcs”?
The list of teams who could take on the contract that escalates to $15.6 million in 2019-20 and pays out $13.6 million and $14.6 million these next two years is currently nonexistent.
One such team, the Brooklyn Nets, has three times this summer made acquisitions of large contracts similar to Knight’s.
The Nets just traded for Portland’s Allen Crabbe in exchange for the outrageous salary of Andrew Nicholson.
That Brooklyn earlier this summer agreed to pay Timofey Mozgov’s contract and graciously did so by accepting D’Angelo Russell from the Lakers said it all about whether a team would take a flier on a Knight-sized deal. The Nets also acquired two picks — one in the first round — from Toronto to accept DeMarre Carroll’s bloated contract.
Those showed the price of dumping a salary like Knight’s.
Even Knight’s inclusion in a blockbuster trade for salary purposes looks grim, and after Brooklyn, Philadelphia is the only other NBA squad with enough cap space to currently swallow his deal straight up and not leap over the $99 million cap.
That said, the NBA moves quickly. Arguably, the next franchise to be setting dynamite to the foundation is the one with the best player in the league and with three consecutive NBA Finals appearances. Maybe a suitor will become obvious down the line.
Where does all that leave Knight as a player?
League-wide last season, he ranked 420th in offensive rating and 444th in defensive rating out of 476 qualified players who appeared in at least 20 games. ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus ranked him fifth-worst in the NBA.
If his stock had hit an all-time low, adding an ACL tear on top of it only makes it worse.
It’s a shame considering a resolution with the Suns appeared near.
Knight could have at least tried to rehabilitate his stock as a backup shooting guard to Devin Booker this upcoming season with only second-round pick and rookie Davon Reed vying for playing time — assuming rookie Josh Jackson would play mostly as a small forward.
Now, Knight faces a road to recovery before he can turn onto one toward redemption.
Even by knowing that change comes quickly, to see redemption come with an opportunity in Phoenix would be highly surprising.