What awaits the Knicks now that they’ve lost the starting spot with the Mikal Bridges trade?

The New York Knicks have avoided the dreaded hard cap on the first apron. While legalese over the collective bargaining agreement isn’t the most provocative topic in sports, it changes how they can approach the rest of their offseason.

This is what Thursday’s news means.

The Knicks have amended the Mikal Bridges trade, league sources say The Athleticsa move that has been likely since they and the Brooklyn Nets agreed to the trade on June 25. New York will now add 27-year-old forward Mamadi Diakite and free-agent guard Shake Milton, whom it will sign and trade, according to league sources. Brooklyn will add Keita Bates-Diop.

The original construction of the trade (Bojan Bogdanović and a load of draft picks for Bridges) involved the Knicks sending out more money than they took in, which would have severely limited them to the $178.1 million starting apron. Had the Knicks not modified the trade, their payroll would have been just $5 million less than that amount, which they could not have exceeded under any circumstances. Flexibility would have been reduced.

Now that won’t happen anymore.

The Knicks adding Milton and Diakite’s salaries to the deal isn’t about saving money. It’s about opening up new possibilities.

Because New York is now taking back less money than it is spending in trading, and bypassing the hard cap on the first platform, it can even move to the second platform of $188.9 million, which it is now about $15 million below.

That’s enough cap space to re-sign big man Precious Achiuwa, who could earn between $5 million and slightly more per year, and take advantage of the mid-level taxpayer exception, a $5.2 million tool that allows the Knicks to sign a free agent for up to that amount.

The search for a fallback center is complicated, because The Athletics detailed Wednesday. There aren’t many viable free agents left unsigned. Every hypothetical trade presents some sort of obstacle, courtesy of the CBA.

The Knicks lost former starting center Isaiah Hartenstein at the start of free agency. Mitchell Robinson will step into the first unit. Jericho Sims remains. But a consistent backup to Robinson is lacking.

The man for the job could be Achiuwa — or the team could favor a more aggressive presence in the middle of the second unit. Either way, the Knicks could now enter training camp knowing that if any deficiencies arise, whether at center or elsewhere, they can address them during the season.

If the Knicks want to trade for another center, they don’t have to immediately blow their remaining draft capital — the Detroit Pistons’ 2025 first-round pick (protected through the top 13 picks next year, with protections that could keep it from transferring until 2027) and first-round trades in 2026 and 2030. (They also own a lot of second-round picks, as well as the Washington Wizards’ 2025 first-round pick, which is heavily protected and more likely to transfer as two second-round picks after the 2025-26 season.)

If they wanted to, they could re-sign Achiuwa, use the taxpayer MLE on whichever remaining free agent makes the most sense, regardless of position, and see how a 24-year-old, undersized backup center fares in the role. Achiuwa played the five a lot last season, but could struggle against bolder paint presences. If things don’t go well, they could package Achiuwa and their MLE signing in a deal for an eight-figure salary before the February trade deadline.

The Knicks’ preference all along was to expand the Bridges trade, league sources said. The team modeled scenario after scenario, mapping out ways to avoid a hard cap on the first apron. When the Knicks and Nets originally agreed to the deal, New York made it clear it would return with more details at some point, a league source familiar with the negotiations said.

The Knicks’ front office is obsessed with flexibility at the margins, and it hasn’t handled this situation any differently.

Adding Milton and Diakite to the Bridges trade wasn’t the only money-saving move they made on Thursday. The team also agreed to terms with 2024 first-round pick Pacôme Dadiet on a contract that included one surprise. He’ll be cheaper than expected.

Contracts for first-round players are pre-negotiated by the players’ union at what’s called “rookie scale,” which includes proposed salaries for each pick, Nos. 1 through 30. First-round players can sign for as little as 80 percent of that amount or as much as 120 percent of it. A rookie-scale contract rarely comes to less than 120 percent of it, so much so that the cap hold for a drafted player is not his rookie-scale salary; it is, in fact, 120 percent of his rookie-scale salary.

But on Thursday, the Knicks and Dadiet signed a contract that pays the 18-year-old winger just 80 percent of a rookie’s salary in 2024-25, league sources said, creating an additional $904,000 in cap space for New York under the second tier.

The last first-round pick to receive only 80 percent of the rookie scale in the first year of his contract was Kevin Porter Jr. in 2019.

The Knicks also settled other rookie business Thursday, signing Tyler Kolek, the 34th pick in last week’s draft, to a four-year, $9.1 million contract, a league source said. The deal carries a team option for a fourth season.

The final version of the Bridges deal still contains as many confusing CBA details as it did in the beginning.

Technically, the Knicks are still sending out more money than they’re getting back. Milton’s new contract will be for $9 million over three years, league sources say The Athletics‘s Shams Charania. The final two seasons are not guaranteed. Diakite is earning $2.3 million in 2024-25. The Knicks will guarantee at least some of that to make the numbers work, a league source said.

But if you do the math, New York is technically bringing back seven figures more than it is sending out… until you factor in one provision in the CBA that saves it.

Because Bates-Diop makes a minimum salary, the Knicks could accept him into the minimum exception, which would count him as outgoing salary for the Nets but not incoming salary for the Knicks. That means Milton’s salary plus Diakite’s salary is enough to save them, capping them hard at $188.9 million instead of $178.1 million.

If the Knicks want to do more, they now have the space to do it.

(Photo: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

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