Knicks’ free-agency flop means tank is on for Cade Cunningham

What Blue Saturday proved is Knicks senior VP William Wesley’s connections and charisma won’t draw top players to New York overnight.

While striking out so far in free agency has given the Knicks cap flexibility for the star-studded 2021 free-agent class led by Giannis Antetokounmpo and maybe Anthony Davis, that wasn’t Plan A. Or Plan B.

When their priorities fell by the wayside, including landing Gordon Hayward, the Knicks resorted to Plan T – Tank. One-year deals on fringe guys with dreams of 2021.

The Knicks entered free agency with a league-high $40 million in cap space and with heady visions. They wanted to be a major playoff threat in coach Tom Thibodeau’s first season and bring glamour back to the Garden – even if it might be empty for the 36-game home schedule.

That is why they drafted a more ready-made forward in native New Yorker Obi Toppin, age 22, over Israeli project forward Deni Avdija, 19, when both surprisingly dropped to No. 8.

Avdija, a playmaking forward, could be the next…Gordon Hayward. The Israeli had his fans in the Knicks organization.

The Knicks acted like a title contender on Wednesday’s draft night when they wanted to keep open a roster spot for free agency and decided to hastily trade the 33rd pick in the draft – which most executives covet – for a 2023 second-round pick. They had little time to wheel as all their targets came off the board, including Duke center Vernon Carey Jr. at 32.

Those are not the actions of a rebuilding team, but one looking to turn around its miserable fortunes right away in a hurried, chaotic 2020-21 season. They wanted to give star-caliber coach Thibodeau, who usually doesn’t covet rookies, the best chance.

As it unfolded on Blue Saturday, the Knicks went from potentially being a legit playoff contender (10 teams qualify in each conference) to competing for the No. 1 lottery seed in the 2021 draft with a chance at 6-7 combo guard Cade Cunningham of Oklahoma State. He’s the NBA’s Trevor Lawrence.

Knicks NBA free agency Cade Cunningham NBA Draft 2021
Cade Cunningham is the NBA’s Trevor Lawrence — the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.Getty Images

Things can change, of course, if Russell Westbrook happens. Suddenly, the three years, $131 million left on his contract doesn’t look so unappealing for the 32-year-old point guard. If the Knicks decide to go after it, they’d only execute a trade for a big discount.

The dreamboat scenario for Rose’s squad was using much of their cap space to sign DJ Augustin to start at point guard and Gordon Hayward and Carmelo Anthony to plug in as the forwards.

The Post has learned once the Knicks found out recently that point guard Fred VanVleet only had eyes on staying in Toronto to continue his close bond with backcourt mate Kyle Lowry, Augustin became their top priority at PG.

Don’t believe a published report the Knicks were not willing to give VanVleet the four years, $85 million the Raptors offered. Sources say they would have done it in a heartbeat.

But that’s irrelevant. VanVleet wanted to stay. The bigger issue is why they couldn’t land Augustin. Knicks GM Scott Perry, according to sources, adored Augustin when he had him in Orlando. Augustin is not a Creative Artists Agency client and Rose did not have the edge.

Augustin signed with the powerful Milwaukee Bucks for a reasonable three years, $21 million. The Knicks would have had to massively overpay.

Thibodeau considered his former Minnesota PG, Jeff Teague, as a possibility but he wasn’t too high on the list and they let him sign with Boston for one year.

Ultimately, the staff didn’t think it was too much of an upgrade over CAA-controlled Elfrid Payton, their starting point guard in 2019-20, who inked a new one-year, $5 million deal.

Yes, Perry still is in love with Payton, whom he drafted in Orlando.

The biggest downer was not being able to get Hayward to New York. They were not willing to risk Hayward’s injury history by coming close to matching Charlotte’s four-year, $120 million offer.

The Knicks entered free agency feeling they could sign Hayward for two years. Hayward’s pact was a major overpay by Charlotte. Plus, Hayward had some interest but it didn’t seem the former Butler forward really wanted to be here. His hometown Pacers were his top choice.

Entering Sunday, the Knicks had used half of their cap space on Ed Davis’ contract, bench scoring forward Alec Burks, re-signing Payton and reserve big Nerlens Noel, a former lottery pick who also played for Knicks assistant coach Kenny Payne at Kentucky.

That’s four Kentucky players now on the roster, continuing the “Orange and Bluegrass” state of affairs.

So far, the Knicks just haven’t bolstered the roster in a significant way on the first two days of free agency, What does it say when even Anthony preferred to be on a playoff team in Portland and repay the Blazers for resuscitating his career than New York? Anthony had to say no to his beloved former agent. So did former Rose client Chris Paul, whose addition originally was Plan A-plus before he was traded to the Suns.

Those events actually might be the best two things not to happen. On Blue Saturday. Rose got saved from himself. Tank on.