How Can The Knicks Get Back To Relevancy If No Stars Will Sign In New York?
The New York Knicks whiffed big in 2020 free agency. How is that any different from prior offseasons? The Knicks have stunk it up for the better part of the last 20 years and have become a franchise so defunct and unstable, that big-time free agents don’t even consider New York a viable destination. LeBron and Bosh in 2010? That was a nice dream. LeBron again in 2014? There was even less hope then. LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015? He laughed at president Phil Jackson for suggesting he’d play center. Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, or Kyrie Irving in 2019? None even considered the Knicks, while two of them (Durant and Irving) signed with the Knicks’ cross-town rivals, the Brooklyn Nets. So why is it that marquee free agents won’t even look in the direction of the Knicks, let alone actually sign with them? It all starts from inside and at the top, with owner James Dolan always meddling.
Now it’s easy to put it all on Dolan, and a majority of it is. Although this doesn’t go without mentioning that, now ex-president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry have not done a very good job of running the team since they were paired together and Dolan took a little bit of a backseat to them when Perry was hired in 2017. All the Knicks have done in that time is fire two head coaches, fail to make the playoffs, whiff on key free agents, poorly develop the young talent, and remained amongst the three worst teams in basketball each season. Not only that but for some odd reason the front office decided it’d be a good idea to sign a bunch of power forwards in free agency after missing out on Durant and Irving, their preferred duo. Now granted, one of those power forwards was Julius Randle, an emerging young star in the league who played his first four seasons with the Lakers and then left for New Orleans, where his skill set really shined and exploded. Another one of those power forwards is Marcus Morris Sr., who originally had a deal with the Spurs but wound up changing his mind to come to New York. Morris had been a very pleasant surprise this season with his scoring, toughness, attitude, and locker room leadership. A nice little find there on a one year deal and they were able to flip him to the LA Clippers for a first-round pick and a useful forward in Moe Harkless. I liked the Julius Randle signing when I’d heard about it and at three years and $63 million, I thought it was great value. Only half a season in and that deal has not lived up to the billing at all. Randle is still a nice player but he doesn’t appear to fit in with the system. Could Randle turn it around? Of course, the guy is super talented as he showed you in Los Angeles and more so New Orleans. In yet another lost season, it would definitely behoove the Knicks to float Randle’s name out there in trade talks after this season.
There’s also failed trades with this regime that appears out the door. There was attempting to trade a than still injured Kristaps Porzingiz and potentially more for Anthony Davis when he was in New Orleans. That didn’t work out, so they dumped Porzingis to Dallas for two future 1sts, young point guard Dennis Smith Jr., and immense salary relief. Not only did New York miss out on the top tier free agents with the room created by trading Porzingis but what they got in return didn’t contribute anything, although two future first-round picks (2021 & 2023) will allow this trade to not be properly evaluated for close to a decade. With Mills having been recently fired and impending team president Leon Rose needing an experienced and well regarded general manager under him, Scott Perry is all but out the door as well. Will this new regime bring different results? It remains to be seen but above all Dolan has to keep his input out and just write the checks.
Now with a new regime coming in does that mean that free agents will automatically start eyeing New York as a viable destination? Not at all, not at least until they see how they develop talent and/or how involved Dolan is with the day to day operations of the organization. The great news for the new management team coming in is that the old regime has done a solid job building up draft capital for them to use, which includes two first-round picks in 2020, 2021, and 2023, and seven 1st round picks in total over the next 4 drafts. There’s also what looks like two solid foundational pieces in place with shooting guard RJ Barrett and center Mitchell Robinson. Both have had up and down rookie and sophomore seasons, respectively, but have shown plenty of flashes of immense potential in their game. The Knicks can hold onto all of their upcoming draft picks and try to build a homegrown powerhouse but being able to hit on quite a few draft picks like that is extremely tough and we don’t know what kind of track record the new GM will have when it comes to drafting talent. There’s also the fact that Dolan still lurks in the background and may want to win right away (who doesn’t) and push for at least some of that draft capital be moved for an established star(s), which looks to be the only way the Knicks are getting a superstar to join them for a while.
Should the Knicks trade away all that capital for established players? No, but this team needs an identity and a leader to push them into the future. At the start of writing this, I had a player like Karl-Anthony Towns as a prime target the Knicks should be after but as of this writing Towns has been joined by explosive point guard D’Angelo Russell in Minnesota thanks to a blockbuster trade on deadline day between the Wolves and Warriors. With KAT being joined by another young superstar and both being locked into long term contracts, the Knicks have no chance of landing either in the foreseeable future. The only superstars at the moment I can think of that will be involved in trade rumors this summer are Cleveland PF/C Kevin Love and Washington SG Bradley Beal, the former whom I wouldn’t pursue and the latter whom I would definitely consider if you think RJ Barrett can slide over to small forward and stick there. Many “experts” are in agreement that the upcoming 2020 NBA draft is weak after the first 2-3 picks, so I would definitely dangle our own top 5-10 pick if it doesn’t land 1 or 2 in a trade for an established star. Amongst the seven picks the Knicks own in the next 4 drafts is their own in each year, the LA Clippers’ 2020 and Dallas’ 2021 and 2023 (top 10 protected through 2025). You have to figure that the three picks incoming from other teams will be low picks (in the 20’s) judging by how those teams are presently constructed and operate. So the only picks you expect to be high, and not high for long hopefully, will be the Knicks’ own picks.
There shouldn’t be any hesitation to trade one or multiple of the incoming 1st rounders if it means bringing in well regarded established talent that can help win now. If a scenario arises where the Knicks can obtain a star (such as Beal) on draft night and they don’t own picks #1 or #2, I’d be heavily inclined to pull the trigger. If the Knicks are lucky enough to get the #1 or #2 pick in the draft, I’d be all over Georgia SG/SF Anthony Edwards and former Memphis C James Wiseman. I’m not currently enamored with any other draft prospects outside of Edwards and Wiseman, so I’d heavily consider trading the NY 1st (with more potentially) in the right deal. Getting a star in MSG will automatically help attract other stars into wanting to play at MSG as well. The 2021 NBA draft and free agency classes are both expected to be way deeper than 2020, so the Knicks would be better suited to keep their payroll clear of long term agreements and their picks (or at least their own) in 2021.
The way to build the Knicks, even more so with the extra draft capital, is through trades and player development. Without an established star patrolling the hardwood in orange & blue at Madison Square Garden, the organization and fan base need not look to free agency for improvement as no one wants to willingly play here. Draft lottery night can’t get here quick enough to see what the next development in the Knicks franchise will be.