In some ways, last season was mission accomplished for a Knicks franchise looking to secure the best odds in this year’s draft lottery. Bottom place in the Atlantic Division, the Eastern Conference, and the entire NBA. The 17 wins tied the franchise’s worst-ever record. Garnering big dreams of a potential Zion Williamson draft haul to add to the highly-speculated free agent additions of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving… Things were looking up in Gotham. That was when things started to go awry, however.
The Knicks secured only the third pick in the draft, which became Zion’s Duke teammate, RJ Barrett. The Knicks then failed to land the stars they had been targeting in free agency. And to make things worse, Irving and Durant signed for nearby rivals, the Brooklyn Nets. How the front office would choose to respond to these disappointments was a true tipping point for the franchise.
Previous iterations of this team would have gone out and filled the team’s hard-earned cap room on whoever the next best available talent was, even if it meant overpaying for a middling or ‘over the hill’ player. Knicks fans looked on with the kind of pained and existential dread that only Knicks fans are capable of.
The team’s largest outlay was signing Julius Randle for 3 years, $62.1M. Following the flashes he showed in LA, the big man went on to impress with the Pelicans last season, putting up a career-high 21.4 ppg, as well as showcasing a radically improved stroke from range to match with his consistent double-double potential. Outside of Randle, the Knicks strategy seemed to be picking up respected talents and veterans on short contracts who can be solid contributors in the short term, but also easily moved on for future flexibility. Bobby Portis, Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock, Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington and Elfrid Payton all fit this category.
Despite the incredibly disappointing offseason based on potential expectations, perhaps there are signs of growth from the organisation. As mentioned earlier, the fear that most Knicks fans have is the team continually mortgaging future success in favour of minimally effective short term gains. This time around, the front office appeared to understand that in order to build positively for the future, flexibility, young promising players, cap room and draft picks are all required. Another key lesson for New York is that in order to attract the type of marquee talent they’ve been looking to acquire, the team needs to behave and be viewed as a coherent franchise that looks after players. This is perhaps the biggest obstacle and rebranding exercise that the team has ever had to undertake.