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- The New York Knicks’ grand plans for the offseason seem to have slowly fallen apart.
- The Knicks did not get the No. 1 pick in the draft, Kevin Durant tore his Achilles tendon, Kyrie Irving seems more likely to join the Brooklyn Nets, and Anthony Davis was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.
- The Knicks have several different paths to take this summer, but none of them seem likely to lead immediate contention in the Eastern Conference as they once seemed poised to do.
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Heading into what could be a vital offseason in shaping the franchise, the New York Knicks’ grand plans appear to be in danger of falling apart.
Just months ago, the Knicks seemed set up to hit a home run this offseason. Flush with cap space, rumors swirled about Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving teaming up in New York.
The Knicks owned the best odds at landing the No. 1 pick, and thus, Duke superstar Zion Williamson. Some wondered if the No. 1 pick and the Knicks’ assets could be swung in a trade for Anthony Davis, who reportedly wanted to play for the Knicks.
Knicks management was fairly open about their belief that they could have a huge offseason. When the Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks in January, the Knicks front office wrote a letter to fans that read, “The future of the New York Knicks is extremely bright.” They added they were “in a position to potentially sign two max free agents.”
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In March, team owner James Dolan went on “The Michael Kay Show” and said: “We hear from people all the time, from players, from representatives, about who wants to come … I can tell you, from what we’ve heard, I think we’re going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.”
Flash-forward to mid-June and the Knicks’ plans for the offseason suddenly look murky.
They, of course, did not get the No. 1 pick in the draft – the New Orleans Pelicans landed it in a stunning jump in the lottery. The Knicks got the third overall pick.
Durant – so heavily rumored to be joining the Knicks that Newsday’s Steve Popper described the feeling among league executives as “fait accompli” – tore his Achilles in the Finals, likely keeping him out of the entire 2019-20 season.
Irving now seems more interested in joining the Brooklyn Nets, according to various reports. He recently changed his representation to Roc Nation, an agency with ties to the Nets.
Davis was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday. According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the Knicks did not include second-year players Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson, two of their best assets, in offers to the Pelicans.
While the 2019 free agent class is deep and star-studded, the Knicks don’t appear to be in the running for many of the top players. Kawhi Leonard is believed to be choosing between the Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Clippers. Klay Thompson (likely out for 2019-20 with a torn ACL) seems likely to re-sign with the Warriors. Kemba Walker has said remaining in Charlotte is his priority, and Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris seem primed to receive multiple offers, including from the Philadelphia 76ers, who can pay them the most money.
According to Bleacher Report’s Yaron Weitzman, the Knicks are said to prefer to continue a slow, patient rebuild, acquiring young players, over maxing out some of the second-tier stars this summer like Khris Middleton and Nikola Vucevic.
The Knicks have several different paths they can take, none of which seem likely to make them immediate contenders.
The key may still be Durant
Giving Durant a max contract will be risky. If Durant misses all of the 2019-20 season, he will be 32 when he returns to the court. NBA players have historically struggled to regain form after tearing their Achilles.
It’s unclear how Durant’s injury affects his free agency decision. Some believe it could make him more likely to stay with Golden State due to familiarity with their medical staff, while others believe the injury could push him out the door.
According to reports, the Knicks would still be interested in offering Durant a four-year max contract worth about $162 million.
If the Knicks were able to land Durant, it might be their quickest path to contention, even if he misses the entire season.
Durant could attract a second star (like Irving) to join him in New York, with the hopes that they can form a dynamic duo in 2020-21. If not, the Knicks could also split their remaining cap space with valuable role players who could surround Durant once he returns.
The Knicks could also roll their cap space over after signing Durant in hopes of attracting a second star in 2020. Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, has said Davis would become a free agent in 2020 (though this was before the trade to the Lakers). The Knicks could try to keep cap space open to lure Davis to play with Durant in 2020.
Pursue the next tier of free agents
If the Knicks don’t have the stomach to spend another year rebuilding and finishing well below .500, they could still use their cap space on the next tier of free agents.
If the Nets land Kyrie Irving, All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell could be on the move. The Knicks are still looking for their point guard of the future, and Russell, at 23, would come at less of a cost than the likes of Irving or Walker.
According to The New York Post’s Marc Berman, the Knicks are also interested in big man Julius Randle. Just 24 years old, coming off a season in which he averaged 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists per game, Randle could give the Knicks a versatile big man with room to grow.
Such players would fit the Knicks’ rebuilding timeline but perhaps push them a little closer to playoff contention.
Continue acquiring assets
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Over the past two seasons, the Knicks have made a point to acquire “second draft” players – former high draft picks who fell out of favor with their first teams – like Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja, and Noah Vonleh. In dealing Porzingis, they also acquired Dennis Smith Jr., who was the ninth pick in the draft two years ago.
If the Knicks strike out on the top tier of free agents, they could look into continuing to add young, talented players. They could also take on salary for future draft picks.
Such assets come in handy the next time a star player like Davis becomes available. The Knicks, with six first-round picks in the next four years, plus their young core (which they will add to with the third pick in this year’s draft) would be a prime candidate to acquire a star who suddenly hits the trade market.
Perhaps the Knicks have other moves up their sleeves or will be able to nab a top free agent that few see coming.
But after months of looking like the potential new “It” team, it appears the Knicks will have to adjust on the fly after a spring that simply did not go their way.
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