The Knicks Find Themselves In a Different Place on Draft Day; A Place Where They Can’t Screw It Up...Right?
Rumors are floating around that the Knicks may trade up to select Mo Bamba
Meaningful basketball is always played at Madison Square Garden every year. Whether it’s the Big East Tournament, or more recently, the Big Ten Tournament, there is championship level basketball played at the Garden. Two years ago, South Carolina topped Florida in the Elite Eight, to punch a ticket to the Final Four. So, yes, the Garden has seen meaningful basketball recently--it just hasn’t been played by the New York Knicks. Nearly a year after letting Phil Jackson go, and replacing Jeff Hornacek as head coach, the Knicks find themselves in a slightly different place as the NBA Draft has finally arrived.
For a while now, the Knicks have entered each draft with a more extreme sense of urgency. They had an NBA all-star in Carmelo Anthony, and were looking to surround him with talent that would be good enough to not just make the playoffs, but make a significant run to the NBA Finals. After seeing guys like Jason Kidd, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Jeremy Lin leave New York or other ventures, the Knicks have never really put anything together. They haven’t been able to lure the big-time free agent and their draft selections have turned out to be far from stellar. Recent free agent signings like Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah just haven’t panned out. In fact, Noah’s contract is going to be hanging over the team for the next few years, unless they can find a way for another team to take it on. With team president, Steve Mills, and general manager, Scott Perry, committed to a rebuild, this Knicks find themselves in a much different place heading into tonight. They are committed to that rebuild and there is zero expectation to win next year. Kristaps Porzingis will also be out for most of next season, if not the entire season, and new coach David Fizdale has his work cut out for him in terms of working with their young players and improving their games, specifically, Frank Ntilikina.
To some fans, Porzingis and Ntilikina represent some of the recent draft failures of the Knicks. In 2015 the Knicks and Jackson selected Porzingis in the first round. Needless to say, the city faithful didn’t love the pick, but he has shown he has the tools to be great. They went without a selection in the 2016 draft, and selected Ntilikina last year. It wasn’t just the selection of Ntilikina and his less than stellar, yet hopeful, rookie season. It was the fact that Jackson passed on guys like Dennis Smith Jr. and Donovan Mitchell, who is a rookie of the year candidate, as well as being a local kid. Regardless of the past, the Knicks enter tonight with a new sense of hope amidst a commitment to a rebuild. They will also have a number of really strong players available to them at #9. Some believe they will be able to choose amongst guys like Kevin Knox, Mikal Bridges, and Collin Sexton, while names like Michael Porter Jr., Trae Young, and Wendell Carter Jr. could fall to them. These guys can all really play, and selecting any one of them would mark the beginning of a rebuild in NYC. So they can’t mess this one up, right? I’d like to think that they can’t, but it’s possible that they can.
The Knicks need to draft a guy that, even amongst a rebuild, will have an immediate impact. The Knicks clear some significant cap space in the summer of 2019, and will have just 65 million on the books, with plenty of room to sign one or even two free agents. That free agent class is highlighted by guys like Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Kenneth Faried, Klay Thompson, and Jimmy Butler. There are also some mid-tier guys like a Khris Middleton that will become available. It’s unlikely that LeBron James will look to come to New York this offseason, but the Knicks have a significant opportunity to compete come the 2019-2020 season. Fizdale was also a terrific selection to head the team. He certainly had his troubles in Memphis, specifically with Marc Gasol, but we’re slowly learning that situation there isn’t a great one for anyone right now, He did lead the team to a winning record and a playoff appearance. He was beloved in Miami, as he was an assistant coach during the Heat’s run NBA Finals appearances and won two championships with the team. Dwayne Wade and James have been vocal in their support of Fizdale as a players coach, so maybe, just maybe, top free agents will give New York a look again. We know the Irving has mentioned the desire to return home, as he grew up just across the Hudson River in New Jersey.
Since the Knicks aren’t going to be competing and winning much in 2018-19, it’s easy to think that tonight’s draft can’t go wrong, but with a new, popular coach, and money to spend next summer, the Knicks have to get this right tonight. There’s talks of them moving up to select Mo Bamba, or they can stand pat and land one of the great college stars I mentioned previously. Either way, they have an opportunity to land two players tonight that could be Knicks for the next 10 years, but the selections are important and critical. Bringing in a guy that may take 3-4 years to develop may be fine for some places, but not for New York and not for the Knicks. If that happens, they could miss their window to bring in game-changing free agents next year. Best case scenario, they draft a Mo Bamba, Mikal Bridges, or Kevin Knox, those guys have immediate impact, Fizdale proves himself to not just be a guy that players enjoy playing for, but someone that can develop the games of young players. Ntilikina gets better offensively, Porzingis returns healthy, and they are able to bring in a couple of high-level free agents in 2019. If they can do that, they will be in the playoffs come the 2019-20 season, with a chance to make a significant run. It sounds nice, but it all starts tonight...and they can’t get it wrong.
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