30 Teams in 30 Days: Knicks still find themselves in recovery mode

NBA.com Global on Sep 02, 2019 02:38 PM
30 Teams in 30 Days: Knicks still in recovery mode
FILE - New York Knicks' RJ Barrett dunks against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half of an NBA summer league basketball game Wednesday, July 10, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of trades, free agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season.

With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.

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Today's team: New York Knicks

2018-19 Record:  7-65, did not qualify for the playoffs

Key additions: Elfrid Payton (free agency), Bobby Portis (free agency), Julius Randle (free agency), Taj Gibson (free agency), RJ Barrett (Draft)

Key departures: Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja, DeAndre Jordan, Noah Vonleh

The lowdown: Unremarkable basketball has become the norm on 33rd Street in New York, a status that, except for brief stretches of relief, has remained largely unchanged for two decades.

For the sixth straight season, the Knicks failed to make the playoffs. They perhaps reached a new low by finishing with the league’s worst record and trading their projected savior, Kristaps Porzingis, a week before the trade deadline.

The talented forward and the club had bad blood both before and after a knee injury which erased his entire 2018-19 season. While a new front office regime was supposed to smooth over all the rough feelings, that never materialized and Porzingis requested a trade, throwing the troubled franchise for a loop. The Knicks had little choice but to agree; Porzingis said he would not sign an extension with the club.

So ended a strange saga with Porzingis, the only positive to emerge from the dreadful Phil Jackson era. Elsewhere, the Knicks received spotty production at best from the guts of the developing roster. Rookie Kevin Knox was wildly inconsistent, Dennis Smith Jr. (obtained in the Porzingis trade) shot 28.9% on three-pointers and former first-rounder Frank Ntilikina sunk deeper in the shuffle. There were signs of bubbling hope from unsung rookies Allonzo Trier and Mitchell Robinson, but otherwise this was yet another lost season for the franchise.

Summer summary: The best-case scenario for the Knicks this summer was: get lucky in the Draft lottery and make magic happen in free agency with a few A-list stars. Doing so would give the franchise a complete reversal of fortune. But, to quote Biggie Smalls, it was all a dream, and the Knicks and their fans awakened in a cold sweat.

They traded Porzingis for cap space and lo and behold, there was no Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving signing in free agency. They endured a tough season with 65 losses and lo and behold, there was no Zion Williamson in the Draft. Instead, the Knicks must make do with Zion’s college teammate and a batch of short-term free agent power forwards.

The good news is the Knicks will have better talent in 2019-20 while still maintaining some future salary cap flexibility. It was the best they could do when they landed the third pick and settled for Barrett. Who knows … he could become one of the better players taken.

Barrett has solid chops for the game, can play either small forward or big guard and brings good size for either position. He wanted badly to be a Knick and seemingly has all the intangibles necessary to thrive. However, the Knicks’ recent track record for rookies (Porzingis aside) hasn’t been paved with gold.

The price for striking out on the No. 1 overall pick (Williamson) certainly had a domino effect in free agency. For example: Do you really believe Irving and Durant would’ve gone to Brooklyn had the Knicks got Williamson? Maybe not. Anyway, they did, and the Knicks were left holding a pile of money with no A-list takers for it.

Sadly, the Knicks’ brand is so damaged that they didn’t even get an interview from any of the top free agents. They resorted to their Plan B and stocked up on decent, reasonably priced players on short-length deals. In doing so, they improved the team while keeping their options open for the next two summers. The hope is by then they will have gained respect among players to be contender to sign stars.

However, they chose a strange short-term strategy by signing players who virtually play the same position. Yes, Randle can double at center (and so can Portis), but the Knicks are grooming Robinson for that spot. How will that all work?

The weirdest move of the summer might’ve been Morris’ decision to renege on a verbal deal with the San Antonio Spurs and sign with the Knicks. That was a first: A player who had the choice to join the most respected organization in the NBA suddenly had second thoughts … and instead went to the Knicks. If this ever becomes a future trend, the Knicks will finally turn the corner.

All told, the Knicks loaded up on similarly-talented power forwards (who form a glut at one or two positions), when they could’ve chosen a different route. As in, collecting bad contracts from other teams with future first-round picks as sweeteners. The Atlanta Hawks did that this summer and the Nets did it over the past few summers. Those two developing teams took advantage of their ample cap space to stockpile Draft picks to use as assets in trades (or simply save for themselves).

A more reasonable platform for the Knicks this summer would be to ensure that nothing interferes with the growth of Knox, Barrett and Robinson. Instead, the Knicks took a unique approach to recovering from the failure to get Williamson, Durant and Irving.

The free agents they signed should help the Knicks win more games. That would be an upgrade over 17-65. But what’s the gain when you’re suddenly stuck in the middle -- not good enough for the playoffs, not bad enough for a high lottery pick in the next Draft?

Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here, and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. 

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