Knowing when to call “all in” and push your chips forward is a delicate waiting game, requiring patience for the Knicks in the near future.
Another October, another season of tempered expectations for the New York Knicks.
Unlike past seasons, the Knicks have taken a step forward and improved on last season’s 17-65 group. The issue? It was the additions of Julius Randle, R.J. Barrett, and Taj Gibson rather than the Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Zion Williamson fans and media believed were coming.
Despite the retooled roster, the Knicks are projected to end up with representation sitting in a Secaucus, New Jersey, building in May, rather than filling up Madison Square Garden for the playoffs. Although a bevy of veterans were added, New York will still lean on their future players to help take this team to the next level.
It brings up the question: when? When will the Knicks turn around again, and when will New York bring in another star player to lead the team. Carmelo Anthony carried the mantel for years, but the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant have alluded them over the last few seasons.
For now, the New York Knicks still feel stuck in the middle when it comes to acquiring a superstar.
There are three ways to acquiring a star player—the draft, via trade, and in free agency. This offseason, acquiring a superstar by trade and free agency took center stage as teams like the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers were able to sell the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Kawhi Leonard on their infrastructure and roster to build a sustainable contender.
Meanwhile, the trades for Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and Paul George provided the current blueprint for superstar trades. Several young players and draft picks were needed to get both players out of their respective markets. You want our talented player, you’re going to pay a hefty price.
The Knicks don’t have the treasure trove of assets required for a superstar trade, and they have neither the roster pieces nor infrastructure to lure a singular star player at the moment.
Let’s talk names for a second. Next offseason’s class lacks names outside of Anthony Davis, who seems destined to re-sign with the Los Angeles Lakers. The free agency class of 2021, however, is loaded. Highlighted by Giannis Antetokounmpo, the class also touts James, Bradley Beal, Victor Oladipo, Paul George, Leonard, Rudy Gobert and Jrue Holiday.
Antetokounmpo is the crown jewel, but the Bucks aren’t trading him. The name New York should be targeting right now is Bradley Beal.
At 26 years old, Beal is a quality player in the midst of his prime. The Wizards, however, are in the midst of a rebuild. In a league where wing players are important, Beal is a 40% three-point shooter and a playmaker, averaging five assists a night.
With three first-round picks over the next two seasons, plus a handful of intriguing talents, the Knicks could make that deal. However, does New York want to empty the coffers now? That means Barrett and Mitchell Robinson are in that deal, along with a litany of draft picks.
Ultimately, New York’s next massive move will come with some risk. Making a deal for Bradley Beal would leave them without much protection if Beal opts to go elsewhere in 2021, or if no one decides to join him that offseason.
The best move for New York right now is to remain patient, keep their options open financially and retool their roster leading up to the 2021 offseason.
Even with R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks feel short an asset or two. The 2020 free agency period is a chance to fix that, and it starts with the draft. The 2020 draft offers several talented players, like prospects Cole Anthony and Anthony Edwards, to provide New York another young, inexpensive talent.
On top of the 2020 draft is a 2020 free agency period, where the restricted free agency market could deliver New York an asset. Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram, and Buddy Hield are three players who make a ton of sense for New York—Brown is a two-way wing who wants a larger role, while Hield is an elite knockdown shooter.
Ingram is a bit of a risk due to his inconsistency as well as recent health issues. Still, Ingram has nights where he looks like a high-level scorer and versatile defender, even if the advanced numbers don’t show it. With New Orleans in transition, his restricted free agency status could be interesting.
Either one of those three players and a solid draft pick in 2020 could help New York accelerate their timeline while pursuing their next star. Teams like Brooklyn and the L.A. Clippers went down this route, gathering several solid assets and remaining competitive while also attempting to entice players in free agency. This offseason, they finally landed their big fish.
For the Knicks, that means Julius Randle comes in right away and provides offense, but it also means players like Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox turn their careers around, while Damyean Dotson further solidifies himself as a solid role player on the wing. If R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson can develop into young stars, that would also help.
The New York Knicks are firmly on the clock. After last offseason’s debacle, New York’s brain trust will have to make an effort to push the franchise forward or fear their jobs will be on the line. They’ll have two years and one offseason to improve the roster and the front office infrastructure enough to convince players that their brand would benefit from wearing the orange and blue.
And while improvements have been made, they weren’t enough to entice a star. One could make the argument that New York has four intriguing players all under the age of 25. If those players live up to their draft status—or in Robinson’s case, improve on his stellar rookie performance—the Knicks could see their timeline accelerated.
For now, New York finds itself stuck in the middle in pursuit of a superstar player. Unless the 2019–20 season finds development from New York’s younger players, the Knicks lack both the cache to entice a free agent superstar, and the assets post-trade to keep a superstar happy.