For the Knicks, it’s never too early to play “will they, won’t they.” From the impossible to the intriguing, these names could be on the radar.
The Knicks, for all intents and purposes, had a great season. They made a deep playoff run, proving many predictors wrong by winning 47 games and reaching the second round. New York seems to be ahead of schedule when it comes to building a sustainable contender; they are young, have plenty of draft capital, and most of all, their best players are on team-friendly contracts. But it’s one thing to have a good season and another for a franchise to take advantage of success and build on it and the Knicks are in prime position to begin their ascent of the Eastern Conference and ultimately the NBA. So what can the Knicks do to improve on a successful season? Add better players. There will be plenty of viable options in free agency but more importantly via trades.
Let’s get this one out of the way early. A player that could once again be linked to the Knicks this summer is Damian Lillard. After another tumultuous season and failing to make the playoffs, it may finally be time for Portland to make a change. To his credit, the seven-time all-star is fiercely (and outspokenly) loyal to his franchise, but the problem is they haven’t been able to reward his commitment by building a consistent contender around him. With the Western Conference stacked at the top, the Blazers nowhere near, and the Knicks on the up-and-up, Lillard could be the piece that can put New York over the hump. A proven playoff and clutch performer, he would thrive under the lights of MSG. He could be the leader the young Knicks need, he is still among the best players in the league and is possibly coming off his best season in the NBA at age 32. With plenty left in the tank he posted a career-best 32.2 points per game to go with 7.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds all while matching his career-high 46.3% field percentage.
Lillard will not be cheap, however, but for a team kind of directionless like the Blazers needing a fresh start and a team like the Knicks plenty to offer it could be a win-win situation. The fit with Jalen Brunson would be less than ideal but the potency of that backcourt offensively would be hard to match.
Another player that is an excellent option for New York is the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown. At just 26 years old, Brown fits perfectly with the Knicks’ timeline and he’s already established himself as one of the top young players in the league. If it wasn’t for franchise player and teammate Jayson Tatum, Boston might consider him untouchable but Brown’s name has come up in multiple trade rumors during his time in Boston, possibly causing him to sometimes feel undervalued. The Celtics could be at crossroads with their second star because he’s due for a super max extension this summer after completing his second All-Star season to go along with an All-NBA nod. Brown will have tremendous value and will certainly have many suitors if Boston opens up lines of communication and with New York rich in assets they can put themselves squarely in the mix as Brown prepares to enter his prime years. It’s easy to assume Brad Stevens will do everything he can to keep his team’s core together but the question is, does Brown want to stick around? The Eastern Conference Finals match-up versus Miami could have dire implications for Boston’s future.
Now for the pipe dream: Giannis Atentokounmpo. You can go ahead and laugh it off but have some fun with this one. The Bucks have already made sweeping changes to their structure by parting ways with their championship coach, Mike Budenholzer. Trading Giannis sounds crazy because he might be the best two-way player in the league and is in the prime of his career but the Bucks could also see other franchise cornerstones like Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez go. The only reason this is even a thing is because ESPN insider Brian Windhorst whipped up a frenzy after the Bucks’ disappointing first-round playoff exit versus the eight seed Miami Heat. The truth is the Bucks probably have no intentions of losing any players and plan to retool with a head coach but hey, a boy can dream.
If New York doesn’t find their man in trades there are plenty of good players headed to free agency this summer but bear in mind that these players don’t necessarily fit and may not even have the Knicks’ interest. The obvious biggest names are James Harden and Kyrie Irving but those ships have long sailed. A name not mentioned enough is Fred VanVleet. Yes, the Knicks already have Jalen Brunson but this is a scoring league and VanVleet can get buckets with the best of them. Some might say two point guards isn’t ideal but crazier things have worked. VanVleet is a great leader on the floor and is a tough, hardnose defender, something you can never have enough of.
This might be shameless but another name to consider is Kristaps Porzingis — a reunion with a more matured and experienced player could bode well. If the Knicks trade for any of the aforementioned players, Mitchell Robinson might be part of the package and with Porzingis able to spread the floor on offense and protect the rim, he could be the answer at center if the Knicks are in need of another starting center. Porzingis is coming off of his best and healthiest season in a longtime and but nagging injuries continue to plague him; he missed 13 games this season.
This player may not put the Knicks over the proverbial hump but he could certainly help. As free agency approaches players look to join teams that can offer them not only money but bigger roles. Jordan Clarkson has put his stamp on the NBA as one of the best sixth men in the league but players don’t dream of coming off the bench and Jordan could be looking for a bigger role. A 20-point scorer off the bench and a savvy player he makes a lot of sense for a team that was in dire need of scoring the playoffs. The Knicks have a propensity to give players too much responsibility but Clarkson might be the exception. Even if he continued his role as a bench scorer, his fit alongside Immanuel Quickley and Josh Hart would be impecable.
New York hasn’t proposed a clear plan for the offseason yet but there is work to do and they must get better if they plan to build on their great season. The summer is unpredictable in the NBA and no one knows that better than the Knicks and their fans.
»Read: New York’s future lies in Julius Randle and Tom Thibodeau