The Knicks are a good team, but if they want to be more than that they’ll need to bring in one last piece to make the pieces fall into place.

Most of life as a Knicks fan since 2000 has been marred with futility, dysfunction and low expectations. Whether it was bad hires, poor roster decisions or questionable off-court choices from supposed adults in charge of the organization, the once proud Knicks fell into a pit of despair that seemed would never come to an end.

Thankfully, in the past few seasons, the ‘Bockers have rose from the dregs of the NBA and are now a competent franchise that have playoff series wins as the standard, as opposed to waiting all year for the draft lottery. Success of professional sports franchises usually starts from the top and despite James Dolan still running the show, he has taken a step back from his meddling ways and has done a better job of letting basketball people run the show in Leon Rose and Tom Thibodeau, who have done a solid job in stabilizing the organization and done well in putting a winning product/good team on the hardwood.

After getting over the hump last season and winning a playoff series against a Cavaliers team many thought was more talented, the expectations for the Knicks are naturally heightened and fans would like to see them take that next step into the Eastern Conference Finals and beyond. But is that realistic with the roster and coaching as currently constructed? Was last season the peak for this configuration of this team?

Leveling Up

The Knicks are a good team, not a great team and that is the consensus among level-headed fans and across the large majority of NBA discourse. 45-55 wins per season and a playoff series win are probably what the Knicks can max out at with their current situation and while that is a massive improvement from what most of us younger fans grew up watching, we shouldn’t be satisfied and complacent with where this team is. It’s okay to want and expect more without coming across as greedy, miserable, or impatient.

Last season was definitely enjoyable and so far this season, New York has been solid, but it just seems like there is a bit of a stuck-in-the-mud type of feel, despite being 16-11 and fifth in the Eastern Conference. There’s a feeling that there is another gear that the Knicks just can’t seem to shift into in order to compete with the Celtics and Bucks in their conference.

Many will shout from their rooftops that Thibs is holding the franchise back from being great, but to me, that is a bit of a lazy narrative. No, Thibs hasn’t delivered a championship in his three head coaching stops in Chicago, Minnesota, and the Big Apple and is probably more rigid than we would like. Also, the 65-year-old is more of a culture-fixer, rather than an innovator who can propel a team over the top, but to think winning a title under Thibodeau is not attainable is a bit foolish.

The true and clear separation between the good and elite, championship-contending teams in this league is the presence of a superstar. Looking back on recent Finals winners, there’s a constant in that they all have a top-five-ish guy leading the charge like LeBron James, Steph Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, or Nikola Jokic. While Jalen Brunson is phenomenal, Julius Randle is very good and the roster is loaded with young talent, thanks to smart drafting, the Knicks are missing a superstar on their roster. I don’t believe the Knicks can make a Finals appearance, let alone win a title without taking a huge swing to bring in a top-tier player.

Realistic Options

Donovan Mitchell: Spida is the obvious name that comes to mind, being that he has NY ties, being from Elmsford with friendships with multiple current Knicks. The Knicks already had a crack at the shooting guard when he was being shopped by the Jazz last offseason and probably had a better trade package to offer than the Cavs, but it ultimately didn’t work out. Not an egregious miss by the Knicks, but definitely someone who would’ve been an absolute difference-maker.

There is some smoke surrounding Spida’s situation with the Cavs that could lead us to believe there might be a breakup on the horizon. Mitchell declined to sign an extension in Cleveland this offseason, which raised some eyebrows, despite it being more beneficial to him to wait until the Summer, as he can extend for more years and add an estimated $149 million to his deal, per Sam Quinn of CBS Sports. Regardless of the practicality of it all, Mitchell not re-upping with the Cavs leaves some doubt about his desire to remain in Northeast Ohio.

More interesting beyond his contract talks is that Darius Garland (facial fracture) and Evan Mobley (knee) are out for extended periods of time. The Cavs have also gotten off to a bit of an inauspicious start and there is some speculation they could potentially move off Mitchell this season and recoup assets before potentially losing him for nothing if he decides to bolt as an unrestricted free agent in 2025. Currently, Cleveland is not in the championship conversation and sixth in the East. A package of R.J. Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and a handful of first-round picks would likely be the ask from Cleveland and would make sense salary-wise. I believe you do that trade in a heartbeat and roll with a Brunson-Mitchell-Randle big three.

Mitchell’s excellent performance in his first season with Garland dispels the notion that two smaller, defensively challenged guards cannot work, which is what was being said about a potential fit with Jalen Brunson. We all know how lethal Spida is as a scorer; he would be a piece that could elevate the Knicks to the elite tier.

Paul George: PG13, although 33 years old, is another trade option for the Knicks and would be an absolute franchise elevator. At 22.9 points per game, George is one of the better wing scorers in the Association and unlike Mitchell, brings an excellent perimeter defensive prowess to the table. PG13 has also stayed healthy this year and looks reinvigorated.

With the Clippers surging and George being from nearby Palmdale, CA, there isn’t much hope that LA would deal PG if they continue to play well and have a chance for a championship. However, keep an eye out if the Clippers slide and find themselves wanting out of the PG business. George has a player option at the end of this season. It’s a massive number to decline, but if PG feels he has a lot left in the tank and can get another hefty contract, he could decline that dollar figure of nearly $49 million.

To avoid losing him for nothing, the Clippers, if struggling, could look to deal PG and get back draft capital/get younger as their future draft pick ledger is baron to say the least, after going all in on older veterans to try and capture a title.

Related Content

»Read: What To Make Of Life Without Mitchell Robinson

»Read: Quentin Grimes Isn’t Wrong About Usage

»Read: Immanuel Quickley’s Pick-and-Roll Game is Blooming