As the sun begins to set on yet another exciting NBA regular season and 16 teams gear up for the playoffs, the New York Knicks find themselves watching from the couch. Projected to finish with the fewest wins in franchise history, the organization finds itself at a crossroads. But have the Knicks secretly set themselves up for a successful offseason? It appears so.
At the end of the 2012-2013 NBA season, Carmelo Anthony’s Knicks were eliminated in six games by the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. It was the first time the Knicks had reached the semifinals in over 13 years, and it would be the last season they would make the playoffs to date. Over the last six years, the Knicks have had five different head coaches and have gone 131-326, the third-worst record in the NBA since then.
In addition, in 2014 they hired Phil Jackson, an esteemed coach and player with a championship aura, to run the Knicks as general manager. Jackson drafted Kristaps Porzingis as his first move, one that was initially received with extremely harsh criticism. While Porzingis eventually blossomed into an NBA All-Star, Jackson’s other lottery pick, Frank Ntilikina, hasn’t shown the same promise. Jackson’s tenure also provided several strange contracts for players, most notably that of Joakim Noah. A dark cloud has hovered over Madison Square Garden since that fateful 2013 team. And yet somehow, the Knicks are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
There have been three primary factors that have hindered the Knicks for the last 20 years: trading draft picks, giving out bad contracts and poor ownership. James Dolan, the owner of the Knicks and Madison Square Garden, has been painted as the reason the organization hasn’t had success in so long. But as of recently, Dolan has decided to take a backseat in basketball operations, only involving himself in the business aspects of the organization. The Knicks now make their decisions through the duo of President Steve Mills and General Manager Scott Perry. The two, along with new head coach David Fizdale, represent the NBA’s first all-Black front office.
In their first few years together, the duo has made numerous moves in order to set the Knicks up for next season. Last year, they traded Anthony to the OKC Thunder, a move that netted a 2018 second-round draft pick, Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott, the latter of whom would later be traded to the Denver Nuggets for Emmanuel Mudiay, the team’s current point guard. The second-round pick resulted in the Knicks drafting lengthy big man Mitchell Robinson to pair alongside lottery pick Kevin Knox and undrafted guard Allonzo Trier.
When in January the team traded away superstar Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks many fans were left baffled; however, the trade has shown to be beneficial. Porzingis still hasn’t returned from his ACL tear and Tim Hardaway Jr. has been shut down for the remainder of the season. In the trade, the Knicks not only dumped Hardaway Jr.’s egregious contract (4 years, $70,950,000), but also received Dennis Smith Jr. and Deandre Jordan. Smith Jr. was drafted one spot after Ntilikina in the 2017 NBA draft, and he was seen at the time as someone the Knicks missed out on. Jordan, who is only contracted through the remainder of this season, has been a great locker-room presence and has mentored Robinson, the team’s center of the future. After skipping out on his first year of college to train for the draft, the rookie has grown into the second-leading shot blocker (2.5 blocks per game, 150 total blocks) in the league despite playing ten minutes fewer on average compared to other elite shot-blocking centers.
Not only have the Knicks recent moves netted solid assets, they’ve also freed up two spots for maximum-contract-level free agents this summer or moving forward, with big names like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard set for the market. As the season begins to close, many sources in the NBA believe that Durant will wind up in the Big Apple come summer, and some reports suggest that he wants Irving to join him to form the NBA’s next superteam.
Although the team has endured a disappointing year, the Knicks faithful have found solace in watching the flashy play of Robinson and Trier. Knox has also shown some flashes, being named Rookie of the Month in December and participating in the Rising Stars Challenge. Second-year guard Damyean Dotson has proved he belongs in the league, and many hope the Knicks hold on to him beyond next season. And although Ntilikina hasn’t shown the offensive growth for which fans have patiently waited, his prolific defense makes the neophyte a must-have if the Knicks hope to build a strong supporting cast for next year.
What’s more, having the worst record in the league will actually help the Knicks in the long run. The NBA’s bottom team has a 14 percent chance of earning the number one pick in the draft, this year almost surely to be Zion Williamson (at the moment, the lowest the Knicks can fall in the draft lottery is fifth). The last time New York drafted first overall was in 1985, when they selected Patrick Ewing. Arguably, the Knicks haven’t ever had a chance at a player as lauded as Williamson. The possibility of landing Durant, Irving and Williamson has left Knicks fans salivating at the idea of a championship parade down Broadway. That dream may be an optimistic one, sure, but it looks increasingly realistic.