In the summer of 2019, fans of a New York Knicks team that had just gone 17-65 had high hopes for the offseason. They started with landing Zion Williamson, a generational talent coming out of Duke who many thought would lead the franchise back to its glory days.
That wasn’t it though. New York was targeting the biggest fish in one of the best free-agent classes ever, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Unfortunately, fans of the team had to suffer watching the Knicks land the 3rd pick in the draft, while Durant and Irving would go right next to Madison Square Garden to play in Barclays Center.
So, what would New York do instead with a ton of cap space and a top-three pick? Well, they brought in a lot of power forwards who soon left the Knicks one way or another, but also acquired Julius Randle, Reggie Bullock, Elfrid Payton, and R.J. Barrett. While Payton and Bullock soon departed from New York, these players were all key pieces in a rare Knicks’ postseason appearance in 2020, which resulted in the construction of the Knicks’ roster today.
Since then, the Knicks added a lot of talent through the draft and free agency and have constructed a roster that is on pace to make the playoffs once again. Meanwhile, the Nets have imploded and now find themselves right behind New York as 6th seed in the Eastern Conference. In the doomsday scenario that went down in Brooklyn, the Knicks have seen their potential future.
The mistake to avoid
The 2019 Brooklyn Nets were the underdogs. Following one of the worst trades in NBA history, Brooklyn spent the last half-decade trying to recover and build a decent team. They finally accomplished this through smart asset management and good player development.
Led by first-time All-Star D’Angelo Russell, along with veterans Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris, the Nets finished as the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference. It didn’t matter that they lost in five games to the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round. What mattered was that they were a young team on the rise, with good chemistry and a capable front office and coaching staff.
Sound familiar? I guessed so. Led by Jalen Brunson, who unfortunately was snubbed from what could’ve been his first All-Star game, along with a strong supporting cast, the Knicks have broken out as a bona fide playoff team. They have a good coach in Tom Thibodeau despite some of the criticism he’s received in the past, and a president in Leon Rose who’s proven himself capable of building a good team.
It seems like New York is one piece away from becoming a contender, similar to the 2019 Nets. And yet, I can’t help but feel that history is repeating itself.
What’s working for the Knicks
Rumors have been circulating that the Knicks are in search of a star. While most of that is just fan speculation, the possibility remains that one of Zach Lavine, Karl Anthony-Towns, Bradley Beal, or another star who could be made available soon winds up in New York.
While there’s no question that those are exciting names, the consequence of sacrificing core pieces such as R.J. Barrett, Quentin Grimes, or Immanuel Quickley in a trade is more significant than you might think.
What defines this Knicks team is its chemistry. The aforementioned players have developed together throughout the last few years and most of them have grown a lot in that time (I’m looking at you, R.J.). Even new additions like Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart have chemistry, having won a National Championship together at Villanova.
By breaking apart that core for a more talented player or players, the Knicks would be getting rid of what makes them as good as they are in the first place. What good is adding more talent if the reason the team is winning in the first place is its chemistry?
This is not to say that the Knicks shouldn’t look to acquire better players, but it shouldn’t give up its core to do so. The best path towards contention for New York will be through free agency.
Rather than adding two players who are looking to solidify their own individual legacies, the Knicks should add players who are willing to buy into the team’s system and be another part of the team’s success, not the dependent factor.