The Top 5 Questions Facing the Knicks as the NBA Returns

Jonathan Macri

There might not be anyone in basketball who elicits more annoyance on behalf of Knicks fans than Brooklyn's Spencer Dinwiddie, but even the most tried and true blue and orange supporters had to be happy to hear him chirping on Thursday afternoon:

That's right: basketball appears to be on its way back. As I wrote in today's Knicks Film School Newsletter, I've heard from multiple league sources who confirm that July 15 is indeed a target date, with the possibility of moving a half-month in either direction also on the table.

That table, of course, is filled with more moving place-settings than a haunted house. Things are changing every day, and as the league continues to assess multiple scenarios, nothing should be ruled out.

That said, at this point, it appears that two things are all but certain: basketball will be back, and all 30 teams will be involved.

How those teams will be involved, as well as what will be at stake, is still unclear. One scenario that Marc Berman of the New York Post floated on May 12 had the NBA looking at a four-team single-elimination tournament where the 9th through 12th seeds in each conference could compete for the 8th seed. 

As kooky as it sounds, it shouldn't be ruled out. We know Adam Silver is in favor of a midseason tournament to spice up interest in the league, and that was before a global pandemic perhaps gave Silver even more incentive to think outside of the box as he tries to combat the massive economic implications of what's happened, not to mention what is yet to come.

With that as the backdrop, let's take a look at five questions that will be facing the Knicks upon their eventual return:

5. Will the New Hires be in Place?

Since the Knicks last played a game, it's been reported that Leon Rose has made three major front office hires: Frank Zanin from Oklahoma City and Walt Perrin from Utah as assistant general managers, and Brock Aller from Cleveland as his chief of staff.

Meanwhile, the job security of front office holdovers like Gerald Madkins, Craig Robinson, Harold Ellis and Jamie Matthews has been called into question by Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

With massive roster fluctuation looming as a distinct possibility in the offseason, one would hope that the new decision-makers will be present to assess things first hand.

4. How Will These Games Factor into Assessing Mike Miller?

Mike Miller's name keeps popping up as someone who is under real consideration to retain the Knicks' head coaching job.

As he probably should be. He took over a desperate situation and inherited a group of players with no reason to take him seriously as anything more than a placeholder without any real authority. That he went 17-27 and improved their numbers across the board shouldn't be taken for granted.

But Miller took the job with the ship already taking on water and lifeboats nearly filled up. If there was something actually at stake, as would be the case with a play-in scenario, how much could an unexpected hot-streak improve his chances at getting the full time gig?

3. Is Tanking on the Table? 

Talk about competing incentives.

On one hand, New York could be in a position to compete for a playoff spot which, if attained, would put a nice coat of Revlon ruby red on what has been one oinker of a season.

On the other hand, a pig is still a pig, and getting demolished by the Bucks in four games (or three or two, depending on just how truncated these series will be) will only mean so much.

Yes, positive vibes can carry over from one season to the next, and there's a benefit to getting RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson a taste of the playoffs (even if it would be like eating a steak in the Matrix; you know in your heart it's not the real thing).

But at what cost? We don't know anything about the implications all this will have on the draft lottery, but one would assume that backdooring into the postseason would mean leaving any chance of moving up in the lottery behind. Plus, this is a great opportunity for the Knicks new front office to get a first-hand look at some of the young players who they need to assess sooner rather than later.

Is the mere chance at a partially valid playoff appearance worth punting on those priorities?

2. What About Julius?

Aside from Frank Ntilikina, who exists in his own realm of Knicks Twitter controversy, no player has been more divisive this year that Julius Randle.

Most fans have been consistently frustrated with his inconsistent play and penchant for spinning and not necessarily winning. Others see him as a talented guy making the best of a situation not conducive to his particular strengths as a player.

Either way, Randle should and probably will be involved in trade talks this summer. If the Knicks treated this as a glorified Summer League and sat their vets, including their leading scorer and most expensive player, what message would that send to the rest of the NBA about how they view him internally?

If, however, they played him and he elevated his game with a postseason birth on the line - something he has yet to experience in the NBA - it could only help a trade value which is currently at rock bottom. Is the chance of that happening worth taking away a potentially valuable opportunity for the young players heading into this offseason? 

1. How Much Groundwork Can They Lay?

Regardless of what's at stake or who they play, these games likely won't matter a whole lot to the Knicks organization in the long run. What will matter is how much headway they can make in what should be an unprecedented summer for the league.

With the financial picture as uncertain as ever and the league entering into unknown territory, there will be plenty of opportunities at hand for savvy teams that a) are in a position to take advantage and b) have the capabilities to do so.

I wrote earlier this week about all the ways the Knicks could wind up in a position of power come the offseason, but didn't mention one key factor that could be more important than anything: the entire league will be together, essentially under the same roof, for the first time in history. That is a situation ripe for information gathering and laying the groundwork for complicated moves.

If the entire new front office is in the Orlando bubble, there's no limit to the number of informal conversations they could have with teams around the NBA. We always hear about the importance of events like All-Star Weekend and the Chicago draft combine when it comes to the seeds of future deals getting planted. This would be like those events on steroids.

If Leon Rose is half as savvy as everyone seems to claim he is, it should be a situation that is right up his alley.

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