The Perfect Knicks Offseason: Draft and Develop Edition
Of all the bummers about the NBA season going on hiatus, never getting a chance to either hear from Leon Rose or gain some inkling into how he plans to build this team has to be up near the top.
This is especially true because ever since the Knicks failed to sign Kevin Durant, the organization hasn't projected a clear path. "We want to build this thing the right way...but we also want to win games...but we need to play the kids...but those kids need to earn their minutes...unless of course the kid's name is RJ Barrett, in which case-"
Oh, I'm sorry Mr. Mills, your time is up. Better luck next time on Spend Mr. Dolan's Money!
At this point, short of trading Barrett, there's no direction Leon Rose could take that would be a complete and total shock.
With that as the backdrop, this weekly series will attempt to analyze all the different paths Rose could take in greater detail, starting with the one that many Knick fans wished they took this season: doubling down on the draft and internal development.
This, of course, doesn't mean simply playing a bunch of kids and not giving time to anyone over the age of 23. Development works best when you put players in a situation that allows them room for trial and error but also gives them the chance to be successful. That balance was rarely achieved this season. With that in mind...
Move # 1: Trade Julius Randle
It doesn't really matter what you get back for him, or even if you get back anything of value at all.
That's not to say Julius wasn't helpful. Despite his many flaws, Randle helped the team win games - eight more over the course of an 82-game season, according to Cleaning the Glass. But his unreliable defense, occasional tunnel vision and lack of spacing on offense didn't foster an ideal environment for those around him.
One could even argue that paying a small premium would be worth moving off of the remaining two years and $39 million left on his contract ($23 million of which is guaranteed). While attaching a future second-rounder is tempting, there is perhaps a better option...
Move # 2: Move on from Elfrid Payton and Dennis Smith Jr.
One of the many lessons we learned this year is that having three point guards who all feel they deserve minutes on the roster at the same time isn't an ideal situation, especially when two of them need as much experience as possible to hasten their growth.
Moving on from Payton should be an easy decision. For all the good he does penetrating and directing the offense (when he isn't laser-focused on getting the ball to Randle), his complete lack of an outside shot (just 14 made 3-pointers) makes running a modern NBA offense needlessly oppressive.
Dennis Smith Jr. is a different story. He showed flashes of promise, but far more bad than good, to the point that he had the worst plus/minus in the NBA of anyone who played in more than 20 games.
Frank Ntilikina is no sure thing either, but he was more consistent and showed more growth in key areas than Smith Jr. At the same time, it would be irresponsible for the Knicks to go into next season with just Frank and Dennis at point guard.
If three is a crowd, DSJ needs to go, perhaps as the sweetener in a Randle trade. As for remaining open point guard spot...
Move # 3: Draft a PG
While most folks already have it as a given that New York will take one of LaMelo Ball, Killian Hayes, Tyrese Haliburton or Cole Anthony at the top of the draft, there are other options that may be just as reasonable with the Clippers' pick later in the first round, including Kira Lewis Jr., Tre Jones, Nico Mannion and Theo Maledon.
It's tempting to say the Knicks must pick their point guard of the future in this draft, but with Ball as perhaps the only sure-thing (and really, he's more sure-ish than sure), they're probably better off going best player available, especially if that means ending up with someone like Deni Avdija or Anthony Edwards.
But getting someone on draft night who at least has a chance to be THE guy is a prerequisite. Ideally, that someone can knock down an occasional outside shot, although we saw progress from Ntilikina on that front.
Speaking of draft night...
Move # 4: Swap out some vets for picks
In a perfect world, the Knicks have a set 10-man rotation next season with 7-8 of the spots occupied by players on rookie contracts (although we'll give an exception for Damyean Dotson should the team surprise us all and re-sign him).
Right now, Barrett and Robinson are the only givens, with Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina , and Iggy Brazdeikis as other likely placeholders. Reggie Bullock and Wayne Ellington are helpful floor-spacers who play competent defense, but both are probably unnecessary. Retaining Taj Gibson, this time as a backup to Mitch, is costly, but his value in the locker room might make him worth it.
One might think that the Knicks' three picks in the the top 40 of this draft would be enough to round out the group, but more is always merrier when it comes to young players.
Enter Bobby Portis, whose non-guaranteed contract for next season could be a valuable trade chip for a team looking to unload money in the face of an unexpectedly reduced salary cap and luxury tax line. I wrote about 10 such possibilities for Knicks Film School, but there are probably even more that will materialize once the financial numbers get revealed.
Point is, getting an extra pick or two in this draft wouldn't be the worst thing.
Move # 5: Hire Kenny Atkinson
Does this even need an explanation? He's a proven developmental guru who already coached on a Knicks' staff and has set up roots in the New York area.
Sometimes, the obvious move is the correct one.
Bonus Move: Bring back Gallo
If the Knicks are really in it for the long haul (read: dispensing with the fantasy of Giannis coming in a year) giving old friend Danilo Gallinari a fully guaranteed second year would likely be enough to get him back to MSG this summer.
Gallo, as opposed to Randle, is the exact type of vet a young team should want surrounding their kids: a floor-spacer at a premium position who doesn't demand the ball and who is a positive force in the locker room.
So how might this ideal world look after all is said and done?
First Unit: Tre Jones, RJ Barrett, Deni Avdija, Danilo Gallinari, Mitchell Robinson
Second Unit: Frank Ntilikina, Reggie Bullock, Iggy Brazdeikis, Kevin Knox, Taj Gibson
Bench: Two second rounders (Isaiah Joe and Xavier Tillman, perhaps?), Two salary dumps (one each from Randle & Portis trades), Damyean Dotson
We don't know whether Leon Rose - or more importantly, James Dolan - will have the stomach for what would likely be another 50-loss season, but if the Knicks could pull this off (and position themselves nicely for the loaded 2021 draft in the process), it might be their last losing campaign for a long, long time.