Knicks Perfect Offseason: Realistic Edition
From the day Leon Rose was first rumored to be taking over as President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks some 10 weeks ago, it's been a nonstop guessing game as to which direction he'd take the team in the immediate future. This is the case for two reasons:
1. Rose has yet to speak publicly, so guessing is all anyone has been able to do, and more importantly...
2. It's abundantly clear that the status quo cannot hold.
On that second point, there is perhaps no team in the league for which guaranteed changes are in the offing more than the Knicks.
On one hand, they're not good enough to be a playoff team, or for that matter, convincing themselves that they were a break or two away from making the postseason this year. On the other hand, unlike arguably every other bad team in the league, they lack a definitive game plan that's obvious based on the current construction of the roster.
In Minnesota, Atlanta, New Orleans, and to a lesser extent Phoenix and Sacramento, the question is simply about which pieces to put around the young star that's already in place. Golden State just needs to get healthy. Detroit seems poised to spend next year clearing the decks and figuring out who is and isn't a long term piece. Cleveland is so bad that they seemingly have no choice but to tank. The Spurs are the Spurs, and it is presumed they will figure things out.
Chicago just hired their own new POBO, but one with far more experience than Rose, and they have more attractive young pieces to work with than New York. Portland and Washington have Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal, respectively. Even Charlotte seems to have figured out some semblance of a young core they're prepared to move forward with.
The Knicks are more of an enigma than every one of these teams, which is part of the reason I decided to do this "Perfect Offseason" series to begin with. There are several directions they could go, all of which have points in their favor that could make an objective observer think it's the right path. They have some interesting young players, but also several veterans who could be helpful in the right situation. Adding to the confusion is the fact that every one of those veterans besides Julius Randle is only partially guaranteed for $1 million next season.
Step 1: Trade Dennis Smith Jr.
In both of the previous editions of this series, Step 1 was the same: trading Julius Randle.
In reality, it's not going to happen. Not yet, at least.
Randle, for all his faults, is still a name, in part because he has some otherworldly talents than could pay off in the right situation. It just so happens that that situation is the opposite of the one he was placed in this year, given too big of a role without enough shooting around his bulldozer finesse.
While offloading him is certainly an option, it's hard to see Rose coming in and shipping off the prized signing of the 2019 offseason essentially as a salary dump, which realistically is the best he'd be able to do. That would be selling low, and here's betting Rose thinks he can rehab Randle's value to the point that someone will pay a (slight) premium for his services ahead of the 2021 trade deadline.
But that will only happen if the Knicks get a point guard who can both shoot and command an offense, thus relegating Randle to a role he's more comfortable in. Given that that person is not currently on the roster, there is virtually zero chance that all three of New York's current point men will still be here next season.
I had been told in December by an NBA personnel man that Dennis Smith Jr. would be dealt before the deadline, but those plans changed once Steve Mills got fired. With no one steering the ship, other than the obvious Marcus Morris trade, the roster stayed intact.
I say that will change come draft night, when Smith Jr. is traded for a very low second round pick. Elfrid Payton will also be gone before his guarantee date, although it wouldn't shock me to see him re-signed at a lower cost to serve as a backup to...
Step 2: Trade for Chris Paul
Don't kill the messenger, folks.
Here's the reality of the situation. The Thunder are stocked with picks galore and have a 21-year-old point guard primed for stardom in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Coming off an All-Star appearance and possible All-NBA Team spot, there will never be a better time to trade Chris Paul than right now.
There's only one problem: a complete lack of suitors. Only the Heat even remotely make sense as a trade partner, but with 2021 looming and Miami's emergence this season as a legitimate team on the rise, it's hard to fathom they'd jeopardize their cap space for a player who wouldn't put them over the top.
That leaves the Knicks, and Paul's former agent, Leon Rose, who everyone seems to agree was not brought here to helm a slow, methodical, top-to-bottom organizational rebuild. Rose might be new to the job, but he isn't dumb enough to think the Knicks are going to be a realistic landing spot for Giannis a year from now (and that's even if he doesn't sign a supermax extension this offseason).
Because of an extreme buyer's market, New York will be able to acquire CP3 for a nominal young asset (Frank Ntilikina or Kevin Knox), a draft pick (ideally this year's Clippers pick, but maybe the 2023 Dallas top-10 protected first) and salary filler. They cold also just waive most or all of the aforementioned vets and take Paul into open cap space once the new league year begins.
Paul will be a bridge from the present to the future, but Rose is smart enough to know that Knicks fans will revolt if there isn't a plan in place for what comes next, hence...
Step 3: New York drafts a point guard
The only question here is whether they use some of their surplus of draft capitol to trade up for LaMelo Ball should he be picked before their spot in the lottery.
But whether it's Ball, Killian Hayes, Cole Anthony or Tyrese Halliburton, the Knicks will emerge from draft night with someone they'll tout as the point guard of the future. Once Paul is acquired, we'll be told that what happened in OKC last year - the Point God grooming SGA for stardom - will be replicated in New York next season.
That just leaves free agency, which will bring us the return of an old friend...
Step 4: Sign Melo
If there's a casino out there allowing wagers on Carmelo Anthony starting next season in a Knicks uniform, please email me the contact info. I'm placing my bet now, regardless of what the odds are. As Marc Berman predicted on my podcast over a month ago, Melo getting his retirement tour at MSG next season is a virtual lock.
It's even more likely now than it was then, as James Dolan - like every other owner - is going to have to worry about selling tickets next season in an economy that will likely be in the recovery stages of a recession. Good old No. 7 should make it that much easier to put fannies in the seats.
As for who will be leading this motley crew...
Step 5: Hire Thibs
I'm going out of order here, because this will be the first move they make, but I wanted to put it down here, in the context of all the other transactions.
In short, the Knicks aren't hiring an unproven coach (or a developmental specialist like Kenny Atkinson) to lead a team that is dead set on making the playoffs this season.
Will a group comprised of Paul, Randle, RJ, Mitch, Rookie Point Guard X, whoever of Knox or Frank doesn't get traded and spare parts be enough to get them there? In the East, probably. But Rose will want to leave no doubt. Therefor....
Bonus: New York acquires another name
I'm not sure who it will be, but I'd bet on another recognizable former All-Star being added to the roster before next season. If the Knicks are going to trade for Paul, make a playoff push, and punt on the 2021 offseason anyway, they might as well use their cap space to their advantage on someone who will make the team better and grab some headlines in the process.
As for who, that depends. If they can unload Julius Randle to Cleveland, I wouldn't be shocked to see Kevin Love in a Knicks uniform as their starting power forward. We know from Ian Begley's reports about New York's interest in Christian Wood that they've identified the need for a floor spacing four. Love would certainly qualify.
DeMar DeRozan may also be out there, depending on if he picks up his player option for 2020-21. He's duplicative of RJ Barrett and the spacing would be a mess, but the Knicks may look at him as the ideal mentor for Barrett, the whole "there's only one ball" concept be damned.
These are my best guesses, but there's always a possibility an unknown name emerges. Regardless of who it is, one thing is for sure: the 2020 Knicks are going to look and feel very, very different from the roster assembled by Steve Mills and Scott Perry last summer.
Whether that's a good thing, or the start of yet another New York disaster, is anyone's guess.