Undeniable progress wasn't enough to raise the New York Knicks from NBA mire according to The Athletic ... but progress is progress nonetheless.
New York appears in the 20th slot of the site's offseason NBA power rankings, showing up in the fifth of seven tiers: "Looking to make the Play-In." To that end, if the postseason brackets were determined by such rankings, the Knicks would be the 10th and final team admitted to the four-squad preliminary that determines the final two playoff seeds.
Though The Athletic is complementary to the Knicks' offseason endeavors ... by now, all are aware of Jalen Brunson's $104 million arrival ... the No. 20 caption declares that the Knicks "definitely" got better.
"The New York Knicks lose some solid role players in (Alec) Burks and (Nerlens) Noel, but the pickups of Brunson and (Isaiah) Hartenstein are significant," the blurb reads, referencing the two veterans traded to build a de facto Brunson budget, as well as the Los Angeles Clippers' interior threat that joins the re-signed Mitchell Robinson.
"I love the Hartenstein pickup," the caption continues. "He was a really nice defensive presence."
So what's the issue? The Athletic apparently wants to see how another nine-figure man, Julius Randle (signer of a $117 million extension after a breakout 2020-21 campaign) recovers from a disappointing follow-up to an effort that put the Knicks in the playoffs. Randle has been the subject of many a hypothetical trade as players like Donovan Mitchell linger on the rumored block.
"The Knicks’ success will likely depend on how much Julius Randle bounces back from an atrocious year," the captions scolds. Randle isn't the only that needs to step up, however. "This Knicks team needs to grow up as a collective, and Brunson being a steady presence should help that improve ... And he does have to perform."
For their efforts, the Knicks do earn a money bag emoji, referencing not only the "big money" moves they've made this offseason but how much they could feel they've wasted if the aforementioned expensive names fail to perform.
The defending NBA finalists from Golden State and Boston top the list, with Phoenix, Milwaukee, and Miami rounding out the top five.