The Knicks Need to Be Bad (So They Can Eventually Be Good)
Coming into the season, the Knicks seemed like a darkhorse playoff contender. Surely, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, and $71 million man Tim Hardaway Jr. could elevate any poor group of scrubs above the lackluster competition of this year’s Eastern Conference. Sans Melo, the Knicks look like they could be going in the complete opposite direction.
Tim Hardaway Jr. has led the charge by being one of the worst rotation players in basketball. He has been a basketball abomination. His shooting percentages (24 percent overall and 22 from three) break mirrors and make mothers scream. His defense has been no great shakes either. If he continues to play this poorly, he should be giving the Knicks money for the privilege of playing rather than the other way around.
The rotation has been the most concerning part of the season for Knicks fans. The worst fear of Knicks fans was that Enes Kanter and other veterans would end up blocking the development of young players. It was the same issue with the Melo signing in the first place. In a vacuum, it makes sense, but applied to the actual team shows the lack of forward thinking. In both cases, the Knicks have prioritized “winning” over development. Kyle O’Quinn and Enes Kanter are who they are. There is no justifiable reason for them to start in front of younger players like Willy Hernangomez. Ditto for Ramon Sessions and Courtney Lee. It should not take another season of Ron Baker for anyone with eyes to know that he is not the answer unless the question is which Knicks Player will be playing in Europe in two years.
Why the Knicks Need to Be Bad
There should not be a huge need to spell this out. Young players leave teams that do not win. Look no further than the Anthony Davis situation playing itself out in New Orleans. The Knicks cannot afford to watch Porzingis bolt. If they want to keep him, they need to start building. In order to build, two things need to happen.
The first, is that the Knicks need to lose a lot of games this season. This is the last year before lottery reform takes effect and the Knicks have an opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the other “competitors” for the top pick. The Suns are making a compelling case for most dysfunctional organization in the NBA so the Knicks should take this opportunity to tank like never before.
The second thing the Knicks need to do is move their veterans. The Knicks should try to trade O’Quinn, Lee, and Kanter for any scraps they can get. Noah is unmoveable with his albatross contract but that should not stop the Knicks from trying. Maybe the soothing melodies of JD and the Straight Shot will not be able to lull some poor GM into taking on a bad contract but Scott Perry needs to be burning up the phone lines trying. Kanter and Lee could easily help contenders. Kanter is flammable defensively but could easily step into the Greg Monroe role for a contender. Teams like Washington would likely snap up a player like Lee at the right price. Moving on from those players would pave the way to the future.
Who the Knicks Can Get
This part is two-fold. In the short-term, their bad contracts are unlikely to return any young players of value. They would likely be getting cap flotsam and ideally some second round picks. That is likely the best that Knicks fans can hope for in return for the veterans they have. However, it could also turn into cap space for the Knicks to spend on young players in the future. Most importantly, it opens up room for them to have to lock up future assets.
Those future assets would be coming via the draft. The top five of this year’s draft are all players who have skill sets that could theoretically fit next to Porzingis. Luka Doncic and Michael Porter are two of the favorites for the first pick for obvious reasons. Both possess advanced perimeter games. Porter dominated a number of the summer camps and emerged as the one-on-one champ at the Curry camp for the second year in row. He could probably play in the league now. Doncic is another player skilled beyond his years. He has the dribble moves, passing, and canny instincts of a 10 year vet.
On the other side, Marvin Bagley, DeAndre Ayton, and Mohamed Bamba are the other end of the spectrum. All three are incredible athletes. Bagley will not be 19 until March Madness is underway. He will have to show where he can play. In today’s league tweeners have become a valuable commodity but Bagley needs to demonstrate that he has the perimeter skills to be more than just an undersized power forward. Bamba and Ayton look like potential franchise players but it is harder to project big men and neither looks to be a threat from beyond the arc at this stage. Ayton and Bamba would keep Porzingis at the power forward position, which would force him to defend quicker players. Bagley and Porzingis would form a very long frontcourt with plenty of shot blocking potential. Either way, these are players that could help the Knicks.
What the Knicks Should Do Now
For now, the Knicks need to give Porzingis the keys much as they have done so far this season. Let him run wild and do their best to clear the rest of the roster of veterans so he can play with other players on his timeline. From there, the Knicks should simply build around Porzingis and try to unload Joakim Noah’s contract down the road. As time goes on, the contract will get easier to move, especially if Noah can show any of his old spryness.
Ultimately, the Knicks need to follow the 76ers model and embrace the process. Porzingis is the cornerstone so keeping him happy is the only thing they need to worry about besides clearing space on the roster for younger players. He is undoubtedly the only championship player on the roster. However, if the Knicks end up atop the lottery, that could change.
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