New coach, new rookies, same Knicks
NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.
The Knicks are a wounded animal.
They have now gone three straight offseasons without doing anything monumental.* Between, they traded their young star franchise player, Kristaps Porzingis. I’m not sure who’s less tolerant of this morass, New York fans or Knicks owner James Dolan. Both apply pressure that could provoke something drastic.
In a vacuum, this path could be fine. New York will be lousy and get a high draft pick. New Knicks president Leon Rose isn’t responsible for previous misses. He deserves an opportunity to build up.
But there’s no trusting this Dolan-owned team to stay the course with a methodical plan.
*If New York did anything that will prove to be monumental, it was drafting Obi Toppin No. 8. He could enter the NBA relatively ready to produce and was a reasonable selection at that slot. But this wasn’t the draft to get a difference maker in the middle of the lottery. Toppin is already 22 and struggles to change directions, a major athletic flaw.
No. 25 pick Immanuel Quickley has generated plenty of preseason hype. Everyone ought to hold their horses. Just 63 minutes of exhibition play are hardly conclusive, especially considering the former Kentucky guard was widely considered a second-round prospect.
In trade and free agency, the Knicks again missed on every rumored premier target. Chris Paul (Suns), Russell Westbrook (Wizards), Gordon Hayward (Hornets), Fred VanVleet (Raptors) and Christian Wood (Rockets) all landed elsewhere. To give Rose the benefit of the doubt, I wouldn’t rule out that happening by design. None of those players would have moved the needle enough for New York to justify the high cost of acquiring them.
The Knicks instead settled for their annual haul of marginal players on short deals: Alec Burks (one year, $6 million), Nerlens Noel (one year, $5 million), Austin Rivers ($3.5 million salary this season with two unguaranteed seasons following). Elfrid Payton (one year, room exception) is back for a second go-round in this role. New York maintains massive cap space for – you guessed it – next year.
If looking for reasons for optimism, Rose showed some cleverness.
The Knicks traded the Nos. 27 and and 38 picks for the Nos. 25 and 33 picks on draft day.
New York started by trading Nos. 27 and 38 to the Jazz for No. 23. Then, the Knicks traded down from No. 23 for Nos. 25 and 33 with the Timberwolves. New York used the No. 25 pick on Quickley and flipped No. 33 to the Clippers for a future second-rounder.
New York also savvily got two future second-rounders from the Jazz for taking Ed Davis and another second-rounder for sending Davis to the Timberwolves.
The Knicks added Sergio Llull in the Rivers sign-and-trade with the Rockets. Once intriguing, Llull is now 33 and might never come from Europe. But it doesn’t hurt to hold his rights.
These small moves won’t appease Dolan for long. But for now, he might appreciate not embarrassing himself as much as last year, when he publicly predicted success in free agency only to get egg on his face. Dolan might also recall how poorly it went when a new lead executive felt compelled to make a big splash.
But Dolan is still Dolan. And New York’s new coach, Tom Thibodeau, is still a hard-charging grinder. He might instill some good habits in Toppin, Quickley, R.J. Barrett, Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox. Thibodeau might also burn out everyone in pursuit of winning.
It’s no accident the Knicks hired Thibodeau. Beyond his connection to Rose, Thibodeau fits this organization’s impatience. It’s one thing when a coach operates that way. It’s another when higher-level decisionmakers lack longer views.
Any other team would have gotten a neutral ‘C’ for this offseason. But with the Knicks, it only makes them more likely to do something desperate and foolish.
Offseason grade: C-