The New York Knicks came into the offseason with hope of acquiring elite talent in free agency; instead, they must learn from their New York counterparts on how to build from ground zero.
The transformation from lottery regular to championship contender tends to be a test of patience, a quality that can quickly be forgotten in New York City. The New York Knicks sold their most recent disastrous campaign, as well as a midseason trade in which they said goodbye to their most intriguing draft pick since Patrick Ewing, to their fanbase as simply the final steps of a painful rebuilding project. The exhausting losing streaks, carrousel of head coaches, and ill-advised financial commitments to undeserving veterans were all in order to finally construct a super team with the ability to justify the Garden’s outrageous ticket prices.
It seemed throughout the season that the story following the Knicks, a team which proved capable of winning just 17 of 82 contests, was who could potentially join the historic franchise, as opposed to players who were already under contract. From Stephen A. Smith declaring on national television that both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joining the Knicks was a given, to team owner Jim Dolan’s appearance on the Micheal Kay Show in which he boasted over the increasing level of interest in New York among premier free agents, the franchise at last seemed in position to deliver the winner the city had waited for.
“These streets will make you feel brand new,” an Alicia Keys lyric intended to describe the ability New York has in shaping one’s identity. The iconic line indeed rings true when it comes to the decisions of Durant and Irving, two stars who were undoubtedly in need of fresh starts. Yet when the bright lights of Manhattan called on the duo to reinvigorate the Knicks, the superstar besties chose Brooklyn, the borough first mentioned by former Nets minority owner Jay-Z in Empire State of Mind.
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Why would two of the world’s most marketable athletes choose to spend the next four years expanding their respective brands on the less glamorous side of the Brooklyn Bridge? It comes down to the lack of competent decision making that has defined the Knick’s franchise for the last decade.
Patience has both been the quality preached to the Knicks fan base, as well as the key factor in front office decisions. The team has continued to ask for patience when it comes to evaluating its young core and have pointed to the recent inability to reach the postseason as evidence the current roster has yet to scratch the surface.
The Knicks should indeed be focusing on player development and young talent, it is the center of the team’s rebuild. The misconception, as proven last night by the Brooklyn Nets, is that having patience in a terrible team will eventually prove worthwhile in the form of franchise-altering free agents. The Knicks had long assumed that by devoting a season to youth development and chemistry building, by July Durant and Irving would be knocking on their door. The Nets instead developed a winning culture that proved to be attractive by doing something unthinkable to their nearby neighbors, actually trying to win games.
There is no doubt that building through the draft, as the Knicks have attempted to do, requires patience. It is illogical for the Knicks front office to assume that simply being content with losing would create a culture of winning. The next steps for the franchise are critical in creating a contender, and the Knicks must swallow their pride and follow the blueprints set by their younger brother in Brooklyn to find success.
The Nets historically do not have the free agent appeal many assumed to be exclusively attainable to big market franchises, yet they managed to secure the services of two available stars. The Nets were left stripped of assets after their laughably miscalculated attempt at relevancy that became the Garnett/Pierce deal. The team appeared destined to remain a bottom dweller whose fanbase would have counted down the days until the draft, yet lacked the first round picks necessary to inject young talent into the roster. How they went from hopeless to competitive may be surprisingly replicable for the Knicks.
The Knicks and Nets came into last season with similar aspirations; to develop young talent and create a winning atmosphere ahead of a loaded free agent class in which each team had money to spend. The Nets won over Durant and Irving by refusing to let the season go to waste, and instead earning their first postseason berth since 2015. The Nets took risks on discarded young potential and signed hard-nosed veterans to stabilize a locker room brimming with inexperience and created a competitive environment. Now the Knicks must do the same.
While the Knicks most recent signings likely come as a disappointment to those seeking all-star reinforcements, they actually look quite similar to moves made by the Nets before last season. The Knicks have currently shelled out sixty-five million dollars on five exciting new additions for next season.
While Julius Randle and Bobby Portis are not the frontcourt tandem many fans anticipated, the gamble on abandoned youth talent is comparable to the Nets decision to take on the contract of D’Angelo Russell. Russell entered Brooklyn with undesirable labels due to his lackluster production for the Lakers, as well as his locker room feud with former teammate Nick Young. The young point guard now leaves the Nets as an established floor general with an all-star selection under his belt. Both Randle and Portis have been outcast from former teams due to both uninspired play and in Portis’ case a previous locker room incident. Yet Randle and Portis are young talents, similar to Russell, with untapped potential and a chip on their shoulders.
The second area the Knicks must look when attempting to reconstruct Brooklyn’s path to contention is their willingness to sign competitive veterans to help educate young players and provide necessary intensity. The Knicks added wings Reggie Bullock and Wayne Ellington, as well as respected big man Taj Gibson to short term contracts which they hope will similarly pay off. In Bullock and Ellington the Knicks add two players with postseason experience who remain capable of providing both perimeter scoring and defense to their rotation. Adding Gibson ensures a locker room voice capable of directing communication amongst the young team both on and off the court.
The Knicks have long been the only relevant team in New York despite their recent failures, yet it seems that finally being pushed out of the spotlight may have taught the team how to foster eventual success. Keep in mind the Knicks will once again buy major players when a certain foreign freak hits the market in two years from now. What’s good Giannis?