The New York Knicks’ season is heading down a dark and familiar path — one that ends on the outside looking in at the NBA Playoffs.
The New York Knicks have gone from being an Eastern Conference threat to rapidly falling out of the playoff picture. And if the losses continue to pile up as the Feb. 8 trade deadline approaches, they need to be sellers.
The Knicks have strung together some impressive wins so far this season; they’ve defeated the Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder, Toronto Raptors and Denver Nuggets at the Garden and the Cleveland Cavaliers on the road. Those victories, as well as the team’s ability to remain competitive without Tim Hardaway Jr., is admirable. At the same time, they’re playing with inconsistency on both ends lately, which was evident in Wednesday night’s loss to the Washington Wizards in the nation’s capital.
Losing 121-103 to the Wizards on the road, the Knicks suffered their sixth loss in their last seven games. Whether it be Kristaps Porzingis‘ continued inability to consistently provide the Knicks with a go-to scoring option, the team’s inability to defend as a whole or Jeff Hornacek‘s questionable rotations, the Knicks’ struggles continue to ooze on.
One night, they score 110-plus points, but then proceed to surrender the same, if not more, on the other end. Then, when their defense shows up, the Knicks cannot crack the 100-point mark. To add to the pile, they are about to encounter what’s going to be an overwhelmingly difficult road trip to overcome.
With 12 of their next 15 games on the road — where they have won just three games this year — the Knicks could now very easily find themselves, realistically, near the bottom of the Eastern Conference in the near-future. If and when that situation presents itself, president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry must do what’s necessary — shop their impending free agents.
Going into this season, the Knicks had no expectations; they were a rebuilding team in search of an identity, which made their 17-14 start all the more astonishing. Ever since their hot start, reality has settled in. With their road woes being exposed and Hardaway’s absence drastically limiting their offensive ability as a unit, the Knicks are rapidly free falling back to Earth.
When it comes to players who could be dealt, or, at the very least, shopped, centers Enes Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn, as well as forward Doug McDermott, fit the bill.
This season, Kanter has been the heart and soul of a relatively young Knicks team. He’s served as a vocal leader, hit the boards on both ends — averaging 10.0 rebounds per game — and has been a weapon in the low post. While his impact has been monumental, the center can potentially opt out of his contract after this season and could certainly help out a contending team in the paint, whether it be in the starting five or off the bench — which could make him an intriguing player on the trade market.
Much like Kanter, O’Quinn has provided the Knicks with toughness in the paint. Ranging from his ability to finish at the rim, defend the post and simply be a force inside, the big man has been a crucial piece to the puzzle off Hornacek’s bench. At the same time, he can and likely will opt out of his contract after this season — which would pay him just $4.3 million in the 2018-19 season. With a pay raise all but likely in his future, the Knicks would be wise to gauge the trade market for O’Quinn.
Then there’s McDermott. While the Creighton product has been a three-point shooting weapon for the Knicks — shooting 39.3 percent from beyond the arc –, he too will be a free agent at year’s end. If the Knicks are of the mindset that they do not want to re-sign him, then shopping McDermott would make sense.
Will the Knicks get a heavy haul for Kanter, O’Quinn or even McDermott? The answer is most likely no, but even if a return nets them some second rounders, or a first-round pick and the Knicks continue to lose, then it makes sense. Now should shopping their soon-to-be free agents mean that the entire team has to be shopped? Of course not. In fact, players such as Courtney Lee and Lance Thomas, who show up on both ends on a nightly basis and are under contract for the next two seasons, should be retained as the Knicks look to build around Frank Ntilikina, Hardaway and Porzingis.
The Knicks were once viewed as a potential playoff team, but with a road-heavy schedule on the horizon and many players in contract years who may need to be dealt, they are falling into an abyss that will take their season with them. If the losses continue to drag on, management must sell at the Feb. 8 trade deadline.