The New York Knicks best-laid plans and patience will be tested, and their response will determine the future of the franchise.
The New York Knicks have carefully crafted — and thus far executed — the “it’s always darkest before the dawn” narrative while promoting their best-laid plans for a new tomorrow. The conductors — Steve Mills and Scott Perry — have made good on their promises, refusing to mortgage their future by trading draft picks or overpaying mediocre free-agents.
The idea/philosophy is to create a foundation and culture that sustains winning, and dare I say, to create the beginnings of a dynasty. But any Knicks fan knows that there will be roadblocks. This article is not an effort to crush the hopes of the fans, rather an acknowledgment of the pitfalls and realities that will stand in the way of future success.
Ultimately, the hope is that this front office that has will navigate these pitfalls and carry the fanbase to the Shangri-La that features a memorable trip down the Canyon of Heroes.
Nevertheless, the pitfalls are coming and they are inevitable. It starts with the summer. Free agency and the return of Kristaps Porzingis will all have major impacts into the direction of the team and whether the front office can truly stick to their plan.
The Knicks being “all-in” on Kevin Durant is one of the worst kept secrets in the NBA. It started last summer. Zach Lowe of ESPN started the momentum when he said that the Knicks would be planning their offseason around Durant. Not exactly a profound prediction, but when Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports made a similar statement, that snowball started to form an avalanche.
But let’s put the brakes on this idea for one second. On a recent episode of Posted Up with Chris Haynes, Durant made it clear that, when it comes to his next contract, he’s concerned with two things — money and basketball. He wants to “dictate” his environment and he added:
“You can’t give me the bells and whistles. I would rather see what you do on a day-to-day basis,” he told Haynes. “That stuff really doesn’t impress me.”
While the Knicks have certainly engaged in some major house cleaning, an obvious attempt to portray themselves as a well-run franchise, they’re not there yet. And despite head coach David Fizdale’s positive reputation around the league, Durant is likely to turn his attention towards an organization that has a track record of winning, on a consistent basis, during this decade.
Furthermore, since 2008, only two players with at least one All-NBA selection have signed long-term deals with a team that failed to win more than 30 games in the previous season. That list includes Amar’e Stoudemire and Baron Davis. That’s it. Translation: It’s really really rare for great players to go to bad teams.
The Unicorn. Kristaps Porzingis is potentially one of the biggest wild cards in the Knicks plans for the future. Porzingis and the Knicks have been quiet about plans to have the superstar sign a four-year max extension. Given KP’s recovery from a torn ACL last season and combined with his previously fractured relationship with the front office, the current brain trust may have to expedite their plans to satisfy the most important player drafted to the team since Patrick Ewing.
Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News recently wrote about Porzingis and the likelihood that he signs that max-extension with the Knicks. Bondy writes:
“The Knicks’ record since Porzingis tore his ACL is 15-51, an indictment on the talent — or lack thereof — assembled by Mills. The prime of a player’s career lasts about 10 years. Porzingis has already wasted 1/3 of it on a team that hasn’t sniffed the playoffs.”
With the Knicks on the verge of a top lottery pick and another talent to develop alongside players Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, and Allonzo Trier, Porzingis might all the sudden look like a veteran next his teammates, most of whom will still need to show ID to get into the club.
But more importantly, one wonders if Porzingis will have confidence that the Knicks’ five-year plan includes the playoffs during any part of that plan. And ultimately, whether he will have the patience to wait for players to develop and for a front office to build a contender in an Eastern Conference that will be headlined by Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Giannis Antetokounmpo for the foreseeable future.
History tells us that franchises struggle with sticking to the plan. In 1995, the Charlotte Hornets traded away two-time All-Star Alonzo Mourning, who was just three years into his career for a package surrounding Glen Rice. The Knicks have certainly been victims of this as they traded future assets and young, promising players for Carmelo Anthony in 2011.
With that being said, will Porzingis push the front-office to overpay for a tier two free agent like Khris Middleton or Tobias Harris if the Knicks miss out on Durant? If the Knicks have another losing season, will they feel pressured to package assets for a more proven star to keep their “favorite son” happy?
While there’s plenty of time to answers these questions, one thing is clear. The Knicks front office will be tested and the pressure to win may feel like their heads are in a vice with forces pushing from outside and within the franchise. For now, I’m betting on the Mills and Perry to withstand that pressure and do what previous regimes have not been able to do. But, just like anything in the NBA, that can change, and quick.