Mired in a lost season that featured the offing of their best piece, the New York Knicks are now awaiting their own specific judgment day.
It has been two weeks since the New York Knicks parted ways with Kristaps Porzingis, their best draft pick since Patrick Ewing. It has been six weeks since the Knicks have won a game at Madison Square Garden.
In that time, there has been no shortage of reporting and opining on the deal, which sent Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke to the Dallas Mavericks for Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, DeAndre Jordan, and two future first-round picks. Subsequently, the team waived Wesley Matthews and Enes Kanter.
While the initial and prevailing sentiment has been that the Knicks did not get a significant return for the unicorn, there has been some contrarian praise for the deal.
Those in favor of the deal say that they added a second-year player with upside and two first round picks while putting the team in a position it hasn’t been in for two decades, free of a burdensome contract as a big-ticket free agency approaches in 2019. Those against it simply had to utter three words: “same old Knicks,” as the team seemingly got impatient on the rebuild and are tying their fates to the free agency savior that never seems to appear.
We will know relatively clearly if the Knicks blockbuster deal was turning over a new leaf from two decades of near-constant failure when the calendar turns from June to July.
When free agency opens on July 1, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and a bevy of other big names will become free agents. The Knicks will be aiming to land one superstar and another piece or, optimistically, two franchise players. If they fail, it will be deja vu for Knicks fans.
In 2010, the Knicks had similar aspirations and struck out on LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, instead settling for five electric months of Amare Stoudemire before injuries got the best of him. Pairing yet another failure to attract the NBA elite to play at Madison Square Garden with the realization that Porzingis was shipped away for the unused money, or money possibly used on less attractive talent, may just be a new rock bottom for the franchise. In an age where NBA action is as likely to happen on Twitter as on the court, Knicks fans are surely hoping this deal was not based on intuition, but some sort of signal that either Irving or Durant has their sights set on the big apple.
While the uncertainty sorts itself out, there are some guarantees. The Knicks are all but assured to have either one of the great Duke trio, Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish or Murray State point guard Ja Morant on the roster before the free agency chaos ensues.
For now, the rest of the season should be dedicated to heavy minutes for young players with varying signs of potential including Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., Allonzo Trier, Damyean Dotson, and Mitchell Robinson. If things are different this time around, Durant, Irving or whoever else will need some talent to come off the bench if this team is to be competitive.
A final piece of the equation may take a while to sort itself out. What exactly Kristaps Porzingis’ career looks like will factor into how this trade is perceived and reasonable projections are all over the place. Porzingis could realize the massive potential that endeared him to New York while representing a future hall of famer. He could also succumb to his early career injuries and the checkered history of big men unable to stay healthy.
That part will take a while to sort out and is out of the Knicks hands. When the Knicks kick off their 2019-2020 campaign, the roster could be the start of a new era of relevance on Broadway, a low point for a team that has had little to celebrate this century, or anywhere in between. Some of the most important days in New York Knicks history are quickly approaching.