Sean Marks
AP Photo/ Mary Altaffer

The Brooklyn Nets won free agency. While all is not lost, the New York Knicks were delivered a gut punch and must pick up the pieces.

Geoffrey Campbell

According to Forbes, the New York Knicks franchise is worth over $4 billion. Now they’re not the evil empire, that moniker belongs to the New York Yankees, where cash generally equals wins. However, the Knicks empire, which has long touted the allure and history of “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” did their best to huff and puff, yet it was their own house that was blown down, by a rebel fleet called the Brooklyn Nets.

All little dramatic, I know, but a Kevin DurantKyrie Irving Heisman has me feeling a certain way. Sue me. To be clear, I was very wary of signing Durant but certainly wanted him to want us. At the very least, I wanted him to meet with us. Yet in the midst of rejection, when the dust settles, there are some silver-linings to consider. As Knicks fan, you don’t have to twist our arm too hard to look forward to another free agent class.

And while that may be a problem, there’s also a young and hungry core of players that are ready to put on a show for the garden faithful. And if you’re a fan and want your pound of flesh from the front office, that’s okay too.

Questions should absolutely be asked of executives that talked a big game about the franchise’s confidence in bringing in the game’s elite talent. In the end…ooogattzz, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

With a move of this size, there’s always many different sides and nuances to discuss. In an effort to make sense of the Brooklyn coup, allow me to give you my two cents.

Give the Brooklyn Nets Credit

First things first, the Nets deserve all the credit in the world. Without a lottery pick at their disposal, general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson carefully crafted a group of young, talented, and hard-working players. Those players rewarded their fan-base with a playoff appearance this past season in a well-fought battle with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Aside from that, ownership helped create a state of the art practice facility which, when combined with the Barclays Center, is all within a mile of each other. Convenience matters. No one wants to sit in an hour plus traffic just to travel to games and practice. Furthermore, the Nets medical staff is highly-respected and one of the team doctors actually performed Durant’s Achilles surgery.

On the court, the Nets feature an exciting, analytically driven brand of basketball. The majority of their shots come at the rim and from the three-point line. It remains a question whether iso-heavy players like Irving and Durant will fit within that system. However, it’s certainly a good problem to have. At the end of the day, it’s nothing the Nets coaching staff can’t handle.

Health Will Determine Everything

Durant is set to sign a four-year deal, and in all honesty, I really hope he comes back 100%. The game is better with him. And not to mention, as a native New Yorker, I would absolutely pay to see him at the Barclays Center. With that said, there’s a fair amount of risk in the move given KD’s Achilles injury. When you combine that with Irving’s injury history, the celebrations of today may turn into the disappointment of tomorrow.

Marc Berman of the New York Post spoke with leading Achilles expert Dr. Anisha Kadakia. He offered a startling statistic when he explained that “85%” of NBA players, who rupture their Achilles tendon, do not play more than two years in the NBA post-operation. However, should the player make it past two years, the probability of a full recovery is high. Kadakia went on to explain that 32% of players never play again.

Overall, it’s a sobering reminder that Durant’s four-year deal, when you factor in recovery and load management has the potential to put the Nets in quite the difficult situation. Couple that with the fact that Irving has only played 70-plus games three times in his career and has a fractured knee-cap on his resume from 2015 that still gives him trouble, and you have the makings of what could be a colossal flop.

The Porzingis Trade Was Still the Correct Decision

Similar to the discussion on health, evaluating the trade of Kristaps Porzingis, at least in part, hinges on his ability to come back and return to All-star form. The 7-foot-3 phenom now has a major knee injury under his belt. At this point, Porzingis has missed over a season and a half of basketball. Prior to that, KP played 66 games in 2016-2017 and 72 games during his rookie season in 2015-2016.

Outside of health, Porzingis and his management team expressed a desire to be traded. According to Steve Mills, KP and Co. stated that he would not re-sign, and look to enter unrestricted free agency as soon as possible.

Skeptics will tell you that the Knicks should have called KP’s bluff. This is due to the fact that there’s yet to be a player that has turned down the rookie extension. In Porzingis’ case, he would’ve been turning down $158 million. I understand the logic, I just don’t agree with it. The Knicks couldn’t afford to let him walk without recouping any value.

New York Knicks

Porzingis, in his short time with the Knicks, skipped an exit interview and took social media jabs at coach David Fizdale for inaccurately reporting his progress during his rehab. While Porzingis’ talent probably outweighs his immaturity and petulance, I’m not sure that a young team and regime without the cache of an organization like San Antonio could really enter into a game of chicken with a player and win.

Furthermore, we now know that the KP trade has yielded Dennis Smith Jr. and two first-round picks in 2021 and 2023. The cap space created was used to sign players like Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis Jr., Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington, and Elfrid Payton to short term deals with a team option. The Knicks will also have a ton of cap space in both the summers of 2020 and 2021 when players like Bradley Beal, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Victor Oladipo could be available.

You can and should be mad at the front office

Mills, general manager Scott Perry, and Knicks owner James Dolan have taken some heat since the beginning of free agency. After winning just 17 games last season and missing out on Zion Williamson, some fans held hope that the summer of 2019 was going to be the catalyst to turn around the franchise. Yet, post-Brooklyn coup, fans must’ve been filling up the inbox of Dolan and Co. that Mills sent out the following statement to the fan base.

Everyone’s to blame, at least in part, for the wild expectations that Durant and Irving might choose the Knicks. To be fair, since last summer, it had been reported that both free agents would be considering the Knicks. However, too often this season, and maybe it was to distract us from the product on the court, we heard a lot about the Knicks “confidence” in attracting the major free agents. Dolan even echoed the same sentiment on “The Michael Kay Show” on ESPN radio.

While fans and the media also did their part in building the hype for this summer, there was just too much noise coming from key members of the front office. The front office did tell us that their plan included cap flexibility and building through the draft. However, they should also acknowledge that trading away a franchise star in Porzingis was not done with the goal of getting Randle, Gibson, Portis Jr., Bullock, Ellington, and Payton. It was, however, a pretty solid back up plan.

Conclusion

The Knicks took a hit and look a little foolish. It’s fine. They have cap flexibility for the next two seasons and a bevy of draft picks. They’re in a position to trade their recent signings at the deadline if a contender becomes desperate. They’re also in a position to trade for the next disgruntled star who wants to leave their team (that’ll happen).

Additionally, with their cap flexibility, if they decide that they want to take on bad contracts with assets attached, they can do that as well. But most importantly, they have RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Allonzo Trier, Smith Jr., and, hell, even Ignas Brazdeikis.

If two of these draft picks become stars then we will be on our way towards becoming a contender. The Philadelphia 76ers went through Jahlil Okafor, Markelle Fultz, and Nerlens Noel and ended up with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. It may be a while, but the empire will strike back!

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