RJ Barrett, Julius Randle
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

Free agency may have been a dud next year, but don’t worry. There’s a way for the New York Knicks to bounce back next summer.

The New York Knicks entered free agency with hopes higher than Cheech and Chong’s. Now that Kevin Durant is a Brooklyn Net, some fans’ hopes are lower than Hermes Conrad doing the limbo.

Look, I get it. This year’s free agency season was a disappointment overall. None of the biggest names available signed with New York and both Durant and Kyrie Irving joined the crosstown rival Nets. That added insult to injury. Despite that, the Knicks are already better on paper than the squad which won 17 games last year.

This means the philosophy going into next season should be about exceeding expectations. So what if free agents didn’t come this summer? Just go out and prove they made a mistake.

Whiffing in free agency this summer is by no means a death sentence for the Knicks. So long as the front office remains committed to rebuilding the brand in one or both of the following ways, all will be well at Madison Square Garden.

Free Agency Recap

Let’s have a quick chat about what the New York Knicks did in free agency this year. On paper, save for Julius Randle, it reads like a bunch of consolation prizes. Reggie Bullock and Wayne Ellington each have great three-point shots, but little else. Elfrid Payton is a strong passing point guard, but can’t shoot and that’s a problem in today’s NBA.

Taj Gibson is a past-his-prime rim protector, and Bobby Portis still hasn’t lived up to his potential after starring at Arkansas. How are any of these players supposed to help New York’s young core become a better team?

Free Agency 2020

This brings the conversation to next year’s free agent class. Save for Randle, who signed a three-year, $63 million contract, every other player just mentioned inked a two-year deal. The catch? The second year in all of their respective contracts is not guaranteed, but a club option.

This means the Knicks could once again be in a prime position to add max players next summer. To be specific, Draymond Green will hit the market and the Golden State Warriors could have a hard time retaining him thanks to the respective contracts of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and now D’Angelo Russell.

Further south in California, Anthony Davis is the newest Los Angeles Laker and still hasn’t signed an extension. Sure, that could all change in a matter of days, but the possibility of him coming to Madison Square Garden still exists—at least in the abstract. Durant signing with New York was a general assumption which went in another direction, and so could be the idea of Davis automatically signing an extension with Los Angeles.

Thus, depending on how the Knicks perform as a whole next season, the idea of returning to free agency and aiming high cannot be ruled out.

Rebuilding the Old-Fashioned Way

Or, if free agency pastures aren’t green enough, the Knicks can follow the Atlanta Hawks’ playbook and rebuild a winning team the old-fashioned way. They easily could have been players in free agency but instead committed to rebuilding through the draft. They have one max player on payroll, per Spotrac, and Chandler Parsons is probably going to get bought out anyway.

And what does this mean for the New York Knicks, who won all of 17 games last season? Plain and simple, use the competitive fire shown all last year to make 2019-20 a better overall season. Forget tanking. New rules are in place to combat it. The New Orleans Pelicans got the first pick and, subsequently, Zion Williamson after winning 33 games.

Simply put, the Knicks should play hard all of next year and tanking shouldn’t even be on the table. The goal should be to win as many games as possible and then, playoffs or no, make the most of their draft pick. It doesn’t matter if New York holds the first pick or the fourteenth. Just make the selection which helps the team the most.

Shrewd Moves

Just look at what happened in 1985. New York took center Patrick Ewing with the first overall pick and then picked point guard Mark Jackson at No. 18 two years later. The following year, dominant defensive forward Charles Oakley was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Bulls. In 1990, undrafted guard John Starks tried out for the team and the rest is history.

The point is, through a series of shrewd moves, the Knicks built a contender. The 1994 NBA Finals may have ended in defeat, but that’s neither here nor there. The Knicks went from winning 24 games in the 1984-85 season and landing the No. 1 pick to being a contender in just five years.

Granted, NBA free agency then wasn’t what it is today, but the point remains. The Knicks are in that very position now. RJ Barrett should only be the beginning of the rebirth and he already has some solid pieces around him, namely developing center Mitchell Robinson.

Moreover, suppose a team is looking to dump a star player’s expensive contract next season? New York has draft picks galore, not to mention team-friendly deals we mentioned earlier. Even Randle could be a solid trade chip if he proves last year’s breakout wasn’t a fluke.

It may not seem like it, but the Knicks are closer to climbing out of the cellar than one may think.

Final Thoughts

The New York Knicks may be down after this summer’s free agency but are far from out. A path to redemption exists and the front office must be patient with the process. Between young talent and a great coach in David Fizdale, there is nowhere for this team to go but up despite losing out on Durant.

The goal is simple: work hard to build a good team and have top talent want to play here.

So long as the front office stays committed, anything’s possible.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.