jalen brunson knicks
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Following the New York Knicks on draft night was a mind-numbing exercise. They were trading picks left and right and when it was all said and done, they didn’t even make a first-round pick.

Instead, they acquired three first-round picks and ~$15-$18 million in salary-cap space in exchange for the 11th pick (Ousmane Dieng), Kemba Walker, and four second-round picks.

So, maybe the roof isn’t caving in at Madison Square Garden like fans thought it was while all of this wheeling and dealing went on.


On its face, this isn’t a terrible return for New York. The problem with that? They are banking heavily on signing Jalen Brunson in free agency. They still need to clear more cap space to make that happen, which means another trade involving Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, and/or Derrick Rose is coming. Perhaps Julius Randle or Evan Fournier could be on the move, but don’t count on it.

Leon Rose and this front office are at the point of no return when it comes to clearing that space. Capologist Brock Aller will need to put his big boy pants on for the next week as the Knicks try to get to a point where they can sign Brunson and re-sign Mitchell Robinson (if reports of his return are true).

If the Knicks sign Brunson, it will soothe this draft day agita for Knicks fans like Pepto Bismol. He’s a proven lead guard who can solidify the position for New York. Here is what a potential Knicks rotation might look like when all the dust of free agency settles:

  • PG: Jalen Brunson
  • SG: Evan Fournier
  • SF: RJ Barrett
  • PF: Julius Randle
  • C: Mitchell Robinson
  • BN: Immanuel Quickley
  • BN: Derrick Rose
  • BN: Quentin Grimes
  • BN: Cam Reddish
  • BN: Obi Toppin
  • BN: Jericho Sims

That’s not a bad 11-man group, but how many games is that team winning? If they make the playoffs, will they be able to compete with the likes of the Celtics, Bucks, Heat, or Sixers? Even teams like the Hawks, Nets, Bulls, Cavaliers, and Hornets have upside in the Eastern Conference.

If you squint hard enough at the proper angle, these Knicks could be a force in the Eastern Conference. That’s if Brunson plays at the same level he did last year and Julius Randle returns to All-Star form and RJ Barrett takes another leap and the Quickley/Toppin combination becomes a dominant bench duo and Evan Fournier continues to shoot the lights out.

In short, a lot needs to go right for this version of the Knicks to become a legitimate contender in the East. The best-case scenario for this roster is a first-round exit.

The glass-half-full argument is that this Brunson-led Knicks roster would still have enough flexibility to trade for the next disgruntled star. The combination of Randle, promising young players, and a treasure chest of draft picks makes that possible.

However, with all this said, if the Knicks are moving heaven and earth to clear this space for Brunson, they better have a guarantee that he’s coming. It’s entirely possible that there is already a handshake agreement between the two sides. After all, Leon Rose was his agent once upon a time. And oh yeah, Jalen’s father, Rick, was recently hired by the Knicks as an assistant coach.

Unfortunately, for Knicks fans, there’s a timeline where Brunson signs a max contract with the Mavericks as soon as free agency opens and the Knicks are left with their pants around their ankles. At that point, they would have to pivot to a pursuit of Kyrie Irving or run it back with largely the same team next year.

Punting on the draft and striking out in free agency would be the equivalent of an NBA airball that prompts Mike Breen to say “WAY OFF!”

Knicks, Nets, NY/NJ college hoops, and sports betting reporter. Mostly basketball, but a little bit of everything when it comes to NY sports. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.