The New York Knicks looked poised for a big offseason. One Kevin Durant injury and Anthony Davis trade to the Lakers leaves the Knicks with more questions than answers. How will the Knicks handle free agency?
There’s a common phrase to describe the current status of the New York Knicks. “Things get worse before they get better.” All signs were pointing up for the Knicks as recent as two months ago. New York positioned themselves for a draft position no less than five in the lottery. Kevin Durant was the best player in the world and rumored to be leaving Golden State for New York in the offseason. Plus, the Knicks would have enough money to sign two players like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to max contracts this summer.
However, plans change in the blink of an eye. First, the Knicks lost the chance of drafting Zion when they were awarded the third pick. Then, Kevin Durant ruptured his Achilles and is expected to miss the entire 2019-2020 season. Plus, their crosstown rival, the Brooklyn Nets, are the favorite to land Kyrie Irving. Once again, things get worse before they get better.
Despite a horrific 17-65 campaign, which is tied for the worst franchise record in team history, fans remained optimistic because of the high draft pick and cap space. Now, optimism is dwindling because of the injury to Durant. Steve Mills and Scott Perry now have a tough decision to make. What is the plan going forward? Does the Durant injury change how the Knicks approach free agency?
To put it frankly, no. Durant’s injury should not change anything.
The Knicks have a rare opportunity to get better via free agency instead of through a trade. Carmelo Anthony was a top seven basketball player in the NBA when the Knicks made the trade for the star in 2011. However, the Knicks were forced to give up four players and a first-round pick. As good as Melo was, and he was a good player, he is not Durant. Before the injury, KD was arguably the best player in the NBA. Durant averaged 32 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists this postseason.
The Achilles injury is tough to recover from for a player on the wrong side of 30. (Durant will be 31 in September.) However, it’s not impossible to return to all-star form. Dominique Wilkins ruptured his Achilles at age 32 in the 1991-1992 NBA season. Defying the odds, Wilkins averaged 29.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists. He went on to make two more All-Star teams and two more All-NBA Teams. It’s possible that Durant may never be the best player in the game again, but it’s not out of the question that he will return to all-star form and be one of the 10 best players in the game.
Here’s the question that Mills and Perry need to ask themselves. If they pass on Durant or he returns to Golden State, then what? Is there a better option than signing Durant despite the fact that he will miss next season? There are definitely options, but the likelihood of them happening are slim. The Knicks are going to progressively pursue Kawhi Leonard, but most reports have him either resigning with the Raptors or signing with the Clippers. Klay Thompson has given no indication that he’s leaving Golden State. Kemba Walker is a free agent and said he would consider taking less money, but that would be to return to Charlotte. Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris will have plenty of suitors, but all signs point to them resigning with Philly or ending up elsewhere. Could the Knicks snag D’Angelo Russell from the Nets if Brooklyn signs Kyrie Irving?
If all else fails, the Knicks could simply draft RJ Barrett and continue to acquire more talent and hope David Fizdale can help their young core take the next step. However, the Knicks young core hasn’t looked promising as a unit. The best player out of this group is Mitchell Robinson, who was NBA All-Rookie Second Team. Allozo Trier made nice strides this past season along with Kevin Knox (at times). However, Frank Ntilikina is a lost cause Emmanuel Mudiay is most likely leaving. This core, although young, doesn’t inspire a promising future.
Hypothetically speaking, let’s say the Knicks sign two players to max contracts. Pair any of the free agents not named Durant, Leonard, or Irving together. Does a Klay Thompson/Tobias Harris combination take the Knicks to the next level? Can a D’Angelo Russell/Jimmy Butler push the Knicks to the top of the Eastern Conference? The more you pair players up, the worse it sounds. The risk of signing Kevin Durant becomes not only more promising but flat-out better for the future of the franchise.
The Knicks can still have a successful offseason that brings the team in the right direction. Mills and Perry have their work cut out for them. The Knicks are a puzzle, but the puzzle can be solved.