Contemplating Current and Future Knicks

Let’s pretend for a second that our luck is changing, that everything will fall into place the way it’s supposed to on May 14th, June 20th, and finally, July 1st.

A Top-3 player. A second superstar. A ROY candidate and potential franchise cornerstone. What more could you ask for?

And yet many Knicks fans are asking for more. They’re asking for Anthony Davis. And this isn’t some pipe dream, some deluded fantasy that the most hopeful among us typically conjure up.

Accompanying all the talk, among fans and “people in the know” alike, about KD and Kyrie to NY is this cherry on top: the Knicks could fast-track their road to contention by trading for Anthony Davis and forming the greatest of all modern Big Threes.

It’s hard to imagine without salivating.

Which is why I find it so strange that I can’t get fully on board.

To be clear: this is not a piece arguing for or against an Anthony Davis trade, or comparing this currently-hypothetical situation to the 2008 Celtics or the 2014 Cavaliers; it’s about the notion that signing two max players means you have to gut the team to accelerate the timeline, a team many of us spent this long, frustrating, painful season learning to love.

See, this season wasn’t just about ping-pong balls; it was about analyzing, predicting, drawing conclusions. It was about marveling at Mitch’s growth, projecting Knox’s ceiling, trying to decide who Trier is and whether he’ll be better long-term as a starter or a reserve.

We thought about these things and more for every player on the team, from THJ (pre-trade) to Henry Ellenson and everyone in between. 1

And the most important conclusion I came to is this: when fans think about this team and what the future might hold – who should be back, what their roles should be – we should be thinking about each player at his best.

This isn’t me being sentimental now that the suffering is over; it’s simply the most practical way to look back on any rebuild, especially one with this level of 180-degree potential.

It’s not surprising some are willing to give up on the talent the Knicks have already assembled so quickly, especially to net a generational talent like The Brow.

I mean, for Clyde’s sake: we haven’t won in almost 50 years! Haven’t been to the Finals in 20! Won a single playoff series and fell immediately into another seven-year funk.

And here I am against timeline acceleration? I get it. But the vitriol with which some fans talk about these kids: Frank’s trash, Knox sucks, ship DSJ back to Dallas for some barbecue…Even if you’re among the more reasonable fans, the prevailing sentiment is that these guys can’t help superstar free agents. These guys would only hold them back.

Maybe. But it’s also possible that the youngest roster in the League playing for an inexperienced head coach dealing with injured (and then traded) All-Star drama did not produce an accurate sample of what each individual is capable of.

It’s possible – dare I say likely – that once superstars are added to the mix, they become different players. Much, much better ones.

Take Mitch for example, since his approval rating is near 100%. Post-All Star break, he averaged 9.4 points, 9.7 rebounds (up from 4.7 pre-break), and 3.1 blocks on 68.5% from the field and 68.7% from the line (up from 51.5%) in 25.5 MPG. Easily the best player on the team over that span.

17 of those 24 games post-break were against teams fighting for the postseason, and those opponents also knew he was our best player. They knew the threat he posed as a roll-man. They knew about the offensive rebounding and the interior presence and the ability to swat threes. They had the scouting report. They watched the film. They knew everything. And he was still that good

Now: what happens when he’s NOT the top priority at walk-through?

If Mitch can perform that well…as a rookie…after not playing college basketball…with only raw talent around him, then how effective can he be when the opposition has more important things to worry about?

If Kevin Knox is capable of earning Rookie of the Month, or of posting multiple months at 38% or better from three…as a 19-year-old…with below-average point guards…when the opposition knows he’s looking to score, how might his efficiency improve with the open looks and wider driving lanes that come with the mere presence of future HOFers?

Superstars make teammates better just by being there. Just by drawing attention. So much has been written about Steph’s gravity over the years, but gravity isn’t just the result of being able to shoot from 40 feet. When the opposition – not just one man, but all five defenders – needs to worry about you, you make life easier and create space for your teammates while standing still.

The players on this team could be unrecognizable come next year. They will all get better on their own this summer – working out, playing pickup, getting even more comfortable with the system – and then they’ll come back to star talent and reap the benefits of that.

I know that if the Knicks trade all/most of these guys for Anthony Davis, they will become immediate contenders. They’ll use their Exception on DJ or maybe a backup point guard and fill out the roster with guys willing to take paycuts just to be part of the MSG resurgence.  They’ll struggle to build chemistry early but inevitably finish Top-3 in the East, and New York City will be on fire.

Despite easily envisioning this and how happy I’ll be as a result, I can’t help but think:

  • About how important depth seems to be in the 2019 playoffs, about GSW’s struggles as they rely so heavily on their Death Lineup, about Denver’s surge to within a game of the WCF while going 9-deep with mostly homegrown talent…
  • About how quickly the Cavaliers returned to being the worst team in the League, and how fortunate the Celtics were to have Billy King to rescue them from a similarly quick plunge back toward mediocrity…
  • About how hard it’d be to win a ring in Year 1 regardless,2 Big Three or not…
  • About Mitch’s late-season dominance; Knox’s ROM December; Frank’s GSWBK back-to-back in October; Trier’s four months of 42% or better from three; Hezonja’s point guard revelation… 
  • About all the guys on affordable, guaranteed multi-year contracts and the potential that offers to build something great and sustainable…
  • About what Kawhi’s presence in the lineup has done for a guy like Siakam…
  • About, Well, if Pascal can become THAT, what might __________be like with another year of experience, another off-season of improvement, and the benefit of playing with TWO superstars?   

How these young Knicks could shine alongside KD/Kyrie, or KD/Kawhi, or some other max-pairing of your choice, is worth thinking about. Because that’s what Mills and Perry will be doing as they take the next step in this rebuild, as they contemplate: to gut, or not to gut?

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