The Knicks Are Losing According to Plan

After particularly gut-wrenching losses, I, like many Knicks’ fans, go through a range of emotions and thought processes: I’m disappointed; I’m annoyed; I’m enraged; I’m encouraged when they keep it close; I look back for plays that cost them the game; I think about what they should’ve run or done differently; I point fingers; I search for silver linings; I focus on good for those that played bad and on bad for those that played well; I go on Twitter, look at the extremes, and settle into a middle-ground…

But sometime during this recent run of futility, I became enlightened. Honestly, I don’t know how I missed it before. Even at 4-20, I couldn’t see it. I’d ask myself, “We signed all these players. The front office talked about winning more games. How are we worse than last year when last year was a blatant tank?”

Then it hit me.

We were lied to.

Mills and Perry, all of that win-now talk from the summer, all of that optimism as the regular season drew closer, all that, “The team is not performing to the level that we anticipated” from the impromptu 10-game press conference…bold-faced lies.

Journalists are writing about how now that the season has gone off the rails, the Knicks need to change course, that now they need to focus on player development and ping-pong balls instead of wins.

Truth is, that’s been the plan since Day 1. A tank to end all tanks (until next year). Lose, lose, lose, and when you look like you’re about to blow out a playoff-bound division rival, lose some more. Those win-now signings? Part of the charade. The high expectations? Fake. The optimistic, “New Yorkers are going to like this team” sound bytes? Good acting.

It took twenty-five games, but finally it dawned on me that Steve Mills and Scott Perry are too smart to have truly believed this team could approach thirty wins, to have truly believed surrounding Julius Randle and RJ Barrett with young, unproven vets, many of whom are fighting for the same role, would result in meaningful games post All-Star break.

The actual plan was and still is 17 wins, a Top-5 pick, and another stud donning orange and blue in Vegas next July. So rest easy my friends, because the FO’s strategy – the one beneath the veil – is being executed to perfection. We are in good hands.

THE TRUTH

Once KD and Kyrie set their sights on Brooklyn, our FO quickly shifted focus toward the next free agent bonanza: 2021. But in a post-Hinkie world, you can’t come out and say it. You can’t make it too obvious. Not if you want to keep your job, anyway. Plus the organization had just been sonned by the Nets after months of KD to NYK talk; fans were up in arms; both Dolan’s and the Knicks’ reputation had arguably never been worse, and it’s still a business after all…no, another summer talking “rebuild” was out of the question. The only option, for the good of the long-term future of the franchise, was to sell the impatient owner on a plan to win now, sell desperate fans on young vets and progress, sell tickets and merch, and keep true intentions secret.

WIN-NOW MOVES?

Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Elfrid Payton, and Reggie Bullock. Publicly, these were the young vets who had the right mix of talent, upside, and experience to provide hope, increase win totals, and aid in the development of our homegrown talent.

Privately, these guys were signed to participate in a very lengthy, very grueling tryout.

The focus is 2021. Two years away. Julius Randle got the longest deal of the bunch. How long, you ask? Two years guaranteed. No one was thinking, We could push for that eight-seed with these moves; they were thinking, Let’s see who could one day complement a superstar. Scott Perry himself hinted at it: “I hope that some of these guys will be here longer term, based on how that plays out.”

Translation: if they underachieve they’re gone, either this summer or next; if they play well enough to warrant keeping, Bird Rights!

NOT CONVINCING ENOUGH

Adding talent was nice and all, but if the Knicks were again the youngest team in the League, no one would buy this we’re here to win bravado. So Mills and Perry did what had to be done: they overpaid some old dudes. Taj Gibson is a NY native who had tons of postseason experience and would rep the Knicks well, and Wayne Ellington could bring some of what he learned in Miami to help mentor young guards. Two guys that fit the public “plan” while not being good enough to ruin the private plan.

DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS? F*** THAT

The roster 48 hours into free agency was fine, but then Mills / Perry saw an opportunity and pounced. Marcus Morris is a legitimately valuable veteran who further sells the long con – keeping JD and fans on the string – AND can be flipped for assets. His signing wasn’t win-now; it was trade-later. All the critics who thought the Knicks should’ve been using cap space to take on bad contracts with picks attached? That’s what they were doing! Let the stockpiling of draft capital begin!

BUT THEN THE GAMES STARTED

How’s that saying go? “Everyone’s got a plan until they get…yelled at by their boss because their team started 2-8”? That’s it, right? Either way – the plan was humming along, but Mills and Perry underestimated how quickly Dolan’s patience would wear thin. If their seats get too hot, they’d be gone before their genius could come to fruition.

So, press conference. Here Fiz, I’d like you to meet the underside of this bus. Quite the cunning maneuver: if things would have improved, their motivational technique worked, the coach they handpicked from a pool of eleven showed development, AND the tank keeps on rolling; things didn’t improve, the tank hummed along, AND they had their fall guy – “Mr. Dolan, sir, we gave David every opportunity to show he could handle this; we gave him more than enough talent to get the job done, and he failed us. Let us make it right. We have the talent now to attract even better candidates than last search. Give us one more chance, please. Did I mention I listened to your latest album last night? Grammy-worthy, sir.”

I mean, is it a coincidence that Mike Miller, former G-League Coach of the Year, proven track record both in terms of Westchester W-L and player development, was added to the staff prior to the season? Just Mills and Perry covering all the bases.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

You are about to see the true genius of Mills and Perry revealed. Poor record, coach fired – the time has come where they can pull the plug with little backlash from owner and fans alike, and when that happens (perhaps beginning as soon as next week), you’ll see such a sudden shift in rhetoric, such an overhauling of the roster, that it’ll seem like…like…like it was what they’d intended all along:

  1. Goodbye, Marcus Morris. His value couldn’t possibly be higher. Don’t be surprised if you see him sit again with a flare up of that mysterious neck injury.

    This trade will bring back a hideous contract that expires — wait for it — Summer 2021. Mook’s strong play combined with the willingness to offer cap relief will net a better return than anyone could’ve imagined in July.

    Commenting immediately after the consummation of the trade, the FO will thank Morris for his leadership and talk about how sending him to a contender just felt like the right thing to do for such a respected veteran. You hear that, future free agents? We treat our people right!
  2. Damyean Dotson and Allonzo Trier are among those who’ll follow. More may be shopped, but these two will be easy to move. Both can shoot, and both expire at year’s end. They’re not in the future plans, so 2nd RDers / future swaps in return are better than losing them for nothing. Mills and Perry are too good at their jobs to repeat the mistake they made with Noah Vonleh.
  3. Post All-Star break, with a thinning out of positional logjams, fans will see a rotation they can really get behind: Knox will play more and blossom offensively (defense TBD); a healthy Bullock will begin his tryout; DSJ will remember how to play basketball; Iggy will get run; and when injuries or random DNPs hit, we’ll get our fix of Kadeem Allen, Ivan Rabb, and (fingers crossed) Kenny Wooten.

    I know you want the young guys developing now, ASAP, but the Knicks’ front office is as forward-thinking as they come. Added bonus of these vets taking minutes from the young guns? Load management for 20-year-olds! Wait ’til you see how fresh they are come February!
  4. The Knicks will finish with somewhere between 17-20 wins. This is NOT – wink, wink – how it was supposed to turn out. The FO will express their frustration one last time – something they will have spent all season doing – before promising change. Having left a yearlong trail of disappointed sound bytes, they will have the freedom to waive non-guaranteed players and hire their next coach. Then in June, they’ll draft James Wiseman or Anthony Edwards or (insert your favorite prospect here), and come July we’ll have a slew of new signings to get excited about with maybe 1-2 holdovers from Summer 2019.
  5. The FO will attempt to execute the same plan during the 2020-21 season. And who knows? Maybe they won’t have to keep it a secret. Maybe they’ll be able to say, “Jim, fans, we tried against our better judgment to win now for you. Let us build this thing right. Slowly. Patiently. Don’t worry – you can trust us.”

    DSJ, Frank, and new signings will be in tryout mode; more losses will pile up (thought not as many), and just before FA 2021 begins, the Knicks will add a 3rd consecutive lottery pick AND a mid-to-late 1st from Dallas.

Now I know what you’re thinking: there are far too many holes in logic for this to be a scheme hatched by an NBA front office. But forget about those holes for a minute and focus on the positives: when Freak is deciding where to make his next home, he may very well look at the 2021 New York Knicks and see:

RJ Barrett – $8,623,920
Kevin Knox – $5,845,978 (option)
Mitchell Robinson – $1,802,057 (option)
Ignas Brazdeikis – $1,782,621 (option)
Julius Randle – $19.8M (only $4M guaranteed if Knicks want out)
2020 Top 5 Pick
2020 CHA 2nd RD – pretty much a first, right?
2021 Lottery Pick – potentially Top-5, but RJ might be too good by then
2021 DAL 1st RD – nab an older, ready-from-Day 1 rookie
2021 CHA 2nd RD – Hornets still won’t be good – another solid pick

Throw in a couple of guys who “made the team” after trying out – Frank, Portis, whoever – and factor in where each will be after two years of steady improvement, and you’ve got the makings of a contender.

Mills and Perry have gotten a lot of criticism since July, but I for one am thrilled they are leading this franchise. They are savants, true visionaries, and if you can’t see it, then I can’t help you.

In fact, if you really think about it, despite all the criticism, all the drama resulting from bad journalism and emotional fans, all the brilliance redacted and slanted and repackaged as dysfunction, the Knicks are exactly where they need to be on the road to success. They made the right KP trade last February, ensuring a healthy cap situation. They signed the right kinds of players to the right kinds of deals this offseason, maintaining cap flexibility and getting up-close-and-personal looks at intriguing talent. They hired a coach to coach superstars but had a backup ready to go when the KD-Kyrie Plan A fell through. They’ve got young talent and all their draft picks and everything a free agent could possibly want – the city, the brand, the off-court opportunities, the deep-pocketed owner – all pointing toward the Summer of 2021.

So they told a little white lie. They wanted to avoid the outside noise, the backlash, the billboards and protests, that would have come with honesty. That would have derailed their plan.

However, the plan was not derailed, and thus, the future has never been brighter.

If that’s not absolute genius, how do you explain it? What? You think Steve Mills and Scott Perry executing the perfect multi-season tank is all just one big happy accident?

Please.

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