Free agency is a great time of the year for most NBA fans, and if it isn’t a great time it’s at least interesting.
While we continue to wait for Kawhi Leonard’s choice we can look at what has already been done. Perhaps the two biggest deals in free agency so far have been Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant both heading to the Brooklyn Nets, and this may be the greatest offseason for a single team since the Heat were able to add LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
For this article I don’t want to focus on what this means for the Nets but what it might mean for the team just across town, the New York Knicks. The Knicks had a clear strategy this season: they wanted to create two max cap slots to bring in two big names to bring relevance back to New York basketball. They traded away the unicorn Kristap Porzingis for some young assets and a few draft picks and refused to take long term bad money for draft picks, this was a clear strategy which has badly backfired.
They have used this money on Julius Randle (three years/61 million) and Bobby Portis (two years/31 million) while Taj Gibson and Elfrid Payton have also made their way to the Knicks. First off, three of these guys play the four which is not a great start.
But why did the Knicks and their plan fail? There are a number of reasons. James Dolan is the worst owner in the NBA and possibly sports, he is poison for the Knicks as he has been quick to fire everyone and stability has been a foreign concept for the Knicks for about 20 years.
The reports that the Knicks didn’t want to offer Durant the max is a bad look and makes the Knicks look unprofessional.
Another possible reason for this backfiring strategy is who the Knicks were able to bring in compared to the Nets. The Knicks have the likes of RJ Barrett, Dennis Smith Jr, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. The Knicks’ building blocks are a mix of unproven talent which cannot have been appealing to Durant or Irving compared to the Nets roster with the likes of Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie.
All of these players were able to perform in the playoffs and fill their roles perfectly. The talent gulf is obvious and must have been clear to Irving and Durant.
The Knicks strategy seemed to be much like the Lakers’ – they wanted to create space and just let history and what they have been appeal to big names. The difference is the Lakers have been relevant over the last 20 years, with the Shaq era and then ongoing Kobe era being hugely relevant to today’s players. They have seen what winning basketball can look like in LA and many of today’s players would have grown up as Shaq fans, Kobe fans or just Laker fans as well.
The Knicks haven’t been relevant since the Patrick Ewing era unless you want to count the one year of relevance with Carmelo Anthony.
So while the Knicks have Madison Square Garden, the Knicks fan-base as well as all of the things that come with playing in a big market, no one in today’s league knows what winning in New York looks like. They know the Knicks for instability, a vicious owner, bad media coverage and losing constantly.
The Knicks’ aura now belongs to the fathers or grandfathers of today’s NBA players.
If the Knicks want the aura to return they cannot keep doing what they are doing, trading away young players constantly and trying to shortcut their way to NBA glory. They have to become relevant and attractive for those such as Irving and Durant because at the moment they are just a 17-win team with a crap owner.
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