What Should the Knicks Do This Offseason?

Zion? KD? Kyrie? Everything (and alternatively, nothing) is on the table for the Knicks this summer

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Most fan bases are able to comfortably shed the hangover of a league-worst season knowing a top draft pick awaits them. But for the Knicks, that feeling is getting a bit redundant. Only four years ago they were in the same position they’re in now—hoping for the top pick in the draft in April. Completely and entirely bottoming out in 2015 was supposed to ensure they wouldn’t be back there anytime soon. Of course, that wasn’t the case. And as a result, this offseason comes with an unprecedented amount of pressure in April for a team with 14 wins.

As if five straight seasons with fewer than 35 wins weren’t enough, the Knicks raised the stakes for summer 2019 when they traded away the best asset they’ve had since “asset” became part of NBA lexicon in order to make room for the best player in the NBA linked and linked and linked to NYC. By trading away Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks will have two spots for max contract free agents, and the hope is to pair Kevin Durant with either local product Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker. But should they whiff on KD, they’ll be forced to choose between signing a different max free agent in consolation or swallowing their pride and trucking through another year with a borderline collegiate roster.

The Knicks also hope to bolster their squad via the NBA draft, where Zion Williamson has emerged as the best prospect we’ve seen since Durant. And in every year before this one, the cards would be stacked for the Knicks—three games ahead of the Suns for worst record in the league—to land him. But this year the Ping-Pong balls have evened out among the teams with the worst three records. In previous drafts, the Knicks would have had a 25 percent chance at the top pick and a 64 percent chance at a top three pick, but this year the bottom three teams all have a 14 percent chance at the top pick and a 40 percent chance at a top three selection. And while Ja Morant and RJ Barrett prove to be worthy of a top three selection, Williamson is head and shoulders the consensus number one prospect. This year, the top choice has weight.

The climate in New York City is contentious to begin with—the Knicks didn’t need to do anything to make it hot. But with the winner-takes-all scenario of the draft and [[doesn't make sense: the extra zest in which the Knicks’ front office doubled-down on this summer,]] we likely have never seen an offseason with this much at stake for a team this abysmal.

We can only give advice on what the Knicks can control (read: bribe Adam Silver to rig the lottery), and our well-researched opinion is that the Knicks should, indeed, sign Durant if he’s willing. But whether they do or don’t will dramatically change their offseason strategy. So we felt it was appropriate to run through both scenarios.

If They Don't Actually Sign KD

The key in this scenario is for the Knicks to remember what got them to this position. The Process gods aren’t very forgiving to teams that take shortcuts while rebuilding. For example, the Knicks had the second-worst record in the league in 2015. A year later they traded for Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, which effectively postponed the full-on tank and ultimately derailed the rebuild. Now they’re here.

Besides KD (or Kawhi Leonard, but he’s not coming), there’s no other player on the board capable of leapfrogging the Knicks into title contention, meaning if KD should curve the Knicks, they would be foolish to fall victim to a consolation max player. Walker is a stud right now, but do the Knicks really want to spend $40 million or more on a 33-year-old six-foot guard in four years? Even panic-signing a combo of Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler to two max contracts won’t guarantee the Knicks will be top five in their conference.

This free agent class has a lot of fun names, but the Knicks are in this predicament because of acquisition errors they’ve made in the past. Making a critical mistake by signing one or two unnecessary max-level players will set the Knicks back four years (plus a potential player option), but if the Knicks whiff on the field this summer, what’s one more year?

If They Actually Sign KD

On the contrary, you don’t sign players of KD’s caliber in their prime to rebuild. If they do land the shiniest prize of the summer, it should add urgency in their approach to signing free agents and the way they assess their current roster.

The Knicks would have an obligation to support Durant with a cast that could contend for a title. With Durant in the mix, signing one or two players such as Irving, Kemba, Butler or Khris Middleton in their prime would become worth the heavy back half of their contracts.

After Butler and Middleton, though, the rest of the pool may be undeserving of the max. The Knicks may be better off packaging assets for a proven guard like, say, Damian Lillard than throwing the bag at Tobias Harris. There’s no need to be precious with a young “core” that hasn’t proven anything yet (apologies to Allonzo Trier’s 10.9 PPG). Trier, Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Emmanuel Mudiay and even the draft pick (depending on the offer) should all be used as leverage to acquire a piece to complement Durant to compete for a ring.

If LeBron James’s move to L.A. has proved anything, it’s that teams should not take the prime of a top player in the league for granted. Once your franchise player hits 30 years old, even taking one year to rebuild is a risk.

Ask Magic Johnson if he would have done anything differently.

Previously on ONE37pm, we made predictions about another potentially perilous offseason—that of the Los Angeles Lakers

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