Last week Kevin Durant tore his Achilles, Kyrie Irving supposedly got googly-eyed with the Nets and Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers. Cue the “Typical Knicks” mouth breathers.
Sure Anthony Davis is good but just wait til Dennis Smith Alonzo Trier RJ Barrett and Kevin Knox shoot a combined 41% next year.— Yaya Dubin (@JADubin5) June 15, 2019
Over the last 5 years Knicks have had the 4th, 8th, 9th and 3rd overall picks in the draft. They were on AD’s two-team list. Yet their offer couldnt move the Pels. This is why drafting well and coaching well and winning basketball games is important. https://t.co/KTyrRE9T5J— Stefan Bondy (@SBondyNYDN) June 16, 2019
We’re all adults. We know what Anthony Davis is. But hard as it may be for some people to imagine, the Knicks might — just might — have more in mind this offseason than “Him. Good. Give.” Building for the future requires sacrificing today’s headline for tomorrow’s metamorphosis.
Dubin’s take is a disappointing plagiarism of the Isiah Thomas Manifesto, i.e. “The winner of any trade is whoever acquires the biggest name.” Bondy’s non-trenchant analysis assumes that since the Knicks didn’t trade for Davis, that means they “couldn’t,” when “couldn’t” in this instance is probably closer to signifying New York wouldn’t relinquish Mitchell Robinson.
You’ll note Kyle Kuzma wasn’t included in the Laker deal. I imagine L.A. wouldn’t have let their Varsity Kevin Knox get in the way of acquiring AD. That he’s still a Laker tells me there wasn’t quite the arms race of trade packages we were promised, and that this was the best offer the Pelicans got. That tells me the Knicks could have offered Robinson, Dennis Smith Jr., J.V. Knox, any other youngster New Orleans asked for, the #3 pick this year plus both Dallas picks. That they didn’t suggests a lack of interest in overpaying, not an inability to.
A few minutes after I wrote that paragraph, lo and behold:
Per @NYPost_Berman, Knicks were offering the #3 pick, a future 1st, and ONE of their young kids of New Orleans’ choice.— It’s a Hard Knicks Life Podcast (@HardKnicksLife) June 16, 2019
These are NOT your old Knicks.
We will NOT mortgage the future.
Respect to Perry & Mills ✊
This wasn’t the Knicks being unable to get a meeting with a player. This was them drawing a line in the sand on their terms and being cool walking away from it. Scott Perry and Steve Mills are already the greatest Knicks executives since last century. Couple this refusal to overpay with the intelligent aggressiveness in trading Kristaps Porzingis and I legit can’t remember the last time I was this proud of a Knick front office.
As @taniaganguli and @_Andrew_Lopez have reported, slight clarifications here:— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) June 16, 2019
No. 4 pick in 2019
Pelicans get 2021 pick if it’s top 8 — otherwise they get unprotected 2022 pick.
Unprotected pick swap in 2023
Unprotected first rounder in 2024 that Pelicans can defer to 2025. https://t.co/ljL6eBbUOH
If you’re feeling a familiar bile rise in your throat, it’s ‘cuz we’ve seen this kind of move go wrong before. In 2011 the Knicks traded Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, a first-round pick that became Dario Saric, another first that became Jamal Murray and a couple of second-rounders for mostly Carmelo Anthony. Nearly a decade later the biggest name in that trade remains Melo. But few ‘round these parts would argue the Knicks “won” the trade. Look back at every major trade the Knicks have made this century. How often did they reel in the biggest name? How often did it work out like they hoped?
Back then those Knicks were closer to where the Lakers are today: a team hoping to leap from middling to contender goes for broke and pairs a star forward with a star big. In 2019 Los Angeles is on a completely different timeline than New York. LeBron James turns 35 next season and is still owed $117M. Once the Durant dream died, Davis no longer made sense for the Knicks, or rather, overpaying for him didn’t.
(Before you pop blood vessels to point out Davis is a better player to bank on now than Carmelo was then...that’s not my concern in this discussion. The L.A. Lakers adding Davis to pair with LeBron James carries a completely different meaning than the Knicks trading for him to pair with nobody. Los Angeles is a free agent destination. With those two stars there, the Lakers are instantly more attractive than they’ve been in years. New York is only a free agent destination when the team is good. Superstars wanna come here to close, not to start things up.)
I’ve seen lamentations that KD’s injury and the dominoes it set in motion leading to a seemingly starless summer = “typical Knicks.”
Typical Knicks would have been Durant sitting out Game 5, signing here next week and tearing his Achilles next preseason. Typical Knicks would be trading the farm for Davis after signing Durant, then after KD was lost being stuck watching AD and Kadeem Allen for six months with no first-round pick at the end of it. Typical Knicks would mean pairing Durant alongside Kyrie or Kemba Walker, KD going down and watching one of those guards miscast as a max-salaried lead option. That a Knick plan could go as catastrophically wrong as it did Monday in Toronto, yet they still have roster flexibility, youth and upside, a ton of draft picks and all the cap space in the world is delightfully atypical.
I’ve even seen people second-guessing the KP trade. Even if you had the magic pixie dust needed to warp reality into a place where he and the Knicks still wanted to be together, would the grass featuring an injury-prone character actor whose performance nosedives annually, two years of Tim Hardaway Jr. and a year of Courtney Lee on the books and forfeiting a couple of first-round picks be greener? Get it through your thick skull, ya Dingus: the KP trade wasn’t a success because it ensured Durant and some other star would sign here this summer. It was a success because it saved the Knicks from the wrong leading man, gave them more pieces to work with and put them in a position to add multiple big-time talents.
Is the NBA going to fold in two or three years? There’ll be other stars available someday soon (God, Kawhi, just give us a chance). Guess what? Some of them won’t be in their 30s. Or injury-prone. Or coming off major surgery. Most of the teams that won a playoff series this year featured key players nobody expected to be on their roster a year prior — Toronto and Kawhi; Golden State and Durant; Philadelphia and Jimmy Butler; Boston and Kyrie; Houston and Chris Paul. What’d those teams all have in common? They had the pieces and the flexibility to answer when opportunity came knocking.
We’ve seen the “bank on a superstar with a red-flag injury history” rebuild strategy here. Twice. Seen the “trade young cheap players on the upswing plus draft picks for the biggest name in the deal.” Seen “hoard your cap space and pray for a savior.” Seen “pay max money to guys who aren’t max-level players” (to be clear: KD at 30 with no Achilles tear? Max-level dude. KD at 32 coming off an Achilles tear of the same foot that suffered a Jones fracture four years ago? Nah-uh). Seen “sit through a damned season in hopes of a better future arriving.” Seen that one plenty.
One thing we haven’t seen is “collect and develop youth, use your cap space to acquire future picks and young talent rather than sign/trade for the first star who comes along, don’t put all your eggs in one injury-prone basket and don’t give up on multiple avenues for sustained success — however anonymous they seem today — to chase a big name for the marquee.” Any plan that doesn’t ultimately rely on “It’s New York City! Come on!” is progress. Any plan that isn’t some singular pipe dream, like “We have room for LeBron!” is progress.
I once dated a girl who I knew pretty quickly wasn’t the one. I drove to her place to break up with her, but when we got inside her apartment and I sat on the couch she laid right up on me, and just like that I forgot all about breaking up. A week later I drove back to her place determined to end things. I buzzed from the lobby and she came down to let me in the building. As we neared the stairs I knew I needed to go up first. If I didn’t, I knew what would happen. It happened. I couldn’t get past her, so the whole walk up the stairs she was right in front of me, her booty at my eye-level, swinging. I didn’t dump her for another two weeks.
It’s one thing to have a plan. It’s another to stick to it, especially when you know it’d feel sooo good to throw it away. Scott Perry and Steve Mills have put the Knicks in a position to be players in free agency, the trade market and the draft. That doesn’t mean they have to act now. Maybe the best they do this summer is sign Julius Randle or (wait for it) D’Angelo Russell to a reasonable deal. Maybe they rent some cap space to a wanna-be contender who ships them a first-rounder that ends up being a lottery pick the year of the vaunted “double draft,” when all the best high schoolers and college freshmen are all available.
Last year’s 17-win performance was digestible because there was a sense of intent behind it. It wasn’t the inept chaos of the past; there was intelligent design behind it all. The Knicks could go all-in on Durant or trade half the team for Davis. That would change what they look like. But that would feel like a betrayal of a trust and a hope that took many of us a long time to accept. To change who they are, the Knicks must stick to what they’re doing. If you’re a chronic failure, you may not know what success looks like. But you’d know it won’t resemble anything you recognize. I don’t recognize the Knicks these days. Best Father’s Day gift I’ve gotten in years.