The performance of the New York Knicks during the 2020-21 regular season was a surprise to many, including myself. I expected new head coach Tom Thibodeau to establish a strong defensive identity and RJ Barrett to improve in his second season. I did not anticipate Julius Randle developing into an All-Star and leading the franchise to the playoffs for the first time in 7 years. Simply put, the team overachieved expectations by a long shot when they clinched home-court advantage in the 2021 playoffs. This turnaround brought excitement and hope to a fanbase that was starving for even moderate success. Unfortunately, it all seemed to come to a screeching halt when the Atlanta Hawks upset the Knicks in the first round. They bowed out quickly, losing 4-1 in a series that saw many key contributors struggle, most notably Randle. In the series, the first time All-Star shot 30% from the field, 33% from three, and averaged 4.6 turnovers per game. His impact and the team’s overall effectiveness were muted as Atlanta exploited their weaknesses.
Although I expected New York to win that first-round series, I foresaw the team struggling to create shots in the half-court due to the roster lacking a dynamic playmaker and shot creator. Julius Randle can create shots and make plays, but he isn’t quite dynamic; the same can be said for RJ Barrett. The Knicks relied heavily on Derrick Rose to create offense throughout the series, but he is not the elite creator that the team needs. There are very few of those players in the NBA, and if a franchise doesn’t draft a player of that ilk, they usually have to pay a premium to attain one.
The Knicks are famously (or infamously) known to shop for superstars that satisfy that criteria. The organization should do the same this summer and pounce if players like Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal become available on the trade market. However, they should be wary of paying a premium for players that don’t move the needle significantly enough. This team is still developing and can reasonably expect improvement based on the growth of their young players alone. Randle, Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, and Kevin Knox should all be better versions of themselves next season. The Knicks have also signed Argentinian point guard Luca Vildoza, who they hope will inject additional poise, distribution, and shot-making into the squad.
Objectively, New York is in a good place. The team laid a solid foundation this season while retaining the young talent, cap space, and draft capital necessary to build a serious contender. For the organization to succeed, it will require patience and caution from the Knicks’ front office *cough cough*. There are a few marquee free agents this offseason, but none fit the team's timeline or roster that well. Rather than chasing a "big name," resigning significant contributors from this past season and adding rotation pieces should be their priorities.
In my opinion, Derrick Rose, Nerlens Noel, Taj Gibson, and Reggie Bullock should all be re-signed. There aren’t many teams with cap space this summer and bringing those players back would probably be relatively inexpensive, saving New York cap space to acquire coveted free agents down the line. It would also be difficult to replace them in this free-agent market. Thus, maintaining continuity and solidifying the team’s identity is the best way forward. A superstar is coming to Madison Square Garden. But the Knicks shouldn't sign him this offseason.