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Despite the winning streak, the Knicks feel like they’re running in place

The Knicks have made purgatory home

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Being a Knicks fan is its form of malaise. Especially within the last 20-year sample size, it’s easy to be a misanthrope in today’s Knicks fandom. Shit sucks, and it has for a very long time. The Knicks under Leon Rose has been akin to a hamster wheel, the team running in circles, approaching nowhere, towards nothing. This blog, like others, and Knicks Twitter in general, has been sunk even deeper lately into the ennui of tormented fandom. Being a Knicks fan can feel like the nameless, faceless character in Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” or the aimless, heartless anti-hero of Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger.

The Knicks face the Bulls Wednesday night as they go for five wins in a row. Something still feels off. Maybe it's because we know the ceiling of a Julius Randle/Tom Thibodeau-led team. Maybe because the last run at the “all mighty” fourth seed led to a first-round thrashing. Maybe it's because they seem capable of beating bad teams, sometimes even mid-teams, but never the team on a roll or at the top of the standings. Maybe it’s because we keep beating teams missing key players.

So, where do we go from here? I ask because it seems like the front office is on the verge of doing something. Rumors abound of Knicks players who have been exiled from Tom Thibodeau’s rotation: Cam Reddish, Derrick Rose, Evan Fournier, plus Immanuel Quickley are on the trading block. Unfortunately, many of those rumors seem to be for picks. So let me get this straight, we trade players we found deep in the first round, or via value trades, to collect picks that will probably be in the same Draft vicinity, just to do it all over again? Now that feels like the hamster wheel on overdrive.

Perhaps Leon Rose has a larger plan in place. Every year since he’s been in charge, he's made a trade, whether before the deadline or in the summer, which netted him a future draft pick or a reclamation project with potential. So maybe these rumors are an extension of that, collecting future draft picks in another attempt to package them together in hopes of trading for a star. But that begs the question? Who the hell is even available?

LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, and Trae Young all would fit gloriously on this Knicks team that is in desperate need of a star. But while all seem a bit disgruntled, none of them requested a trade or insinuated as such in public. So what’s left? A John Collins trade? Or maybe Tobias Harris? Perhaps we take on Russell Westbrook’s expiring contract? So, where does that leave us? I won’t make you wait. The answer is middling.

I understand building an asset cache in the hopes a star emerges, but what of the players left on the roster? This game plan doesn't solve the Julius Randle problem, or Obi Toppin wasting away on the bench, or RJ Barrett’s shooting regression. The players no longer in the rotation are not maintaining any value on the bench. How can Rose advertise the services of Reddish or Rose when potential trade partners can't watch them play?

The most logical answer seems to be to widen the rotation, most notably by replacing Isaiah Hartenstein with Jericho Sims, and prioritize trading Randle, Rose, and Fournier. Perhaps making Reddish situational would help as well. It's not like his value can get any worse. He's been awful in the last two weeks. Concerning Randle, it's not like we haven’t given him a chance to show us what he can do in a lengthy sample size. This is his fourth season with the team, that’s longer than Kristaps Porziņģis saw the floor in a Knicks uniform. We know what he can do. However, this team's ceiling with him at the head is about where we are, a game or two under .500.

Under Rose, this team has toed the line between rebuilding and playoffs. It’s time to rip off the band-aid and commit to a proper rebuild. Trading Randle would cut, at a minimum, 10 games from the win column. He's had a good season thus far. His trade value should be highest since his Most Improved Player season. Now is the time to sell. The team currently sits only six games out of dead last in the East. That’s doable! Especially under Thibodeau’s coaching!

The Knicks have five potential first-round picks going into the 2023 NBA Draft. The Dallas Mavericks pick looks good to land in the teens at worst. If the Knicks decide to trade Randle, that will put them in a position to end up with prime odds for the top picks, where true, franchise-changing talent lives. And all those picks we’ve acclimated? Use them to move up if they land outside of the top five. It doesn't mean we move up to first and nab Victor Wembanyama, but there is plenty of talent outside of the top three, even top five. The picks they have deftly acquired don't have to be used only for a Donovan Mitchell-level player. They can be packaged, along with other young players, to push us out of mediocrity and toward future contention with a top Draft prospect on the team.

Yea, I know I sound morose. But I wasn't born this way, I was molded. Years of Knicks fandom under James Dolan has beaten my optimism to a pulp. I watch the Knicks nowadays, and in my TV’s reflection, I see Gregor Samsa’s roach, ripped out the pages of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” and donning a Jalen Brunson jersey and a flat-billed Knicks hat. But advocating for the Knicks to embrace the rebuild is, in a way, optimistic. It’s a plan, one that could bear fruit if handled correctly.

Over the last few years, we’ve mostly been too good for a #1 pick and too bad to reach the second round of the playoffs, save for 2019, where we were handed classic Knicks-level luck, nabbing Barrett at #3 after Zion Williamson and Ja Morant went before. Under Rose, at least, we have not only retained our picks but picked up other teams' draft compensation in the process. Tanking isn’t fun, but neither is being mid. We have a legit chance at putting ourselves in a position for Lottery luck. We should seize it. To do so will take selling high on Randle. Perhaps even trading one or two of our other players like Reddish for a protected pick as well. If Rose can not commit to either a true rebuild or add a star, then he’s only slightly better than past Knicks' front-office execs. Sure he hasn't completely failed in terms of trades, free agency, and the draft. But just because the hamster wheel is new and shiny doesn’t make it any less of a wheel.