Looking at their roster right now, the New York Knicks probably aren’t going to be a playoff team in 2021, which would make it the eighth-straight year that they wind up in the NBA Draft Lottery rather than the postseason.
But unlike the previous seven campaigns or much of the last two decades, the Knicks look as though they are establishing one clear direction to build a future contender upon instead of wildly dreaming of signing premier free agents to catapult them to the playoffs.
Given the previous regimes of leadership and the steady, controversial ownership, the Knicks are not a destination the best players in the league want to go to.
They saw the way Carmelo Anthony was treated in the Big Apple for seven years: A superstar player mired within a franchise that offered him little in terms of help or supporting cast only to point the finger at him when things went south.
It’s understandable why Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving or Kawhi Leonard, or farther back, LeBron James would want that.
Under first-year president Leon Rose, though, the Knicks have a plan, making moves that are being mostly lauded rather than ridiculed.
What a concept.
For now, the franchise’s future belongs to the kids while finding proper veteran support to help them acclimate and develop to life in the NBA. And subsequent moves in the coming days or weeks may only cement that fact further.
New York’s depth chart currently features 10 players who are 23 years old or younger, providing the option of new head coach Tom Thibodeau to roll out the youngest starting five in the NBA by far.
After a successful draft night that saw Obi Toppin (22 years old) fall into their laps at No. 8 before some wheeling and dealing landed Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley (21), the Knicks released practically half their active roster the next day. They declined their options on veterans Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson. Kenny Wooten was waived alongside Elfrid Payton, who was quickly brought back on a cheaper deal (one year, $5 million) to fill the void at point guard that was solely being filled by Frank Ntilikina (22).
They brought in a veteran swingman in Alec Burks, who averaged 15 points per game last season, to potentially introduce competition for playing time at the shooting guard position alongside the returning Reggie Bullock while creating the flexibility to play RJ Barrett (20) at the small-forward spot.
To top it off, they brought in Nerlens Noel, who at just 26 will be playing for his fourth NBA team and is a top-tier acquisition to backup 22-year-old Mitchell Robinson at center.
If the Knicks are able to unload 25-year-old Julius Randle’s contract, the door is open even more for the Knicks’ youthful revolution with a hypothetical starting 5 and backup system resembling this:
PG- Elfrid Payton (26)/Frank Ntilikina (22)
SG- Alec Burks (29)/Reggie Bullock (29)/Immanuel Quickley (21)
SF- RJ Barrett (20)/Obi Toppin (22)
PF- Obi Toppin (22)/Kevin Knox (21)
C- Mitchell Robinson (22)/Nerlens Noel (26)
It’s highly unlikely that all of the Knicks’ youngsters are going to work out. But the direction Rose is showing will allow the organization’s decision-makers to properly evaluate its young talent, find the pieces that fit best, and address next year’s needs with draft capital that features two first-round picks.