Earlier this week, NBA senior writer John Hollinger, who was the Grizzlies’ vice president of basketball operations from 2012-19, and the Knicks beat writer Fred Katz, gathered a wide-ranging discussion about the Knicks. Today, they tackle new topics, including how the Knicks will know it’s time to trade for a star, what to do from Tom Thibodeau’s two seasons in New York and whether any draft stands out as a New York fit.
If you missed the first part of their conversation – which included talking about off-season priorities, roster building decisions, youth and more – you can read it here. Here is part 2:
Katz: We finished the first part discussing the points the Knicks could target this summer, from Jalen Brunson to short-term fixes. Let’s stay on the topic of potential promotions. Before we go any further, we should discuss this unknown star who will end up in the Knicks.
The plan, as we’ve written about it before, appears to be for the Knicks to put themselves in a position to trade for a big name. However, the identity of this player remains in question, despite the Jazz losing in the first round of the playoffs providing a stream of content for New Yorkers these days. The Knicks have a lot of players on expired and mid-level deals.
Alec Burkes will make $10 million next season. Nerlens Noel and Kemba Walker each get $9.2 million. Derek Rose earns $14.5 million. All of them could become free agents in 2023. Pool their paychecks together, and the Knicks can make finances work in a max player trade. But let’s discuss this more abstractly: should they?
It would take more than just the guys mentioned above to handle a needle drive. The Knicks have all of their first-round picks going forward as well as the Mavericks protected in 2023. They have a surplus of second-round picks. They have eight players of 24 and under. Is it worth it for them to deal with their choices with the young players of a big name, in the hope that someone with the charisma can attract a second star? Do they need a wink from this other superstar that he’s joining this amazing, mysterious player? Where is all this located?
Hollinger: In the NBA, you’re either in or out, and the Knicks undoubtedly exist. They don’t scramble, which means they don’t get a central star in the draft, probably. They have two players who could be as good as the second and third best on a good team in Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, but their claim to be top players puts a difficult ceiling on how good they can be. They have many young players who come in well and can be integral pieces on a winning team, but realistically none of them will be able to recognize an All-Star Game.
So where do you go if you’re a Knicks? You set yourself up to make a trade to get an A-lister, and then pounce when the opportunity presents itself. They still need to be smart about how much assets they’re putting on the table – a Jrue Holiday package and a Paul George type package are completely different propositions – and that their target player has enough career runway left to keep the franchise going for years.
As a result, I don’t see the alternative strategy here for the Knicks. Now they’re in the NBA purgatory – they have too many underdogs to be bad enough to join the top five, but they don’t have the cutting-edge talent they need to compete for anything beyond one – which is accomplished in an elimination match. They built this full slate and cover structure to push their chips at some point in the next 18 months. It may come via free agency, but revised extension rules have made it increasingly rare for elite talent to come this way. Trade is their most realistic way.
Katz: Let’s talk about training. Thibodeau has just completed his second season with the Knicks.
The first went easy: an unexpected 41-31 record, a first-round home advantage and the NBA Coach of the Year award. The past wasn’t pretty: 37-45 and away from the playoffs.
Come October, will be back for the third year. What do you think of the job he and his crew did?
Hollinger: The strange thing is that in many ways I thought his second season was better than the first. The first year was a classic Thibodeau player of the central cast, playing his main players for long minutes, squeezing everything he could from a limited team and then playing in the playoffs.
I thought last season we saw a different coach, especially when it turned out the team wasn’t going to be as good as expected. The fact that novices were routinely outplayed may have made it easier for him to limit minutes, but he also proved a willingness to push players like Obi Tobin, Quentin Grimes and Jericho Sims into the mix (Cam Reddish, not so much). Young people were given opportunities and improved under his guidance.
But I still think there are some limitations here. Thibodeau’s team is always ready, but attacking is one of the least creative teams in the league, and unwilling to open the throttle with Toppin in another limited 5 in New York. He also struggled hard to replicate any regular season success he had in the playoffs.
Overall, I don’t think he won a ticket out of town, but I wouldn’t hesitate to extend his contract either. Given that New York is still at this point in between finding its next identity, I can support the idea of bringing him back, letting him work with the Eleventh Choice and the other guys for another year and seeing what happens. Just please, for the love of God, stop playing Gibson’s crown.
Katz: I appreciate your ability to take the tide, but are you talking about Crown Gibson being the best defender in the Knicks? Or are you talking about the person who doesn’t miss corner 3 anymore? Or are you talking about the guy who somehow became the best sealer ever at age 36?
Going forward – you mentioned pick number 11, which the Knicks technically didn’t have yet, even if there was a possible scenario.
With just under a week left to the NBA lottery, the Knicks will have their 11th best odds pick and are the #1 pick overall. They have a 2 percent chance of being first-chosen and a 9.4 percent chance of making it to the top four. However, the odds are enormous, as they chose 11th – 77.6 percent. Second place is most likely No. 12, where they have a 12.6 percent chance.
Let’s say they ended up somewhere in that range, considering if you were to simulate 10 lotteries, that’s where they’d be in nine of them. You are a big project man. Is there someone near the end of the sweepstakes that you think would be a particularly good fit?
Hollinger: I think it’s important not to get too attached to “fit” in reality, because the draft is at its core a talent grab, and the Knicks aren’t overwhelmingly stacked in one position that you can rule out another player drafting for that spot. It would be amazing to have a great potential player sitting there for them in 11th, but they rarely succeed in this way. Teams often install wedge squares into the holes of their round tables rather than just taking the best available player and using free trades and dealerships later.
Now that I’m out of my soapbox, I can point out that there’s one person I think would be a good fit in New York: Dyson Daniels, the Australian goalkeeper who has played in the G League this season. He’s a great goalkeeper who is able to pass first and also defends all three surrounding positions at a high level, which should allow him to get minutes on the spot, and I think his playing style makes him a perfect fit for the formations alongside Emmanuel Quickli.
Daniels is a poor shooter who needs to speed up and improve his release, this will scare some people, plus he is a good athlete but not great and can look a little rough at times. But I love watching it play because it’s about all the right things, and is still small enough that it’s easy to buy a shot.
(Photo by Emmanuel Quikley and Tom Thibodeau: Elsa/Getty Images)