What the Knicks will be for the remainder of the season is uncertain. What they are now at the All-Star break is a team without an identity or many wins. The Knicks were 23-35 before hosting the Washington Wizards last night (Wednesday) at Madison Square Garden. They came into the game having lost seven straight and 10 of their previous 12.
With only 23 more regular season games remaining and virtually no chance of making the playoffs, the Knicks have gone from promising in mid-December to abjectly frustrating two months later. Before leading scorer and first-time All Star selection Kristaps Porzingis tore the ACL in his left knee against the Milwaukee Bucks Feb. 6, the Knicks were already rapidly trending downward. Porzingis had surgery on Tuesday to repair the ACL and his recovery time is projected to be a minimum of 10 months.
So with the franchise’s signature player out until at least next December and more likely February of 2019, the Knicks kept their roster essentially intact as last Thursday’s trade deadline passed. The only significant move was trading small forward Doug McDermott in a three-team deal that included the Dallas Mavericks for Denver Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. Only 21, the 6-5 Mudiay was the 7th overall pick in the 2015 draft but regressed from being a starter in his rookie season to a minimal role player this season with the Nuggets.
While it is a low risk, potentially high reward move as Mudiay can still be developed into a significant contributor, it is confounding as to why Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry seem obsessed with experimenting with the point-guard position instead of allowing 19-year-old rookie Frank Ntilikina to go through the requisite growing pains teenagers, particularly foreign players, experience early in their NBA careers.
“We got to compete internally as well as we can,” Perry said on a conference call the day after the trade. “If you compete well internally, it gives you a better chance to compete well externally.” Perry’s general manager speak is more obligatory than tangible. It’s doubtful Mudiay’s presence will push Ntilikina into being a better player. Experience and hard work is a more proven formula.
Furthermore, Perry’s priority should be addressing the small forward spot, clearly the team’s weakest position. Unlike their point guard situation, there is no small forward on the roster worth developing. Where they will obtain a two-way small forward is a conundrum as neither LeBron James, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard or any of the top players at that position will be in a Knicks uniform come next season.
“I think that in terms of players and free agents looking to the Knicks … they’ll see how this team is coming together in terms of playing hard, trying to support one another… They sense it,” said Perry, sharing information that is publically unconfirmed as no pending free-agent has openly professed his love of the Knicks.
“And I think there will be players that will want to be a part of that. Players want to be a part of teams. They want to be a part of families where they’re being supported and cared for and developed and all of those things.”
More than anything else, players want to be a part of winning. A characteristic the Knicks have yet to embody.