The Knicks are putting pieces in place. Their opening two games of the preseason, last Friday, Dec. 11, and Sunday, Dec. 13, both against the Detroit Pistons on the road, were cause for plausible hope and a call for patience.
Reality set in on Wednesday as visions of Giannis Antetokounmpo in a Knicks uniform dancing in the heads of the franchise’s collective fan base suddenly vanished when the reigning back-to-back NBA MVP committed to a five-year, $228 million supermax contract with his current team, the Milwaukee Bucks.
It ends the 25-year-old’s potential unrestricted free-agency and further reinforces the conclusion there will be no quick fixes for the Knicks. Drafting and developing their own All-Stars, as the Bucks did when they selected the then relatively unknown Antetokounmpo out of Greece with the 15th pick in the first round of the 2013 Draft, is the path they must follow.
“This is my home, this is my city,” tweeted Antetokounmpo. “I’m blessed to be able to be a part of the Milwaukee Bucks for the next 5 years. Let’s make these years count. The show goes on. Let’s get it.” It’s unknown if the Knicks’ first round pick from this year’s draft, Obi Toppin, will evolve into a franchise altering player.
The 22-year-old Brooklyn-born forward had a promising pro debut, scoring 11 points and grabbing 7 seven rebounds in 20 minutes in a 90-84 Knicks victory over the Pistons. Two nights later, the 6-9 forward from Dayton, last season’s National College Player of the Year, experienced the ups and downs of life as a rookie when he went 1-9 for only 4 points in 24 minutes in a 99-91 Knicks loss.
Toppin said he wasn’t overwhelmed when summoned by Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau to enter his first game as a Knick. “I wouldn’t say [jitters] hit me, but it was kind of a shock as soon as coach called my name and told me to go to the scorer’s table,” he reflected.
“I wasn’t really nervous or scared just because I knew everybody else would pick me up. I just went out there and did what I do best, and that’s play basketball.” The Knicks will be in the lottery again when the next draft takes place. This season, the first for Leon Rose as new team president and with veteran coach Thibodeau on the bench, will be one of determining who among the young players such as Mitchell Robinson, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr. and Kevin Knox will be a part of their foundation.
There will be encouraging moments and a lot of frustrating days. The fluctuating emotions are part of constructing a team from the ground up. And the Knicks have been at or near the bottom of the league’s standings for most of the past 10 years.
The Knicks faced the Cleveland Cavaliers at Madison Square Garden last night (Wednesday, Dec. 16) and will host the Cavaliers again tomorrow night at home again in their final preseason game before beginning the regular season next Wednesday versus the Indiana Pacers on the road.