Ideally, the Knicks would end this season having progressed on their 41-31 record, No. 4 Eastern Conference seed, and first round playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks last June. They still may go further into this postseason with a lower seeding and lesser winning percentage, which would be a perceptible measure of improvement and growth.
Yet first things first. Just making the playoffs this season is a challenging pursuit for the Knicks, who were 16-18 prior to playing the 5-27 Detroit Pistons, the team with the NBA’s worst record, last night (Wednesday) on the road. Not making the postseason would be a step back and disappointment. The Knicks were 10th in the tightly bunched East, which would have made them the last of the conference’s four Play-In Tournament entrants if the season ended after their 96-88 win over the
Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night, the opening game of a four-game road trip.
But the Knicks still have over four months and 47 games to go—barring cancellations—before their April 10 regular season finale. So in the coming weeks team president Leon Rose and the Knicks brain trust will have to assess their short- and long-term goals and plans, and make an assessment on how they proceed for the remainder of this season.
A determination will have to be made as to whether their roster as currently constructed has enough balance and talent to be a viable postseason threat and if pursuing a trade for an impact player or players ahead of the Feb. 10 league trade deadline is Rose’s and his inner circle’s design. Conversely, they could ride it out from the perspective the existing group will attain a necessary level of collective good health as injuries and COVID have altered the best laid plans of virtually every team, and young players such as Mitchell Robinson (23), Immanuel Quickley (22), Obi Toppin (23) and RJ Barrett (21) will experience sufficient development. The aforementioned quartet of players are all part of the Knicks’ core rotation.
Ultimately, the Knicks will need a transformational star to a be championship contender, as Tom Thibodeau alluded to early last season after Giannis Antetokounmpo signed a $228 million aptly named super-max extension with the Milwaukee Bucks in
December of 2020, removing the reigning Finals MVP off of their free-agent wish list. “I think it’s critical,” said Thibodeau of the Knicks eventually securing a franchise player. “Sometimes you have to do it through trades, sometimes it’s free-agency. But I think you have to be very aggressive in seeking out those opportunities. They just don’t happen by accident. You have to make them happen.”
It will become clear between now and the next five or so weeks which path the Knicks will take. That road continues tomorrow against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Sunday versus the Toronto Raptors. They return to Madison Square Garden next
Tuesday to play the Indiana Pacers.