The Knicks faced the Brooklyn Nets at Madison Square Garden last night (Wednesday) and now have only two more regular season games remaining—tomorrow versus the Wizards in Washington and the finale Sunday at MSG. They were 35-44 going into their matchup with the Nets, tied with the Wizards at No. 12 in the Eastern Conference.
After a 41-31 finish as a No. 4 seed in the East a season ago, the Knicks have taken a significant step back. While there has been development of the core young players, the Knicks’ issue has been at the top of the roster. They lack the transformative talent that is necessary to be a sustained contender and have been at a disadvantage at the point guard position for much of the season.
So the off-season will be consequential. Running it back with essentially the same crew will likely yield similar non-playoff results. So hard decisions must be made. Right now, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett are theoretically the Knicks’ best players. But they have demonstrably shown they cannot lift the Knicks to the upper echelon of the league.
So this summer, team president Leon Rose must build above Randle and Barrett, or view them as assets to acquire a franchise anchor or two. Trading Barrett may be difficult given he is a homegrown favorite among Knicks fans and will turn just 22 in June. But he will be eligible for a maximum rookie extension this summer worth up to $181 million over five years.
For context and comparison, last August, Randle, now 27, inked a four-year, $117 million extension with the Knicks coming off of a All NBA Second Team selection. If players the caliber of the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell and the New Orleans Pelicans’ Zion Williamson are available, as has been periodically rumored this season, then it will be incumbent upon Rose and the Knicks’ primary decision makers to expend the requisite resources to get them.
Back in December 2020, right after Giannis Antetokounmpo signed a $228 million max extension with the Milwaukee Bucks, Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said, “I think it’s critical” that a team with championship aspirations has a superstar. He then expounded on the various means by which they are attained and the urgency of being aggressive.
“When you look at what’s going on in the league, things can change very quickly,” Thibodeau mused. “You work every day with your player development, try to improve through the draft, you have free agency and you have trades. I think you have to be very aggressive in each area. Sitting back and waiting sometimes is not a good thing.”
Last summer, the Knicks’ signings of guards Evan Fournier (four-years, $78 million) and Kemba Walker (two-years, $17.8 ) weren’t disastrous but had no tangible positive impact. The focus this offseason will be on the Knicks’ front office and their charge of recalibrating the team’s course.