The postmortem on the Knicks began immediately after they were eliminated by the Miami Heat 4-2 last Friday at the Kaseya Center in South Florida in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals series, losing Game 6 by 96-92. They are in full evaluation mode and readying for key decisions that could have them ascending to title contender status or failing to build on a promising 2022-23 campaign.
Blame abounds for who was responsible for the the Knicks’ mildly surprising exit from the postseason at the hands of the No. 8 seed Heat, which lost their opening Play-in Tournament game 116-105 to the Atlanta Hawks and had to beat the Chicago Bulls 102-91 in a second Play-in game just to get into the playoffs.
Julius Randle has been the most vilified Knick by the team’s emotionally charged fans and a large segment of the media that have misguidedly appointed him a role normally ascribed to valid franchise players, of which there are relatively few in the entire NBA. After averaging 25.1 points and 10 rebounds in 77 regular season games, Randle’s numbers shrunk to 16.6 and 8.3 in 10 postseason outings.
After being named All-NBA Third Team on May 10, his second All-NBA selection since signing with the Knicks as a free-agent in August of 2019, two days later, the 28-year-old Randle labored in shooting 3-14 and 1-7 on 3-point attempts for 15 points in an inadequate performance that has left a bitter impression on unforgiving Knick supporters. Many have similar feelings regarding RJ Barrett.
The 22-year-old forward’s season ending night was even more distressing than Randle’s. Raising his level of play after sub-par Games 1 and 2 against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Knicks 4-1 opening round series victory, Barrett, who posted 19.3 points per game in 11 contests, was an abysmal 1-10 in Game 6 versus the Heat for 11 points.
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“I played terrible,” Barrett said afterwards. “I’m very disappointed in how I played today. It’s a lot right now. You fight for something, you want something so bad. I don’t feel like I played my best, so it hurts, but it’s good to have experiences like these, you can learn from them. They are a very good team, very experienced, very poised, so we can learn from that.”
What everyone who follows the Knicks and the NBA learned is that Jalen Brunson is now unequivocally an elite player. He exhausted every unit of his capacity trying to will the Knicks to a Game 7, scoring 41 points in Game 6 and proving to be a force multiplier. Lacking an abundance of fast twitch fiber, Brunson’s craftiness with the ball, ballet-like footwork, intelligence quotient (IQ), and mental and physical toughness are as immense as any of his peers.
“It’s tough,” said Brunson of the defeat. “I think for me we did a lot of great things this season. We obviously wanted to keep playing and have the opportunity. It stings a little bit…if you don’t win you lose.”
Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau was reluctant to reach deep into his bench in the series, particularly to play the team’s best 3-point shooter, Evan Founier, despite his squad registering a horrific 29.2% from behind the 3-point arc. Conversely, Thibodeau’s counterpart, Heat coach Eric Spoelstra masterfully maximized his reserves, going 10 strong to great effect. It has further shaped Thibodeau’s reputation as being stubborn and rotation rigid.
The off-season for the Knicks commenced in Miami last Friday evening. Team president Leon Rose and his staff of experienced voices, including general manager Scott Perry and executive vice president William Wesley, will have to creatively and boldly reconfigure the roster to address obvious needs, the most pressing significantly better perimeter shooting and athletic two-way wing player that is an adept defender and three-level scorer.
The Knicks were hopeful that the top-10 protected draft pick that was part of the January 2019 deal that sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks would fortuitously drop below the 10th spot in Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery and by the terms of the trade become their possession. But when the league’s Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum revealed the pick came up at No. 10, the Knicks, for the moment, are left without a first round pick in this June’s draft.
However, they have a treasure trove of first rounders, 10 in total, between next year’s draft and 2029 that can be used to improve their roster. A popular wish among Randle’s detractors is that he is moved for another All-Star – the Minnesota Timberwolves’ forward Karl-Anthony Towns has been frequently referenced as a plausible option.
The summer should be a compelling and active one for the Knicks.