The Knicks did what they did, added who they added. Now we speculate on what happens. Some are quietly conceding that the team’s approach isn’t idiotic, but there’s a lot of #LOLKnicks 4Eva!! out there too. The Athletic’s Knicks beat guy, Mike Vornukov, provides a nice summary and raises all the key questions ($).
Let’s break it down, beginning with the approach. Reasonable people can disagree with the decision to pursue two max players rather than push forward with a healthy Porzingis. Regardless, Perry and Mills were adamant about targeting only Durant, Irving, Leonard, and Davis in marquis free agency/trades–end of list. Having missed out on all of them, a viable “Plan B” could then only involve taking on current “toxic” assets for future draft picks or building a competent (if not good) roster.
Perry and Mills are opting for the latter, though it’s worth noting these are ideal types and in real life they overlap quite a bit. Of course, some people are shitting all over this decision like they have a bonus check dependent on it. I’m honestly not sure based on what, but whatevs.
So let’s look at the additions, which had an obvious theme. Apart from Julius Randle, these are all 1 year deals with a team option for a 2nd year. They are effectively expiring contracts, which in theory keeps the team liquid for trade deadline deals and for next summer when buyer’s remorse sets in on some of the contracts handed out the last two days.
Julius Randle — There is much to like. After basically not being able to throw it in the ocean in his first three seasons (he only played one game as a rookie), he’s really found himself the last two where he’s even added a 3pt. shot. That said, there are holes in his game. He doesn’t bring much on defense. He’s improved from “obvious target” to “not horrible” despite getting few blocks or steals. He rebounds well and his defensive win shares have trended in the right direction. Some consider him a stat compiler who doesn’t contribute much to winning. I suppose that’s fair, but it’s worth noting a two-year deal plus a low guarantee/team option doesn’t suggest the team isn’t counting on him to wear a cape and save the franchise.
Taj Gibson — It’s not hard to imagine that Perry, Mills, and Fizdale had Udonis Haslem in mind while targeting Gibson for a 1 + 1 deal for $10M per. I tend to be a bit suspect of these “culture setting” acquisitions. They can turn out to be wastes, or worse. In a worst case scenario Joakim Noah was sold to Knicks fans as a “culture setting Thibs guy” too and his deal is possibly the worst in team history. From a basketball standpoint, I’d have preferred the as yet unsigned former Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green, a career 37% shooter from 3.
Bobby Portis — I like Portis more than many. For all the “Knicks signed 3 power forwards, #LOLKnicks” jokes I saw on twitter, I’ve always seen him as a stretch five. He’s taken a quarter of his career attempts from three, where he’s a career 36% shooter. He’s not much of a defender. He’s a good rebounder but doesn’t block shots. A better (but more expensive) version of Luke Kornet. I’ll just say this, from a pure basketball standpoint if Portis was European we’d generally view his portfolio as more useful than we do.
Reggie Bullock/Wayne Ellington — One-dimensional shooters, both. Bullock is the better defender, at least in theory. To pick nits, I might have chosen one or the other wing and doubled down at PG. (It seems apparent the team views Frank Ntilikina as a wing.)
Elfrid Payton — It’s hard to see the upside of this play beyond Perry presumably just liking Payton and having a clear PG archetype. Although neither guy shoots the three much, my play would have been to add TJ McConnell to really push the pace.
To be clear, I don’t love every signing but the strategy is crystal clear. Perry and Mills are trying to get the team out of the basement. There’s just no profit in being there anymore. It’s unlikely these Knicks will be a winning team in 2019-20, but they should be able to push the win total into the 30s and maybe flirt with .500. Perhaps even better, the plan stylistically appears to be to push pace.