By most accounts, the Knicks are set to select Duke wing RJ Barrett with the third pick in the 2019 NBA draft (ESPN+). Though I remain cooler on Barrett than many, there is no clearly better option to draft at #3 overall.
Instead, I will continue to argue that the Knicks should look to deal the selection (probably for a vet and a pick). To be clear, I’m not interested in compensatory star chasing now after missing out on Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis. My rationale is that New York has to adjust to the new way of thinking in the NBA. Now that there is no lottery payoff* for losing, it is especially important to stay out of the NBA’s 15-20 win cellar. All else equal, the best way to do that is to NOT field one of the youngest teams in the league.
*I think NBA conventional wisdom is shifting (or has shifted). It used to be franchise death to end up in the NBA’s “murky middle” with the 8th, 9th, or 10th best record. You’d rather just be awful and max out the odds of getting a franchise-altering draft pick. Now that those odds are flattened–even acknowledging that a top 3 guarantee isn’t nothing–teams know that the next Zion or Tim Duncan is only 14% likely to walk through that door. A better bet may be what Doc is doing in LA: trying to convince a star that an 8-10 seed with cap space and a solid foundation is a near-term contender. A terrible team with nothing but a low-odds lottery ticket will find it increasingly hard to draft its way out of the cellar OR chase stars.
Many people are in love with Barrett’s “star” potential and I’m not going to fight with anyone over that. My only response is that you better be a true believer that he’ll peak as a perennial top 5-8 player at his position to justify adding yet another 19 year old to this roster. I’m not doubting Barrett can be good, but I’m absolutely not willing to say he’s a good bet to be a top 5-8 wing. Add to that, David Fizdale’s record as a talent developer is mixed. Of course, whose isn’t? And in fairness, at least some of that is about having so many mouths to feed. There’s a limited supply of developmental instruction to go around and New York was pretty maxed out on it in 2018-19. But some of y’all want to add another kid to the mix? Yikes.
Meanwhile, the trade market could be white hot this off-season and the Knicks could benefit without star chasing. With the Warriors hobbled, teams are opening up the proverbial game board. Some of them are–surprisingly–star chasing. Others are shedding salary to go star chasing (also, the Bucks looking to dump salary). Still others are just looking to stay out of the luxury tax. Some good players will change uniforms this off-season, and there’s no good reason for some of them not to end up in NY (even if only until the trade deadline). The Knicks are not a playoff team in 2019-20 (duh), but they can make some smart, short-term plays that keep them out of the cellar while helping the kids by not asking them to do too much.