WHAT THE KNICKS DID, FREE AGENCY EDITION (Part 2)

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.

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WHAT THE KNICKS DID, FREE AGENCY EDITION (Day 1, Part 1)

Summary: Most of what the Knicks have done under Perry & Mills is defensible and at some point people just have to concede that Dolan has mostly stayed out of operations, as he promised.

Sunday was the first day of NBA free agency and people were coming off the top rope on the Knicks with intensity; people I didn’t even know were basketball fans. I’ve been a Knicks fan since Patrick Ewing was drafted. So I have caught those #LOLKnicks Ls, like Keith Damn Hernandez standing on first. I don’t like it, but you put what we’ve put on the floor for two decades and the one-liners write themselves.

That said, people are gonna make me do a thing I never thought I’d do. They’re gonna make me (gulp) defend the loathsome James Dolan. You simply cannot write the story of how the Knicks got to where they are after 2013 without casting Phil Jackson as a central villain (too). If you don’t follow the team like that, fair enough. But if you call yourself a journalist or analyst you’re just being lazy, dishonest or both.

Why does it matter? Well, by pretty much all accounts, when Dolan hired Jackson he stayed out of basketball decisions and has stayed out. So the mess that Scott Perry is cleaning up is mostly Phil’s. (That ghastly Tim Hardaway, Jr. contract is on Steve Mills.) When people claim that Durant spurning the Knicks was inevitable, because “look at how they treated Porzingis,” that’s fair but it is also superficial. Phil Jackson damaged that relationship, full stop. He spurned a rebuild much of the fan base begged for to re-sign Carmelo Anthony. He regretted it before the ink dried, then passive-aggressively shifted blame to Anthony. When Porzingis publicly defended Anthony the 70-something Jackson publicly shanked the kid. That move went a long way toward his firing. Porzingis, perhaps rightly, was leery of the “new” regime, which includes people from the old regime. At the same time, the new regime (also rightly) said, “We’re not good with Porzingis. If we’re ever going to burn it all down it has to be this summer, where between the FA market and the draft there are 4-5 franchise-altering talents in play.” They pivoted to arson, and got what I still think is one of the better deals of the past few seasons.

Much of the #LOLKnicks vitriol yesterday came late in the evening when a report surfaced that the Knicks wouldn’t offer Durant the max because of the injury. There’s little to gain in debating the semantics, but I doubt there was ever any offer. This seemed obvious last week when the Knicks said publicly that they’d scrutinize the injury. The conditions changed and it just made sense for both parties to walk away. That blows, but the Knicks were trying to buy Durant’s gravitational pull–his capacity to attract another max talent along with other quality players–not just his jump shot. They needed both. Without both it wasn’t the right gamble. It’s a more sensible gamble for the Nets.