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The New York Knicks are — and intend to remain — relentlessly hopeless.
Spin their NBA draft performance for 2022 however you want. The end result does not change.
The Knicks are helpless, almost hilariously, unable to chart or follow a coherent vision. Sometimes they take a break from their trademark brand of incompetence, but they are fleeting deferrals from the inevitable next chapter of organizational self-sabotage.
Which brings us to Thursday night. Entering the 2022 NBA draft with the No. 11 pick, the Knicks have been at the center of several rumors that were too good to be true.
Would they trade to bring in Jaden Ivey and end up really investing stock in a glamorous general prospect?
Or would they flip a lottery pick to make room for the mere? opportunity to pay Jalen Brunson, an incredibly talented offensive force who is also not good enough to accelerate or define the organization’s timeline?
New York chose the more well-traveled road, trading number 11 to the Oklahoma City Thunder for three heavily protected first-round picks, one of which will be used to grease the wheels of a Kemba Walker salary dump. The full (and complex) order of operations is as follows, according to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps:
Tim Bontemps †TimBontemps
What the Knicks Did Tonight:
NYK trades 11th pick to OKC
OKC trades 3 firsts (23 DEN, DET, WASH) to NYK
NYK then trades 23 DEN, 4 seconds to CHA for 13th pick
NYK then trade 13th pick & Kemba Walker to DET for MKE’s 25 first
NYK trades 11, Kemba, 4 2nds & gets 3 future 1sts
This is what it looks like when an NBA team galaxy falls into oblivion.
Functionally, the Knicks didn’t just trade the 11th overall pick. They effectively traded both No. 11 and No. 13† That’s impossible to digest from 11th place in the Eastern Conference.
Those who had hoped that the Knicks would continue to act like a normal organization argued, at various stages throughout the night, as details trickled out, that this could be part of an effort to push out a larger trade package. to work. It was not.
New York has dumped Kemba Walker and the cap is holding a raffle for exactly the reason you think it did: to get a run on Jalen Brunson in free agency.
Marc Stein †TheSteinLine
The Pistons get Jalen Duren… and the Knicks, which is more important for immediate free agency business, deposit Kemba Walker’s salary to Detroit to fund their free pursuit of Jalen Brunson. https://t.co/DDs1fk3JGC
Do these three additional future first-rounders — all heavily protected, one of which has a fair chance of never transferring (Washington’s 2023 first) — make the pain go away? I’m afraid they don’t.
Jake Fischer †JakeLisher
If the 2023 DET is not carried over for the first time in 2027, it will become DET’s second rounder for 2027.
If the WAS of 2023 does not transfer in 2026 for the first time, it will become 2026 and 2027 seconds from Wizards.
If the 2023 DEN is not transferred for the first time in 2025, it will be 2025 and 2025 seconds from Denver. https://t.co/w9MyjiCGcd
After factoring in Mitchell Robinson’s (miniature) free-agent holding, the Knicks exit draft night with about $15 million to $16 million in space if they defeat Ryan Arcidiacono (free-agent hold) and Taj Gibson (non- guaranteed) to be thrown overboard. This essentially means they jumped through all these hoops of the draft night to…come within one extra salary dump of offering a market value contract to Brunson, expected to fetch more than $20 million a year, according to Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer†
There are many flaws in this latest Knicks scheme. Chief among them: the Dallas Mavericks exist. The Mavs could be dangling ahead of Brunson for a fifth year, and team governor Mark Cuban certainly sounds like someone willing to pay him. Fischer also noted in an episode of the Please don’t merge this podcast (sorry, Jake!) that Brunson’s return to Big D is being portrayed as “basically a foregone conclusion.”
Things change. So let’s assume they have that. The Knicks recently hired Rick Brunson, Jalen’s father, to join Thibs’ staff. Leon Rose, team president of basketball operations, is also Jalen’s former agent. And further, the Knicks can’t do this without some assurance that they have a chance to pry Brunson out of Dallas.
Brunson is entering a stellar season with an average of 16.3 points and 4.8 assists, beating 54.5 percent of his twos and 37.3 percent of those threes. The only other players to match or exceed these benchmarks: Kevin Durant and Jrue Holiday.
Brunson’s star rose even further in the playoffs, where he maimed the Utah Jazz in the first round while keeping the Mavs afloat without Luka Doncic. The pressure he puts on the defense in the court with his footwork and finishing is really impressive. Of every player who had 500 or more drives last season, Brunson’s 56.7 percent recording clip was fourth, behind only those of Chris Paul, Karl-Anthony Towns and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Adding Brunson to the fold would be admirable if your team needs a last piece, or if your best player also happens to be a top-10 star. The Knicks are nowhere near a finished product, nor do they have a legitimate star in their service.
There is a real chance that Brunson will become their best player if he signs with them. He alone doesn’t guarantee a playoff spot, let alone an even rosier ceiling. Best case scenario: Brunson, RJ Barrett, and Julius Randle all exist on similar planes. That leaves New York… still smack dab in the middle of the Eastern Conference, rippling along at their pace of four winning seasons since 2001.
And this assumes the Knicks actually get Brunson.
Plans B are limited if he doesn’t go to New York. This is not the summer to have material cap space, so of course the goal is to have material cap space this summer.
They are on a large scale expect to run in a Malcolm Brogdon trade with the Indiana Pacers as they sniff Brunson—a contingency befitting a franchise seemingly obsessed with acquiring non-observers earning more than $20 million a year.
This is not a harmless dose of myopic thinking. This is organizational malpractice – the kind of short circuit that should cost those responsible their jobs.
Alan Sepinwall †sepinwall
Once this is done, everyone in the Knicks front office should be fired immediately. Kemba’s salary for next season – in a contract that this front office signed him – is only $8 million. https://t.co/hHANfMTNe7
Knowing this latest crisis a little more New York alluded to reformation at the beginning of the Leon Rose era.
It’s not like the Knicks lost every trade. (This regime is usually well-drafted.) Their missteps, such as last year’s first-round swap, were marginal. Of course, they are clearly overestimating how they would build on their 2020-21 success. But their most unforgivable moves so far have included rushing to renew Julius Randle (four years, $117 million) and giving Evan Fournier three guaranteed years, while handing out just two to Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel.
In New York’s defense, there’s still a lot of off-season runway to cover. And head coach Tom Thibodeau probably would have ignored both lottery prospects in pursuit of 35 to 43 wins. None of them are as comforting as they are terrifying.
Thursday night, the Knicks again revealed the truth about themselves. And the truth is that they are forever an organization in their own way, unfit for change, eternally married to the middle.
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead, or Cleaning the Glass. Salary information via Spotrac.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by NBA Math’s Adam Fromal.