A Month from the Past & Towards the Future
The Knicks find themselves at an interesting crossroads
In this Newsletter:
One month ago today, following a 4-18 start, the Knicks fired their head coach.
Yesterday, the Knicks barely lost to perhaps the best team in the NBA, albeit one missing their best player, but that looked every bit the part of a title favorite regardless.
One month from right now, the NBA’s trade deadline will be here, and with it, the moment by which this Knicks team must decide what it wants to be, certainly this season, and maybe beyond.
If there were ever a crossroads for a team that is seemingly always alternating between left and right, forward and reverse, it is right now.
Perhaps “crossroads” is a bit of a strong term for a team that is 10-26, but at the same time, the Knicks don’t quite feel like a typical 10-26 team. They have now played a month of basketball under a head coach who everyone seems to agree - organizational issues aside - is a vast improvement from his predecessor.
The Knicks are 6-8 under his watch with what has been a representative sample size of games and opponents. They have a negative 1.1 net rating in that time, good enough for 18th in the league. In that span, they sport the 21st ranked defense and, following a 132-point outburst yesterday against a top-ten Clips D, the 14th ranked offense in basketball.
Read that sentence again if you have to. A team that looked like it would set modern records for scoring futility has been in the top half of the league under Miller. A gutted, rudderless roster indeed.
They also gave up 135 yesterday, and did just enough to lose admirably. That fact is as important as any other, at least when it comes to where they go for the rest of the season, and more specifically, who comes along for the ride.
Nothing of note is being achieved this year, at least not where something like the playoffs is concerned. If the Knicks wind up hanging onto the guy who kept yesterday from being a 20-point blowout, they will be doing so against the logic of most “modern” strains of thought where team-building is concerned.
Marcus Morris again stood by his locker after yesterday’s loss, as he has a few times this year, and repeated that he not only wants to be here now, but for the long term:
It’s nice to hear this from the guy who, on balance, has not only been the team’s best player, but perhaps the one as responsible for this turnaround as Mike Miller himself. After all, he called and by all indications led the now-famous team meeting after which accountability became more than a buzzword.
To “smart” basketball Twitter, the value of keeping Morris around following the trade deadline is a punchline at the expense of people who are too dumb to take part in the conversation. Those folks are confident in their assessment that whatever value he brings on the court and in the locker room, let alone how much this organization would benefit simply by finishing the season more respectably than they would otherwise, pales in comparison to whatever asset he returns via trade.
And those folks might be right. Even a couple of high second round picks and a promising young player - the return that on today’s podcast I theorized they would get for Morris from Philadelphia, the place I think he’ll eventually land - can be immensely valuable to a rebuilding team, which the Knicks certainly are.
But there is no guarantee any of those assets turn into anything. Morris, despite the fact that he can (and, should the Knicks not pony up the bag, certainly will) walk after this season, is the best guarantee they have going. And for a franchise that would benefit more than anything simply from feeling good about itself to end this season that started so disastrously, that is a guarantee not to be taken lightly.
So with apologies to all of the smartest guys in the room, I think this is a tough call. If the offers are low to the point of absurdity (which I can’t imagine they will be - Morris could make the difference in a playoff seres. He’s that good), I’d keep him.
Ultimately though, I think you have to make the best deal that will almost certainly be on the table. Part of that has to do with the fact that, yes, Morris can just re-sign in New York this summer if he truly does want to be here long term, and no, keeping him really doesn’t make that scenario any more likely. Money talks and bullshit walks, as Morris himself reminded Gregg Popovich this July.
More importantly, the Knicks are less than 18 months removed from spending a top-ten pick on Kevin Knox. He needs time on the court. And not just the practice court.
Julius Randle is not going anywhere, and for as long as he and Morris are here, they will both continue playing right around their season average of 32 minutes a game. The Knicks have another promising rookie in Iggy Brazdeikis that needs time with the big club, not to mention RJ Barrett, who everyone agrees could probably use some more time at the three. Bobby Portis also exists, and for the moment, still plays here.
Yesterday, Knox played six minutes. In one tight game, that is fine, as is his season average of nearly 20 minutes. But moving forward, that number should probably go up, as should his role in an offense that, for as long as Morris and Randle are here, will feature those two men first and everyone else (even RJ Barrett lately) second.
To that end, yesterday Ian Begley released an interview with Knox’s trainer Mark Edwards, who himself is a long-time Knicks fan. Definitely check it out if you haven’t already. In it, Edwards was asked about Knox’s progress as a ball-handler, and this is what he had to say:
I think it's a little bit more difficult to showcase new movement if you're constantly looking over your shoulder, not being sure of how many minutes you're going to play regardless of (how you play). Most veterans will know, "I'm coming in the game at this point, I'll be out at this point and I'll be back in at this point." I think with Kev, his minutes had been so sporadic, he was looking over his shoulder a lot. For him, I think he went to take the more comfortable route which is knocking down the open shot - which he's really good at doing. But I think if he was a little bit more confident in his playing time then he'd arguably get better shot attempts, he'd be able to showcase his ability to handle the ball.
Knox is a great kid (as the interview makes clear), and he’ll never be one to gripe. We also don’t need a repeat of last year, when he was given minutes carte blanche, regardless of how poorly he was performing.
But the Knicks need to know what kind of asset they have here. Maybe they’re supremely confident in that and are just biding their time to unleash Knox onto the world, but something tells me that’s not the case.
Moving Morris, while neither an easy decision nor a painless one, is the right thing to do given all factors at play, and his value may never be higher than what it is right now.
If yesterday was something of a capper to his brief career in New York, it was a great one. If and when he goes, he’ll be remembered fondly.
And who knows…maybe this won’t be his last act as a Knick after all.
On that note, a couple of other tidbits from the last two games:
Valiant stuff from Elf, coming bak to the team on Friday following the birth of his daughter. He had a wonderful game that was marred by two late turnovers and a bad three he probably should have passed on. Still, give the guy credit for being with his team. That said…
The point guard position didn’t really skip a beat without him yesterday. Frank Ntilikina has been struggling from deep, but has really found a nice groove inside the arc since being moved to the bench, going 9-for-12 from 2-point range since being moved to the bench. His connection with Mitchell Robinson was once again on display in LA:Mitch's touch around the paint on lobs is insane. Love the pump fake and attack from Frank, too. Once that shot gets more consistent (it will and has already shown improvement), he'll be so easy to play with pretty much any lineup configuration
Kadeem Allen, meanwhile, played his first extended, meaningful minutes of the season, and while he had a few jittery turnovers and some uncharacteristic misses, he reminded everyone of the player we all saw last season who 100% belongs somewhere in an NBA rotation.
RJ Barrett (talk about burying the lead) had his best game as a pro. He had 24 points on just 11 shots. Not that there was any reason to legitimately worry about the 19-year-old, but it still felt like he needed this one. After going 9-for-11 from the line, he has now taken 150 free throws on the season. Only two other rookies (Ja Morant, 146, and Eric Paschall, 116) have taken over 100. Following a brutal first 10 games, he has now hit 66 percent from the line over his last 25 games. His assists continue to dwindle as he’s being used less to initiate the offense, but he has passing in his veins. He will be fine.
Lastly, Mitchell Robinson came back down to earth a bit. He’s 21. This will happen. While getting owned by ‘Trez early and often yesterday couldn’t have been fun, he came back with some nice plays in the second half, which you love to see. Ditto from the RJ section: Mitch will be fine.
Does anyone have a gold star? How about a cookie? I could use a cookie to start my week off.
Whatever it is, I want something to recognize the fact that I have now made two, count’em two, consecutive wise PredictionStrike investing tips.
In the middle of last week, I highlighted Mitchell Robinson right before he had his best game of the season (we’ll conveniently ignore this weekend’s return to earth). Then on Friday, I pinpointed Kelly Oubre Jr. as a wise investment just ahead of his 29-point, five-board and three-steal outing versus New York.
Those two picks might be a coincidence, but now I’m going for a trend. The Knicks play the Lakers tomorrow night, and at the moment, they are indeed a fully operational planet-destroying battle station. One of LeBron ($18.76 a share) and AD ($9.72) will surely go off, but where is the fun (or value) in picking one of those guys to light up the Knicks.
Instead, let’s go for hometown hero Danny Green. Green started off the year trading at $0.93, but has dipped to just $0.66 following a seven-point dud on Sunday. The Knicks have struggled to contain the league’s very-best shooters all season long, as their entire defense is predicated on walling off the paint, even if it means giving a hair too much space on the perimeter.
Green is one of those guys who, if you give him an inch, he’ll take a mile, which is maybe the reason he always seems to finish with a handful of threes against the Knicks. I’d take a shot.
If you are in the buying mood and are new to the PredictionStrike game, don’t forget to click here and use code KFS for $10 towards your initial investment of $10 or more. Happy investing!
Much Ado About Nothing?
If you’re interested and in case you missed it, I wrote about the Kawhi Leonard story that maybe shouldn’t have been a story but was anyway over the weekend. In short, it’s not everything, but it’s not nothing, and should absolutely factor into how we judge this front office moving forward, for reasons I explain here. Have at it if you please…
Before we get to whether or not this Kawhi thing matters (it does, just maybe not for the reasons you think) and whether there’s a good reason for such a story to be taking up people’s time six months after the fact (there is, kind of), let’s get the actual facts straight:
The initial reporting on the story left it unclear as to whether there was a meeting scheduled between the sides that was then cancelled, or whether a potential meeting was contemplated, and then taken off the table once free agency started to play out:
It would seem that Bleacher Report took liberty with Marc Berman’s original report, which quite clearly stated “Leonard agreed to meet with the Knicks.”
Based off of what Leonard actually said last night, it’s not completely clear that the “agreeing” part is untrue.
Stef Bondy’s original question – “Why didn’t [the meeting] happen, and why were they a team that you might have considered” – left Kawhi’s “No” response to Bondy’s follow up question (“So it wasn’t true?”) a bit unclear.
Likely sensing the ambiguity, Ian Begley then asks a follow up, specifically about whether a meeting was scheduled, and Kawhi hesitates before he proceeds to mumble something about “a date” and “scheduled” before ultimately saying “not that I was aware of.”
My partially educated guess: Leonard’s people, and specifically Uncle Dennis, were in communication with the Knicks throughout the process, and probably danced around the possibility of a meeting, with Kawhi’s team stringing along New York as if they were a possible option. Once it became clear that this wasn’t true, the Knicks said “you know what? Never mind.”
This would back up what I had been hearing at the time, which is that Dennis and the Knicks were in communication, and he had an interest in getting his nephew to consider them as a landing spot.
So did anyone actually lie here? You could easily make the case that, no, no one did. For all we know, the Knicks were given an assurance a courtesy meeting would take place if New York insisted, and they did indeed “scratch” that plan, as Berman said.
To me though, all of this is entirely besides the point.
News & Notes
compiled by Michael Schatz (@mschatz99)
I recapped the Clips game for SI.com yesterday. Here’s the link if you’d like to help make me look good.
Marc Berman with the latest on Mook.
On This Date: Knicks acquire Derek Harper
by Vivek Dadhania (@vdadhania)
With Doc Rivers out for the remainder of the season with a torn left ACL, the Knicks acquired Derek Harper from the Dallas Mavericks for Tony Campbell and a 1997 1st Round Draft Pick (John Thomas).
That’s it for today! See everyone with another newsletter tomorrow :)