A lot to cover from Lottery night. Thank you to everyone who came out and watched with us last night. If you couldn’t get inside because it was so full, we apologize for that. Hopefully, we get a bigger venue when we are watching a *playoff game* together next year at this time.
There is so much to cover from last night that I am going to split the newsletter into two. This email will be Jonathan Macri’s takeaways and we will cover everything else in a separate email
Well that was...something.
As I was traveling home from the bar last night (and shout out to everyone who came out. The final number is still pending, but we raised a good amount of money for charity), the thought that kept going through my head was a memory of a random regular season Steelers-Falcons game from 2002.
The game ended in a tie. Afterwards, Bill Cowher didn't know how to react, as his brain was so hardwired in the Lombardi style of winning being the only thing. He sat at the podium afterwards and just kept going back and forth, "It's not a win...but it's not a loss," almost attempting to talk himself into feeling one way or another about the outcome. He ended looking as perplexed as he started.
That's kind of how I feel this morning. The Knicks certainly didn't win. If you're waiting for me to talk up RJ Barrett as the second coming of Kobe, it's not happening. And it's not because he couldn't be, because who the hell knows; it's because in a league that's all about how valuable your assets are vs the other guy's assets, the value of the first pick right this second is monumentally higher than the 3rd.
But asset valuation is also why last night wasn't a loss. Again, we have no idea if RJ will be Kobe Bryant or Nick Young, but right now, the third pick has a legitimate value over and above those below it, more so than might be the case in other drafts.
I'm not getting into the why the math says last night was actually a win for the Knicks, because who cares. They were roughly twice as likely to fall to 4 or 5 as they were to get 1 or 2. Math is fun.
Let's instead start to look forward, because we're Knicks fans, dammit. Hope is always around the next corner.
Here are my takeaways:
I know a lot of Knick fans won't want to hear this, but it's setting up to be a showdown between NY and LA for Anthony Davis. I get that we all have the same dream of a team full of homegrown kids putting the Knicks back on the map via a slow and steady process, a'la the 90's teams. I also get that all of our butts are still hurting from how the Melo trade went down, and there's a fear that this would just be version 2.0 of that. I get that AD will be a free agent in a year, and there's the thinking that if he wants to come here, let him come in free agency, dammit. I get all of it. But this is Anthony Freaking Davis, a 26-year-old 3x First Team All-NBA player who was 3rd in both MVP and DPOY voting just one year ago. If he stays healthy (and for all of his bumps and bruises, he doesn't have any long-term injury concerns to speak of like, say, Amere's knees), he will spend the next five years competing with Giannis for the title of the league's best player. If you are the GM of a team that he will potentially commit to playing for long term, and you have a chance to trade for him, not exploring every avenue to make that happen would be equal parts negligent and reckless. The question of whether they would have given up Zion to get Davis is one thing, but we no longer have to ask that. All that said...
A Davis trade is incredibly, incredibly complicated, and the timeline matters here so, so much. My guess is that the Pelicans will want a trade agreed to by draft night, even if it can't be executed until later for salary cap purposes. If that's the case, the Knicks will have to put an offer together not yet knowing whether they will need to preserve a second max salary slot for a second max free agent, because free agency will still be 10 days away. So do you agree to trade away all the kids except for maybe Mitch - that’s the only way the math works, although it’s a little more complicated with the third pick - to keep that option open? Or if there's a deal you love that's centered on draft picks (say, both Mavs' picks and two future New York firsts), do you make it with the confidence that AD plus the young players will be enough to entice Kevin Durant to come here and that KD doesn't require Kyrie Irving as part of what gets him to come to New York? On that note...
Durant truly does loom so large over all of this. If you trade for Davis and don't get KD, then you may have just screwed yourself. The reporting yesterday was that Davis would commit to New York long term if he thought he could win here. If they get KD, that's an easy decision for him. If not, you may have just emptied the coffers for a one-year rental. Can the Knicks take that chance? Will they have enough intel to know whether KD is coming before making the Davis trade? Or will they have to make somewhat of a leap of faith? This is all connected.
Yes, it's easy to say "Don’t take the chance and just draft Barrett." That sounds lovely, but I cannot fathom a worse basketball fit than KD and a 19-year-old RJ Barrett who's figuring out how to balance his iso tendencies with team-first play at this level. Drafting Barrett, in my mind, could be something of a death knell to the Knicks chances for Durant, and if they did go that route, odds are they'd bypass signing any big free agents this summer and go full in on the continued rebuild. I cannot properly put into words the amount of balls this would take, or how much faith the front office would need to have in the idea of Barrett as a special, special player to essentially pick him over a future that includes Durant and Star X, not to mention endure the media backlash that would occur if they “struck out” this summer, even if the strikeout was somewhat intentional.If Perry did have a sack so large as to do the above, I will say that there’s more than enough bad money out there that teams will want to unload this summer that the Knicks could end July with the most loaded draft asset coffers the NBA will have seen since Boston after the Nets trade.Oh, on the “AD can just sign here in 2020” point - something that could theoretically happen if the Knicks go the route I just mentioned - my bet is that if the Knicks don’t trade for him, the Lakers will. That organization is desperate for a win, and if New York is gun-shy, their full sushi boat package of Ingram, Ball, etc is now bolstered by the 4th pick. Anthony Davis will never see free agency. There is no Markinson, er, Davis.
Small but somewhat important point I haven't seen made yet: the AD sweepstakes lost a potential suitor last night because the team with the rights to Zion can't trade him to New Orleans (not that the Pelicans mind). Had the Bulls or Suns or whoever else won the lottery, they could have emerged as a dark horse contender for AD.
So what the hell do the Knicks do if they don't want to pay the price for AD (or don't feel they can take the risk based on what I wrote above) but still want KD? It’s the scenario I've thought for months is the most likely non-Zion outcome: either trading down in the draft for more of a win-now player with perhaps a lower ceiling, or trading out of the draft altogether for someone that won't cost as much as AD. The latter is far easier said than done, because as I went through in this space a few weeks ago, there just aren't a lot of available trades for a worthy player that leave the Knicks with a second max slot (although I’m 100% calling Miami about Josh Richardson), which then gets back to the question of whether they'll even need that slot for a second max free agent, or whether they can cannibalize it to acquire a player (Bradley Beal, perhaps) that will come at a lower price tag in terms of assets than Davis but who would be equally enticing for KD.
With all that as the backdrop, here's my bet: if the Knicks have enough intel to know the AD/KD situation will work out in their favor, they push all of their chips into the middle of the table and make that trade. If they don't, and they believe RJ Barrett is the best player on the board by even a slight margin, they'll draft him and worry about dealing him later for stuff that makes more sense to pair with Durant. If they're lukewarm on Barrett and/or there's too good of an offer to pass up, they'll trade out of the spot.
So there you have it. Lots at stake, lots of balls in the air, and lots of ways for this summer to still go very, very right (and more than a few ways for things to still go quite wrong).