We're Back, Baby!

Unless you're the Knicks. Then you're staying home.

Well, it’s official:

If we’re being honest, this always made the most sense.

A 20-team, group stage play was an awesome idea, but the NBA never chooses the coolest idea when a perfectly acceptable, less radical, more boring alternative is available.

As for 30 teams, it never made sense once we accepted the fact that this was going to be a triage situation. Things like equal number of games and RSN money for all simply couldn’t be prioritized given the health concerns of having some 280 extra, unnecessary people in the NBA’s bubble (35 for each of the eight teams that won’t be in attendance). It never made sense to bring everyone back, especially not with most of the dregs simply wanting to keep their lottery balls.

And thus, the Knicks season is over. Key dates for them include August 25 for the lottery, October 15 for the draft, October 18 for the start of free agency, and in what can only be described as a ridiculously ambitious goal, November 10 for the beginning of training camp, with a December 1 target for the start of the 2020-21 season. Via Shams, some sort of combine will occur before the draft

All told, best case scenario, the Knicks will be out of commission for 264 days, or roughly two and a half months more than they would have been had this all not taken place. Could be better, could be worse.

As far as their lottery odds, those will remain unchanged. New York will have a 9.0 percent chance at the first pick and a 37.2 percent chance at a top-four selection, with the most likely scenario being either the 7th (29.8 percent chance) or 8th (20.6 percent) pick. That final win against Atlanta may indeed come back to haunt them.

Oh, and they can now officially begin their coaching search. By the look of things, they will be wasting no time getting to it.

ICYMI, I wrote about Thibs last week. While he has his faults, he’s also the safest choice. As Ian Begley wrote yesterday, quoting another NBA coach:

“He's an elite defensive coach. There's no question. Those guys will be playing hard for him and, if they follow his scheme, they'll defend the pick-and-roll well. They'll take away drives and control the paint. His schemes are excellent, but as we saw in Minnesota, the schemes alone can't offset lack of effort from players or subpar defenders.”

The schemes alone can't offset lack of effort from players or subpar defenders.

The Knicks, by the by, should not be looking to build around poor defenders who don’t give a shit. Give him his horses and let them run. I, for one, am excited to watch.

So while the Knicks will be out of commission for some time, it doesn’t mean fans won’t have anything to watch with piqued interest when the games resume on July 31.

Ever since the day Leon Rose was rumored for the job, the tea leaves have been shouting that he would go star-hunting sooner rather than later. I keep racking my brain about this, for one simple reason: unless they want to do something stupid, the Knicks don’t seem to be in a great position for a swing-for-the-fences trade.

Jeremy, Shwin, Drew and I did a two-part pod on this when the whole Donovan Mitchell drama was happening, but in short, if they empty the cupboard for a legit difference-maker, they won’t have anything left to acquire a second star, and then be entirely reliant on free agency. On the other hand, trading good assets for a faux star is fraught with peril for a whole host of other reasons.

With that preface, this week’s Friday Top Ten features 10 players Knicks fans should be keeping their eyes on over the rest of the NBA season. For the reasons explained in the last paragraph, I wouldn’t put even five percent odds on any one of these guys starting next season in a Knick uniform (and as you’ll see with the first name, some odds are precisely zero). But the Knicks hired Brock Aller - master of pick protections and creative accounting - for a reason. As such, I think a year from now, there’s a 50/50 shot at least one of the names below is in New York.

(BTW, I’m stealing this idea from my fantastic editor at SI.com, Howard Megdal, who pitched us on writing about some of the 22 teams still alive from New York’s perspective. There’s lots of great stuff happening with the Knicks crew over there. I’d recommend giving KnicksSI a follow on Twitter if you aren’t already, as well as our fantastic individual writers.)

Ranked roughly in order of how closely I’ll be paying attention from the Knicks POV…

10. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Along with 28 other teams, yes, the Knicks should care how the Bucks do.

If Milwaukee gets bounced early, the rumor mill will be on overdrive. That said, I’m only putting him here as a courtesy to the fact that Leon Rose may actually be the Godfather. In other words, on the slim chance there is a Giannis sweepstakes this summer, absent a horse’s head or a coordinated hit of several opposing GM’s, the Knicks don’t have the assets to get involved.

9. Donovan Mitchell

They won’t trade him this summer, no matter how ugly the rest of Utah’s season gets. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all be rooting for the rest of Utah’s season to be very, very ugly. Like Giannis, if Mitchell doesn’t sign the max extension that will surely be offered to him on the first day of free agency, the vultures will immediately start circling, and who knows what could transpire down the line.

8. Victor Oladipo

Which would be the most Knicks thing ever:

  • Overpaying for ‘Dipo in a trade this summer and then watching him re-injure his previously ruptured quad, or….

  • Overpaying for ‘Dipo in a trade this summer and then watching him recapture his pre-injury form…only to see him leave as a free agent in a year?

There’s just too much risk for me to see this one happening this summer, but watching Oladipo return to form certainly makes the 2021 offseason a lot more interesting.

7. Lonzo Ball

6. Brandon Ingram

The Pelicans, in case you haven’t heard, are a small market team.

That small market is New Orleans, which just so happens to rely on its tourism and has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. The Benson family also owns the team that employs Drew Brees, who just keeps digging, and needs fannies in the seats, as they do not have bottomless pockets.

Ball is extension eligible this summer, while Ingram is a restricted free agent. Jrue Holiday, who David Griffin has thus far insisted on not trading, is a free agent in 2021. Re-signing Ingram alone might put them over a reduced cap.

All in all, would it shock anyone if they made a cost cutting move this summer? Ingram would require an all-in sign & trade from Rose, but he might be good enough to justify it. Yes, it would mean RJ going back in the deal, plus (I’m guessing) New York’s unprotected 2021 pick, and that might not even get it done.

And Ball, well…might as well make it easier to film the family reality show by having all the sons play under one roof, right? I kid, I kid…

Both of these guys would be a lot higher if the Pels didn’t just draft a center in the lottery last year. Remember: Mitchell Robinson is a Louisiana native.

5. De’Aaron Fox

4. Marvin Bagley

ICYMI:

That’s De’Aaron Fox calling Marvin Bagley’s dad a clown on Snapchat.

Let’s just say I’m keeping eye on the Kings from here on in. Fox is the dream, but Bagley at the right cost could make sense too.

3. Aaron Gordon

I know, I know…save your bitching.

As Zach Lowe has said many times, Gordon is a player who fancies himself in the LeBron James mold when he should be modeling his game after Draymond Green. We just saw the unbearable fun that it was to watch a skilled but flawed power forward attempt to play over his weight class night after night. Good times. Making matters worse, Gordon’s once promising 3-point shooting has also regressed.

All that said, he’s one of the most logical trade candidates in the NBA, with a descending salary and Jonathan Isaac waiting to take his job. Under Thibs, Gordon’s defensive versatility, alongside Mitchell Robinson, could be devastating. I could talk about the damage that Mitch, Gordon and Frank could do together, but then I’d need a cold shower.

The Magic are over the cap without even factoring in a new contract for unrestricted free agents Evan Fournier and Michael Carter-Williams. I say Gordon is the one to get moved. Knox and some kind of legit draft asset might get the conversation started. Then the Knicks would just need to find a taker for Randle.

2. Devin Booker

There are two names that I have convinced myself - by way of nothing more than my fanciful imagination - are at the top of Leon Rose’ hit list of players he will attempt to trade the farm for in the next year or so.

One is Devin Booker, who does not profile as the best player on a championship team, and thus, I couldn’t see the Knicks going all all in for (and that’s if the Suns ever decided to move him, which I can’t imagine they’d do unless he asked out).

But if there are two situations I want to get really bad, starting July 31, one is Phoenix, while the other…

1. Joel Embiid

…is Philly.

I’ll have a piece coming soon for SI.com about this, but suffice it to say that every Knicks fan should be monitoring the Sixers closely. I’d argue that no team outside of Milwaukee has as much to lose and as much to gain in the next ~12 months than Philadelphia.

I refuse to let this one go away.

That’s it for today! See everyone with a fresh newsletter on Monday. Stay strong and stay safe. #BlackLivesMatter