This summer, having freed up cap space by trading Kristaps Porzingis to the Mavericks, is when its all meant to change for James Dolan’s team. A loaded free agent class, including Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler, has the Big Apple expectant. At worst, the Knicks will have the fifth pick in the draft, putting them potentially in position to swing a big trade for Anthony Davis or another All-Star.
The Porzingis trade elevated offseason expectations. It widened the range of outcomes, too.
With Porzingis still there, the worst-case scenario meant they had one All-Star calibre player and a high draft pick. The worst-case now is uglier.
The Knicks could start 2019/20 with much of the same roster as this season with another young player who needs time to develop.
The best-case leapt with the Porzingis deal. It is possible – and no one knows how likely – that the Knicks land two elite free agents and get lucky in the lottery, allowing them to select Zion Williamson. Even if isn’t Zion, Ja Morant or R.J. Barrett would be a major addition.
There are plenty of other potential outcomes between those two extremes. Perhaps Durant stays in California and Irving doesn’t fancy the Knicks without the former MVP. Maybe the Knicks land Kemba Walker and Jimmy Butler, giving them two All-Star level talents and they draft third or fourth.
This is where it gets hard to draw the line on what ‘success’ will be this summer for Dolan and co.
Butler and Walker are very good. They are a way off the Durant and Irving dream team, though, and handing them long deals as they head into their age-30 and age-29 seasons respectively isn’t ideal.
The Knicks are unlikely to contend for a title with Walker and Butler as their best players. Is it championship or bust for Dolan? Or is being competitive good enough after years of poor results?
Getting one of Durant or Irving seems unlikely, though it’s not impossible. One star, as brilliant as they are, cannot transform this Knicks team into a contender. Together, Durant and Irving will immediately make the Knicks a force in the Eastern Conference. Should the Knicks end the summer with Durant, Irving and Williamson, plenty of people will tip them for the title.
In this hypothetical, what if Irving stays in Boston and Durant moves? What if Durant recruits Walker or Butler?
Well, Durant alone would make the Knicks a threat. Walker would be the more natural fit. Should Irving head to the Big Apple without Durant, he could, of course, recruit other players himself, perhaps attracting Butler away from Philadelphia.
Acquiring Durant and/or Irving is necessary for this summer to be a ‘success’. It opens doors, and singlehandedly puts the Knicks back on the NBA map after years in the lottery wilderness.
With two of the top tier free agents on board, the Knicks can then change their approach. They have a stock of draft picks and younger players that could interest rebuilding teams. Maybe they join the Davis sweepstakes or contact Washington about Bradley Beal.
There is a route to a three All-Star team. Without Durant or Irving, though, the Knicks face a challenge to construct a roster capable of winning a title.