The New York Knicks have not made the playoffs since 2013. They have not won more than 32 games since 2013/14, when Carmelo Anthony led the league in minutes per game and was second to Kevin Durant in points per game.
Three top 10 picks in the last four years have brought Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox to Madison Square Garden. Money has been committed to Enes Kanter, Courtney Lee and Lance Thomas, with Lee and Thomas not expiring until after next season.
The Knicks are always at the heart of free agent speculation. Durant is supposedly the target this offseason, but even that would require some significant roster changes. With committed money and a dire record, the Knicks look like they are in a bad way.
In many ways, though, they have a claim to be the NBA’s most interesting team in the medium-term.
Porzingis, assuming he returns to his usual self after his injury, is special. He shoots over people, he leaves spectators in awe with his pinpoint accurate shooting from a towering seven feet, three inches. His long injury layoff set the Knicks back, but it might turn out to be a blessing in disguise, seeing as it helped them pick high enough to get Knox and could see them draft in the top three this year.
Knox became the sixth-youngest player in NBA history to score 30 points in a game against Philadelphia. The projections for him are sky-high at the moment. He is big, he can dribble, and he can defend. He’s shooting a respectable 36% from three. Knox can definitely become a multiple-time All-Star.
Ntilikina has been a less successful pick so far, despite being selected a place higher (eighth overall) than Knox and a year earlier. The athletic point guard is at -1.6 win shares for his career. The 20-year-old has plenty of time to develop, but there’s a long, long way to go before he can be considered a starter on a contender.
Donovan Mitchell was selected five picks later than Ntilikina. Kyle Kuzma was a further 14 picks after the Jazz shooting guard. It’s still too early to judge the 2017 class, and The French Prince could yet look a good choice, but it seems a big ask right now.
Still, the young trio make the Knicks intriguing. Their ceilings are high, which is the sort of optimism any team that has been as bad as the Knicks for the last five years should have. The MSG crowd deserve flickering positivity at the very least for all the recent drama.
Then there’s the simple fact that they are in New York. That makes them relevant in free agency, which few teams struggling as much as the Knicks right now can claim to be.
Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers have a minute or zero chance of landing one of this offseason’s stars. The Knicks are, assuming they can clear the cap space, in real contention for Durant, and perhaps some of the others. Kyrie Irving said he would stay in Boston, but that could change. Jimmy Butler’s future is up in the air. Kemba Walker could yet be available.
The majority of the league are a lot better than the Knicks right now. Few have the potential for growth in the way they do, though, with Porzingis, Knox and the prospect of a superstar (or, and whisper it, maybe even two.)
Add Zion Williamson or RJ Barrett to that mix and you have a team that would end the playoff drought. Just having Porzingis back with an improving Knox would make the Knicks a playoff team in the shallow Eastern Conference. Complementing that with a marquee free agent and a top draft pick and New York finally have a contender.
There are a lot of ifs over the next year or two. With uncertainty, though, comes excitement. No one really knows what the Knicks will be in 2019/20. They might sign a star, Porzingis might get traded, or Knox could breakout big time.
The only way is up, but it’s a question of the size of the ascent. It is not unrealistic that the Knicks are a top two or three team in the East in 12 months. And sure, they could be 13th or 14th again, but the range of outcomes is what makes the Knicks interesting, if a little stressful for their loyal fans.