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There has to be something else. Right?
The Knicks were a perfectly delightful team to watch for all 72 games of this past season. They played hard. They had wonderful chemistry. They were dynamically coached. They clearly enjoyed playing together. For a while there, the Garden sounded the way the Garden is supposed to sound, the way it used to sound, until the Hawks kicked the plug out of the wall.
Good stuff, all of it. Tom Thibodeau was Coach of the Year. Julius Randle was an All-Star, and second-team All-NBA, and won Most Improved Player. RJ Barrett may have actually improved even more. There was momentum here. There was energy. There was …
I mean, seriously.
There has to be something else. Right?
The Knicks, in essence, kicked off free agency by declaring they were running it back. They re-signed three of their own free agents: Derrick Rose, Alec Burks, and Nerlens Noel, to deals totaling $105 million spread across the next three years. They allowed Reggie Bullock to migrate to Dallas and replaced him with what, right now, stands as their signature offseason acquisition: Evan Fournier, three years (plus a club option), as much as $78 million.
Are they better this moment than they were 24 hours ago?
On paper, sure. Fournier is an upgrade over Bullock. He has had an up-and-down pro career, though those able to fight insomnia have seen the very best of him in the Olympic tournament where he represents France.
But “better,” in this case, is truly in the eye of the beholder. The Knicks have gained no ground on the teams that finished north of them in the East (76ers, Bucks, Nets). The teams south? The Bulls added Lonzo Ball. The Heat added Kyle Lowry. The Raptors added Gary Trent Jr. The Celtics and Pacers are almost sure to be better even if they add no one of significance. The Hawks are still the Hawks.
And one by one a checklist of high-profile point guards, a crying need for the Knicks, fell off the board. Ball to the Bulls. Chris Paul back to Phoenix. Mike Conley back to Utah. Norman Powell back to the Blazers. Now the Knicks are left to ponder the possibility of a trade if they’re going to upgrade there, with Cleveland’s Collin Sexton and Charlotte’s Terry Rozier possibilities.
There has to be something else. Has to be.
Leon Rose will eventually have to go on the record and explain this offseason strategy, which included some intricate dungeons-and-dragons maneuvering on draft night (which did yield promising point guard Miles McBride) and what, so far, seems like an ultra-safe trek through free agency. Rose hasn’t done that in over a year. It’s time to hear him clear his throat and explain where the Knicks are, and where they may be going.
Because it has to include more. All we glean now are hints. Noel’s re-signing suggests Mitchell Robinson’s health remains an issue (as did a photo that emerged Monday that apparently showed him wearing a walking boot). Rose is a Thibodeau favorite — but if we learned anything from last year, it is that the best version of Rose happens off the bench now, in singular shifts, as opposed to the multiple up-downs of a starter.
Burks is a very good player and he played well for the Knicks last year. But is the $10 million now committed to him the next three years going to strap them to the point at which they won’t have the flexibility to make a better move? Was he that essential?
These are things we need to hear from Leon Rose, among many others. Right now it is hard to conjure this as a top-six team in the East, and harder to imagine a way in which they can finagle a deal to change that — even if they are “better” today than they were yesterday.
Look, in some ways, this is just lousy timing and rotten luck. The Knicks were clearly a franchise with momentum, with a magnet coach, they were armed with both draft assets and cap space … in a free agent summer lacking either a high-end free agent, or restless stars looking to assemble in a new city.
Fair enough. So maybe there really is something else. Because right now the working adjective to describe the Knicks since the end of the regular season — the playoffs, the draft, free agency — isn’t one that’ll satisfy anyone:
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