The Knicks had chased stars in free agency, tanked their way to high lottery picks and still had a roster without the superstar that the team craved to lift the franchise’s fortunes and lure more stars to New York.
So a trade for Chris Paul, reuniting him with Knicks president Leon Rose, who had served as his agent before switching career paths, made sense. But the Knicks were shut out in the chase for Paul as he instead left Oklahoma City for Phoenix. Any notion of trading for Russell Westbrook may be quieted as the Rockets may be pushed to deal James Harden instead — with the cross-river rival Nets believed to be Harden’s preferred destination.
The Knicks' hopes now shift to Wednesday night’s NBA Draft, where Rose and his revamped front office hold the No. 8, 27 and 38 picks.
Paul certainly could have kickstarted any rebuild for coach Tom Thibodeau, who arrived in New York with a five-year contract but little desire anywhere in his coaching background for a slow build. But according to Paul’s former teammate, Matt Barnes, New York might have been the place for the 35-year-old point guard - if the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t left the probability that Madison Square Garden will be without fans this season.
"He was actually over here on Saturday afternoon for my twins’ birthday party, 'cause our kids go to school together, and we were discussing like, hey, where are you going to go?" Barnes said on SiriusXM NBA Radio Tuesday afternoon. "And he was saying the Knicks were an option but, you know, if he was going to New York he wanted the full Knick experience, meaning he wanted the fans. He wanted the essence. He wanted the ambience of that Madison Square Garden crowd.
"And going there now, you know, we don't know if that crowd will ever be back. Also mentioned talking about possibly wanting to come back to the Clippers but that didn't work, either. But I think Phoenix is a great fit for him. Him being the floor leader he is, and the intelligent player he is, I think he's going to take a lot off Devin Booker's plate. I think Devin Booker has the chance to possibly lead the league in scoring now because he has a man that’ll give him the ball in the right places whenever he needs it."
What Paul could do for Booker he might have done to accelerate the growth of RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson in New York. But instead, the Knicks are still searching for help. With the change in the front office, the Knicks do have their own work that was done by the previous regime as well as input from Walt Perrin, the longtime Utah Jazz scout, who was brought in as one of Rose’s first additions.
The draft is not filled with any surefire stars, which has had the teams with the top two picks - Minnesota and Golden State - considering trading down. The Knicks might have the assets to move up, but sources have indicated that they have their doubts about the two players most mock drafts have in the top spot, LaMelo Ball or Anthony Edwards.
At No. 8 the Knicks need just about everything but are believed to be eyeing athletic wing players. The most likely choices are Florida State’s Devin Vassell, his teammate Patrick Williams or Auburn’s Isaac Okoro. The Knicks have worked out Vassell, but not Okoro, among the 10 players they were allowed to visit with in person (and none of the top three players on the board - Ball, Edwards and James Wiseman - were among the workouts).
The Knicks have three point guards left from last year’s squad, but Elfrid Payton has a team option that the Knicks will have to make a decision on Thursday and both Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. are in the final year of their contracts. The Knicks did work out Alabama’s speedy Kira Lewis Jr. and could grab him, particularly if they shuttled back in the first round. Killian Hayes, a French-American who played in Germany, also has drawn interest. Tyrese Haliburton of Iowa State is expected to be gone at No. 8 and the Knicks have not shown interest in moving up for him.