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Five keys for the Knicks begin with learning the craft at an NBA level

Obi Toppin of the Knicks takes a shot

Obi Toppin of the Knicks takes a shot over Jahlil Okafor of the Detroit Pistons during the first half at Little Caesars Arena on Dec. 11 in Detroit. Credit: Getty Images/Gregory Shamus

Show them the money

Coach Tom Thibodeau voiced the obvious last week when he said, "Sitting back and waiting sometimes is not a good thing." The Knicks have spent the last two free-agent markets with high hopes, armed with wads of cash, only to find no one is interested. The 2021 free-agent class is already falling apart with many players opting to sign max and super-max extensions in a time of uncertain revenues. As he's still holding cap space, it’s time for new team president Leon Rose to get aggressive in trade talks and realize there are no untouchables on this roster. The Knicks watched Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and John Wall already change teams this year. Is the next one James Harden and is he worth the risk? Will it be an expiring contract like Victor Oladipo? It has to be someone soon.

Teach the children

Part of the Knicks’ struggle to attract talent has been the chaos atop the franchise, but a major factor has been the inability to create an attractive young core on the court. With Thibodeau in place as a respected head coach and armed with a staff of assistants focused on development, the Knicks need to give time to the young players, such as RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley and Frank Ntilikina. Just as important, they need to be coached up to their potential, thus increasing their value.

What’s the point

The list of veteran journeymen given the ball for the Knicks in recent years is a nightmare to fans who have wanted to see youth rise. Ntilikina or Quickley might not be the answer, but they could be. Elfrid Payton was here on a one-year deal last season, then waived and brought back on a cheaper contract. But rather than opt for a veteran to tutor the younger players, Thibodeau has put Payton back in the starting lineup for the preseason. How this corresponds with a long-term plan is hard to imagine.

Two in the basket is better than a brick

The NBA game has shifted outside to the three-point line with analytics convincing nearly every team that a three-point field goal and a layup are the simplest paths to an efficient offense. And that’s fine if you can make a three-point field goal. But the Knicks have shown a crippling inability to connect from long range (21-for-90 through the first three preseason games). If Barrett or Julius Randle excel in the mid-range, put them there. If an easy two presents itself, it’s a better risk for this team than endangering windows and cameras beyond the baseline with errant shots.

Throwback to history

There might be no fans on hand to chant it, but the best times in franchise history have been accompanied by cries of, "De-fense." Thibodeau is a demanding teacher on that end of the floor. The Knicks are young and they are without a star. But the one way that they can be competitive this season is by playing hard and learning the defensive systems implemented. That means players who have shown little aptitude for defense must be on board, and even specialists such as Robinson must learn to stop chasing every block and actually be in the right place.

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