When the Lakers take the floor at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, it will represent the only time all season for LeBron James and Anthony Davis to display their talent there, rather than the 41 times the Knicks longed for in their most fervent rebuilding dreams.
The Lakers, who spent recent seasons in the same sort of downward spiral that the Knicks have been enduring, turned their fortunes when James opted to sign on last season and when Davis followed last summer in a trade with New Orleans. Now they arrive at the top of the Western Conference standings, while the Knicks are still mired near the bottom of the NBA, tied for the third-worst record in the league.
Perhaps the saddest part for the Knicks is that the Lakers got the stars that the Knicks coveted and now remain the sort of destination that will attract players. The Knicks, meanwhile, are weighing options to deal their players to contenders like the Lakers ahead of the Feb. 6 trade deadline.
The Knicks' rebuilding plan has failed to take hold, with the young players showing little hint of future stardom and the seven veteran free agents signed over the summer forging a minimal improvement over last season's 17-65 record. Now, those veterans — and kids — are on the table for the team to try to flip into another version of the long and arduous rebuild.
Marcus Morris, who has been the Knicks' most reliable player this season, is the most coveted player on the block. Despite his insistence that he would like to remain in New York, there is interest in his services and his expiring contract.
Even Julius Randle, the only one of the seven free agents to have a fully guaranteed second year on his contract, is available for the right deal.
"Any concern? Nah, bro,” Randle said Monday after the Knicks beat Cleveland to snap a three-game losing streak. “Honestly, I ain’t worried about it. [This is] my sixth year, you start to realize this is a business. You can’t worry about what you can’t control.”
The Knicks' front office has been tight-lipped — the only public comments have come after 10 games when they held an impromptu news conference to voice their dissatisfaction with the team’s performance, which led to the exit of David Fizdale as coach after 22 games. Perhaps fittingly, it has been Fizdale who expressed the only assessment of the team recently.
“I think that they have really good young talent and those young guys are going to keep getting better,” Fizdale said on ESPN’s "The Jump" Monday. “They have to continue to draft well because they have a lot of draft picks over the next few years. Then with the veterans that they did sign, they have to figure out which guys they want to retain and which guys they want to move on from. But they do have a lot of cap space there and they will have an opportunity to get back in the free agency market this summer. So I really think they’re in a good position. I know a lot of people don’t and a lot of people are down on them. But I actually think that they’re in a good position to make some good things happen for the organization.”