The NBA Draft is just days away and in that setting the Knicks may find their best chance at a future that seemed a lot easier to reach just a few weeks ago.
The hopes of signing Kevin Durant as a free agent may still be alive, although far more unlikely now that he is lost for next season while rehabilitating from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon. Anthony Davis, the prize of the trade market, was traded to the Lakers, who dumped nearly all of their young talent and future assets to make the deal.
There is still a huge free agent market class led by Kawhi Leonard, but the likelihood of landing the sort of franchise-shifting max slot star that seemed in the works when they traded Kristaps Porzingis to clear cap space is harder to imagine. The Knicks will make a push for Leonard and could end up spending big on short term deals on lesser players, but the reality is that the hopes of a quick fix to the long struggles are fading.
The Knicks have insisted that, despite the huge amount of cap space, they were not going to trade away their young pieces and future draft picks to chase a quick fix. The first time the picks will come into play is Thursday and the team is convinced they will find a star in the draft.
While the Pelicans reportedly are interested in moving the No. 4 pick they acquired in the Davis deal from the Lakers, according a source the Knicks are unlikely to move out of the third spot in the draft. Most draft experts have pointed to a tier of three stars — Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett — that rank above the rest of the class. The Knicks are content to hold onto their spot and take whichever player falls to them.
Barrett is the only one of the three to work out for the team. Morant, who is recovering from a surgical procedure on his knee, met with Knicks officials but did not work out. Barrett met with the Memphis Grizzlies, who have the No. 2 pick, but did not work out for them. When he worked out for the Knicks he said that was the only workout he would do.
When the Knicks drafted Porzingis they benefited from the 76ers, picking one spot ahead, afraid to take a chance on him when he refused to work out for them. But the Grizzlies were in a similar spot last year and opted to selected Jaren Jackson Jr. despite his refusal to work out for them.
The Knicks did work out other players, including Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver, but are expected to hold tight to their spot. Both Morant and Barrett have star potential, although they took very different paths to this point.
Barrett was the top-ranked prospect coming out of high school last summer and lived up to the expectations, averaging 22.6 points per game for Duke, but he took a secondary place in the spotlight behind Williamson. Morant was not nearly as highly recruited two years ago, settling for a spot at Murray State, the result of his slender frame. He started as a freshman, but flourished in his sophomore season, averaging 24.5 points and 10 assists per game, and while not exactly bulking up, he did add weight and maintained the athleticism that allowed him to dominate highlight reels at 6-3.