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Knicks stuck in neutral with NBA season on hold

RJ Barrett of the Knicks goes to the

RJ Barrett of the Knicks goes to the hoop during the second quarter at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, March 8, 2020. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Before they made their way into the locker room, where team executives awaited them on Wednesday night with the news that the NBA season had been suspended, the Knicks were celebrating an overtime win in Atlanta. And then that was it, the last game for the foreseeable future, maybe their last game of the season.

So this is where it ends for now, a 21-45 record in a season that had been bound for 50 losses. And if this is it, it’s worth asking what the Knicks got out of a season that began with an earthquake halting their first NBA Summer League game and ended with a pandemic shutting the doors Wednesday — and was pretty chaotic for much of the time in between.

In that last game, 19-year-old RJ Barrett had 26 points and 21-year-old Mitchell Robinson was 7-for-7 from the field. The night before that, 21-year-old Frank Ntilikina became the youngest player in franchise history to record 20 points and 10 assists in a game. So that’s all promising for the future, right?

Well, it depends on what the future is, and no one really knows.

Leon Rose has taken over as team president and was along for the ride during the last seven games, but he has yet to name a general manager or a coach for next season. Those moves are expected to come at season’s end, whenever that is.

So here’s what the Knicks have found this season:

Changes at the top

David Fizdale is not the coach to lead the team through this rebuild. Steve Mills isn’t going to be around for it either. Scott Perry is hanging on as general manager for now, but there are no assurances for him, either. It was September 2018 when the three posed together, excitedly talking about plans and patience. In reality, not so much has happened that has been good.

Free-agent failings

Hoping to turn around their fortunes and make the franchise more attractive, the Knicks signed seven free agents last summer. It didn’t work. The record is bad again, jobs have been lost and the only free-agent signing who lived up to expectations was the last one in and first out, Marcus Morris.

The Knicks missed out on the stars they sought, and in rushing to Plan B, they paid high prices that made the other six immovable at the trade deadline. The next decisions for Rose will be whether to pick up options on five of them.

The kids are all right

Under interim coach Mike Miller, the Knicks improved their record, but to the frustration of many after the outcome of the season became clear, he kept 34-year-old Taj Gibson in the starting lineup along with rental Moe Harkless. While Barrett and Robinson got their minutes, Kevin Knox was buried on the bench and Ntilikina played a career-low minutes per game. Damyean Dotson and Allonzo Trier disappeared completely behind Harkless, Wayne Ellington and Reggie Bullock.

So the outcome for this season is that the Knicks are no closer to knowing what they have in place than they were when the season began — and maybe even more confused with the changing of the team president and the likely organizational changes to follow.

Rose might be facing a nearly barren roster. Barrett and Robinson are the only young players who were in the plans of the previous leadership and figure to remain for this next incarnation. There isn’t a star on the roster to raise the hopes of fans while the build takes hold.

With the draft and free agency coming after Rose puts his leadership team in place, the summer looked to be more interesting than the season for the Knicks. But for now, like everything else, it’s on hold.

New York Sports