HOUSTON — It was just about 12 hours after another disappointing performance -- and hopeful explanations that they could turn the season around -- that the Knicks headed out on the road Wednesday morning. The uncertainty that accompanied them was exacerbated by the reality that the plans set in place for this team might be running out of time.
The trip coincided with the Dec. 15 mark that opened up the trade market for players signed in the offseason and rookies. While the trade deadline is weeks away (Feb. 10), and with confusion and chaos back in place with the Knicks, there is no certainty that this group will remain in blue and orange for long.
The opening date of this trading period rarely leads to a deal immediately, but the Knicks certainly have needs. They also need to get the franchise back on the track it seemed bound for last season when Tom Thibodeau took over as head coach and a revamped front office that helped the Knicks to their first playoff berth in eight seasons.
There were roster changes in the summer — signing Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier as free agents the major additions — but the Knicks lost the chemistry and overachieving style that won their fans over.
Asked if he could feel the difference between last season’s team and this one, Derrick Rose, who has been beside Thibodeau in three different cities, admitted the truth.
"I mean, numbers don’t lie," Rose said. "It’s all in the numbers. However you want to break it down, we’ve just got to figure things out."
The numbers not only show a team that was 41-31 last season now foundering at 12-16 with seven losses in their last eight games, but also a team that ranked fourth in defensive rating last season and currently ranks 23rd in the NBA. Now, as they headed out on the two-game trip to Houston and Boston, they are also shorthanded with three players — RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin and Quentin Grimes — sidelined in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Last season, the Knicks had three players sidelined all season and never had two gone from the roster at the same time.
Thibodeau tried to take an optimistic tact when asked if he believed this group, as constructed, could turn things around.
"Yeah I think so," he said. "We’ve got to continue. We’ve got to work. Sometimes there’s going to be ebbs and flows and things. Sometimes they’re going great and sometimes they’re not. Usually, the way you work your way out of that is with great effort. Cut hard, screen hard, defend hard, get to loose balls, get to layups. And all of a sudden, you get going. Things can change very quickly and we’ve got to make the change."
Walker seems the most likely player to be moved, completely removed from the rotation after serving as the starting point guard through the first 20 games of the season. He has not played a minute since with Thibodeau calling it a coach’s decision and maintaining that he considers Walker a starter and won’t use him off the bench.
HIs contract is certainly moveable, but he was bought out by Oklahoma City and that hardly portends a brisk market for his services. Still, a true point guard with the ability to shoot from beyond the arc could serve a team in need. Fournier, with a three-year guarantee at nearly $19 million per season, could be more difficult to move.
But until the Feb. 10 deadline, the Knicks are trying to believe they can turn this around and be the kind of team they were last season.
"We have no choice," Julius Randle said. "Either we do or we don't. If we don't then this season is not going to go the way we want it to go. If we do, then it'll start to turn."