In a matter of hours Thursday, the Knicks set a new course for their franchise by agreeing in principle to hire agent Leon Rose as president of basketball operations and by dealing away their best player, Marcus Morris, just ahead of the NBA trade deadline.
After all of the chaos of the past few days, including the removal of longtime executive Steve Mills and various trade rumors, the team quickly got back to business Thursday night with a 105-103 win over the Magic.
Though the victory provided a reason to smile and exhale, the franchise is hardly settled. Everyone is wondering what is next.
“They have been such a good group,” interim coach Mike Miller said after the game. “They really have, in terms of the things that they have gone through as a team . . . The one thing is, we were open with our communication with each other about what was going on, what we needed to do. When it came time to play tonight, we went right back to it and said, ‘Guys, you’ve won two in a row, you’re playing good basketball, you’ve got everything to play for, you’re playing in Madison Square Garden, let’s go play the game and have fun.’ We got off to a good start and we were able to work through the game.”
Morris was traded to the Clippers for Moe Harkless — who is expected to join the team in time for Saturday’s game in Detroit — plus a 2020 first-round pick, the Pistons’ 2021 second-round pick (acquired earlier by the Clippers) as well as a potential draft-pick swap and the rights to Ukrainian Issuf Sanon. But Morris was not the only player the Knicks tried to move.
They have six players with one-year contracts and team options for next season, plus Julius Randle, who has one more year guaranteed. Those contracts were structured for flexibility, making them trade assets, but the Knicks found no takers.
Last season, the Knicks bought out Wes Matthews and Enes Kanter, allowing them to find roles with contending teams and clearing floor time for younger players. At 16-36 this season, the Knicks might opt for a similar path. Wayne Ellington, who has played sparingly this season — he did not get on the floor at all in nine of 10 games before Thursday — suddenly found himself a key part of the rotation against Orlando, allowing him to showcase his talents for a potential landing spot.
On Thursday, the Knicks started Reggie Bullock in the small forward spot vacated by Morris and Frank Ntilikina started at shooting guard. That meant Kevin Knox again came off the bench; in the past 21 games, the 2018 lottery pick has averaged only 16 minutes and has topped 20 minutes only three times.
“There’s going to be opportunity obviously for those minutes,” Miller said. “Kevin has played well . . . We felt like he was really good and really efficient. We need him to continue to build and continue to grow. Obviously, there’s more minutes. He’ll have opportunities to expand.”