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SportsColumnistsSteve Popper

Looking at the Knicks' offseason roster-building options

Warriors forward Kevin Durant celebrates against the Celtics

Warriors forward Kevin Durant celebrates against the Celtics on Jan. 26 in Boston. Credit: AP/Elise Amendola

As the Knicks make their way to the end of the season, piling up one defeat after another — the latest a 100-92 loss to the Miami Heat at the Garden on Saturday that dropped them to an NBA-worst 14-62 — it’s hard to tell anything about their future. Much of the roster is bound for free agency, and the few players who figure into the team’s plans have done little to define their future roles.

So with the real season for the Knicks’ front office looming, it’s hard to figure just who fits best for a makeover to wipe away the memories of this process.

Is Kevin Durant the key to everything? If the Knicks somehow can coax Durant into coming east, something that they seem to have a hint will be happening, who fits beside him as a second free agent? What player in the draft could complement him?

For example, the building blocks the Knicks hope will develop for the future are Kevin Knox, the most recent lottery pick, and second-rounder Mitchell Robinson.

Robinson was inserted in the starting lineup Saturday — a move the team hopes to use in the final seven games to see just how far he has come. Knox has taken on a huge role in terms of minutes and offensive workload.

Knox plays the same position as Durant. So how do you piece it together to jump from the worst team in the NBA to one that will convince a player like Durant that this won’t turn into a middle-of-the-pack frustration?

“At the end of the day, what I’m trying to do with all of them is make them, to a certain extent, positionless,” coach David Fizdale said. “Where they can get to a point where it doesn’t matter who they’re out there with, that their skill set applies to whatever position they’re playing. That’s kind of how we’re looking at it going forward. I’m not looking too far into the future of who we might get. But our player development is focused on making them complete players.”

It’s not a unique concept. The Warriors have done it with a number of players who can switch positions seamlessly. The Bucks have opted for a similar tack, filling their roster with long, versatile players.

Could the Knicks play a lineup of Durant, Kyrie Irving, Zion Williamson, Knox and Robinson? Could Ja Morant and Irving coexist?

It’s certainly a better problem than rolling the ball out with the assortment of roster-fillers they’ve put on the floor this season.

In this exercise, consider the Knicks can get the stars they want — which certainly is no sure thing — and that every mention of Durant is interchangeable with Kawhi Leonard as long as we’re imagining things go right for the Knicks. What are the chances?  


Durant goes ahead with the bizarre decision to leave the best team in basketball and leave millions of dollars on the table and comes to New York. He draws Irving with him, the Ping-Pong balls hit the proper 14 percent and the Knicks get Zion. So there is a point guard-small forward-power forward combo, and somehow positionless ball slips Knox over to the two-guard spot. Robinson lives on alley-oops and follow dunks. Dennis Smith Jr. is instant offense off the bench. Frank Ntilikina finds his role as a sixth man/versatile defensive stopper. No one has to be banned from the Garden.   


What if the Knicks get Durant and Irving but don’t hit the lottery? If they went with Duke’s RJ Barrett, it would be an easier lineup decision; Barrett looks ready to go as a shooting guard. Not that it’s better than getting Zion, but it’s easier than picturing Knox trying to chase James Harden around.   


Of course, the lottery and the draft come ahead of free agency — as long as the Knicks have been assured, as owner James Dolan said, that the stars of the free-agent market want to come to New York. The Knicks will have to make that decision first, and if they don’t get the first pick, they could be choosing between Barrett and Morant, with the Murray State point guard rising with his play in the NCAA Tournament. If Morant comes, it makes little sense to pursue a free-agent point guard. So could a Durant-Morant combo work with Knox and an elite wing such as Klay Thompson or Jimmy Butler?   


If the Knicks get the top pick, they could always package it in a deal to try to get Anthony Davis. The issue with this is that using that pick takes an asset out of the mix. The Knicks have zero stars now. They have a chance to finish the summer with three — two max free agents and a top pick. If you include that pick and more to get Davis, you would have to perform cap gymnastics to fit in two max free agents. But Davis is really, really good.

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