Setting off on a patient rebuild of the Knicks — acquiring assets, accumulating draft picks and developing the young talent on the roster — would seem to be an understandable tactic for Knicks president Leon Rose and his new front office.
Steve Mills, who preceded him in the chair, might tell him something different.
It feels a little bit like a repeat of last summer, when Mills and general manager Scott Perry had a huge stockpile of salary cap space. The expectation was that it would be spent on a bevy of stars who wanted to head to Madison Square Garden, but shortly after the free-agent market opened, the Knicks turned that cap space into short-term deals for a crop of players who did not exactly turn around the Knicks’ fortunes — other than Mills, who was dismissed when the season imploded again.
So is this an auspicious start for the Leon Rose era? Not yet, and I’ll let Knicks fans who have lived through the last two decades decide just how long they should wait before they start wondering about that. This kind of patient, measured approach is remembered fondly only when it turns into something far better.
Let’s start before Rose was here, but after the former agent helped push Andrea Bargnani on the franchise. This rebuild starts with pushing franchise centerpiece Carmelo Anthony out the door and trading away franchise centerpiece Kristaps Porzingis.
Cap space was plentiful and draft picks were flowing in. Young players dominated the roster.
So let’s take a look at the record over the last few years — 24 games under .500, 48 games under, 24 games under.
At least the Knicks took that time to develop young talent, drafting wisely and nurturing those lottery picks through steady minutes, careful coaching and stability.
Oops. Never mind.
The Knicks have continued their relentless push through history with the streak of not extending a rookie beyond his first contract since Charlie Ward. The past regimes are littered with players who arrive with some promise and depart broken and battered — often to recover their status elsewhere (the Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. package, with Dennis Smith Jr. as the return, will be entered into evidence).
Rose certainly deserves an opportunity to carve his own path here and forge his own roster as he makes the most of what he inherited. But at some point, it will be his, and the patient approach will be judged simply by this — did it work?
Rose didn’t bite on any of the questionable contracts out there, resisting the four-year, $120 million deal that Charlotte gave Gordon Hayward. They inquired about Fred VanVleet, too.
Like the summer of 2019, the Knicks pivoted and signed a series of low-cost, short-term contracts. They even mimicked one as they waived Elfrid Payton to get rid of the second year of his contract and signed him back for slightly less money.
The moves kept the team’s flexibility in place and allows them to pounce on a trade or chase a free agent in next summer’s class, which projects to be better than this one. The only problem is, how many times does this tack work? And maybe more important, when does the chase end?
Like last summer, the Knicks’ strategy included a focus on saving cap space for next summer. But the free-agent class already has been diminished; Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum and De’Aaron Fox all have signed extensions, taking them out of the class of restricted free agents.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is still in the market with a Dec. 21 deadline to sign a max extension or enter unrestricted free agency. That is what just about every team in the NBA is dreaming of as they try to create enough cap space to lure him away.
But at some point, the saving of cap space has to end and the Knicks need to get someone.
You can point to the 2009 to 2011 moves that Donnie Walsh orchestrated, clearing out the roster and, after failing to land LeBron James, managing to grab Amar’e Stoudemire, trade the pieces they’d assembled for Anthony and bring on Tyson Chandler.
Or you can start listing what the Knicks have had to settle for in the last few star chases.
Back on the floor
The Knicks will play four preseason games — a pair of games in Detroit on Dec. 11 and 13, followed by home games on Dec. 16 and 18 against Cleveland.
These will mark the Knicks’ first games of any kind since March 11, when last season’s play was suspended.
One more contract
The Knicks signed Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 overall pick in 2012, to a one-year minimum contract Saturday. That puts the Knicks at 17 contracts, which they will have to cut to 15 by the start of the season. Kidd-Gilchrist was a client of Rose’s at CAA.