With the COVID-interrupted NBA season over and plans are being worked out for the start of the 2020-21 season, the usual offseason schedule has begun in a condensed race to try to remake rosters.
For the Knicks, who were left out of the NBA’s bubble restart in Orlando, the work since March 11 when they last played a game has been to create a new front office and coaching staff. Those are positive steps but one that still leaves them with many questions of how they will improve a roster that struggled to a 21-45 record before the season ended.
The first step is the Nov. 18 NBA Draft and that presents its own issues for the Knicks. They hold the No. 8, 27 and 38 picks, and while that normally would be an attractive opportunity for a haul of young talent, this draft is weighted with uncertainty. The college seasons were shut down just like the NBA with conference tournaments halted and no NCAA Tournament.
And perhaps more troubling, in a draft with no clear order at the top and the opportunities to trade plentiful there is no normal Draft Combine. The NBA has created as good of a system as they can with COVID-19 still surging in many places, allowing teams to conduct Zoom interviews.
But to see players in action they have provided a window that began Oct. 16 and will go until two days before the draft where a team can witness a player in person. But consider that even if the Knicks stayed at No. 8 there are at least 10 players who could land in that spot - and the top two teams in the draft, Minnesota and Golden State, have already hinted that their pick is available for the right price.
So while LaMelo Ball or Anthony Edwards likely won’t drop to No. 8, the Knicks had better know them well. But players like Killian Hayes and Tyrese Haliburton have been predicted anywhere from the first few spots in the draft to the back end of the lottery.
So due diligence must be done on all of the potential lottery picks, which leaves a gaping hole in information gathering for the Knicks’ later picks. If they use their workout watching for the lottery pick that means it is just a Zoom interview and their scouting history that creates the intel for the other picks. Team president Leon Rose is keeping his plans close to his vest right now.
A plus for the Knicks is that they not only have their own scouting information they have compiled on potential picks, but Rose added Walt Perrin from the Utah Jazz to head up the scouting department and he brings his own dossier on players.
That work that took place before the seasons were cut short is vital because even in these workouts, that teams can send executives to watch, players will not be allowed to compete against each other, normally a vital part of the process.
These rookies had better be ready because also lost will be the normal summer league and the Knicks and the other lottery-bound teams left out of the bubble have already held their minicamps.
The NBA’s goal has been to have fans in the arenas when they start the 2020-21 season, but that seems unlikely as they examine start dates from Dec. 22, which was reported by The Athletic to have come out of Friday’s Board of Governor’s meeting as COVID-19 still dominates with rising outbreaks in many states.
A decision could be faced though by the league which has been guided by science so far. Some states - Florida, for example - have removed the restrictions on the size of gatherings. So would Miami and Orlando fill their arenas when places like New York can not? Would commissioner Adam Silver allow a team to put 20,000 fans in an indoor arena because politically the door has been opened?
It seems doubtful, but that is a lot of money left on the table.
One league source indicated that the season could start with a schedule based on location - having the Atlantic Division, for example, play a weighted schedule against each other allowing travel to be restricted to New York, Brooklyn, Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto, which likely would have to relocate temporarily out of Canada with New Jersey a possible destination.
ESPN reported that in addition to the division schedule teams could play series rather than one game to further restrict travel.
Van Gundy updates
Stan Van Gundy got the New Orleans Pelicans coaching job, a prime opportunity to lead a team loaded with young talent - development of those players, including Zion Williamson, is the reason that he was selected.
But Jeff Van Gundy, who last coached in the 2006-07 season when he led Houston to a 52-30 record, remains on the outside for now. He emerged as a finalist to replace Mike D’Antoni in Houston, but a league source said that he was unlikely to be a candidate there. I’ve written this before but covering him when he coached the Knicks, his teams were better-prepared than any other I’ve seen.
One promising development - Stan is still tweeting his political opinions, which are many and strong.