If you have struggled to see a bright side to Thursday’s draft night moves by the Knicks at least there is this: In the desperate effort to move on from contracts signed by the Knicks front office last summer they helped Detroit get better and maybe the Pistons will be good enough to finish among the 12 best teams in the NBA, negating the protections on their 2023 first-round pick the Knicks own.
Of course, you might wonder what the Knicks would do with that pick. Will they have to attach it to another deal. Kicking the can down the road has been a constant and it’s an odd turn for the franchise. After too many years of chasing stars, the Knicks handed the reins to Leon Rose as team president. And while his arrival, along with his longtime confidante William Wesley,, was supposed to signal an infusion of connections that would make those stars want to come to Madison Square Garden, instead there has been a small market style of asset building. They have piled up second-round picks and even first-round selections (albeit highly-protected in most cases).
So far the Knicks have been unable to turn those assets into a package attractive enough to move up into the top picks in the draft where the stars await and they haven’t been able to use them to secure a veteran star. The best thing they have now Is the financial flexibility, a fallback happy-faced point the team has pointed to every time they failed to get the player they targeted.
And if they can lure Jalen Brunson with that financial flexibility — I feel silly even mentioning this as if they have to have a meeting with him, given that the Brunson and Rose families have been tied together since a time even before Jalen was born — maybe the Dallas Mavericks are a little bit worse and their 2023 first-round pick the Knicks will get (protected No. 1-10) will be good enough to find some helpful talent.
You may have noticed we haven’t mentioned any great optimism about improvement on draft day for the Knicks. In other cities, teams are holding joyful news conferences, introducing the new, young talent and raising dreams that this rookie will turn out to be a transcendent building block. The Knicks, who entered the day with the No. 11 pick and hopes of trading up to get in place for Jaden Ivey (who, by the way, likely takes Detroit off the list of suitors for Brunson), instead are left clinging to the $4.5 million salary slot they saved by trading out of the first round.
This whole thing sounded a little reminiscent of the 2019 news release issued in then-team president Steve Mills name when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant spurned their advances and instead signed with Brooklyn. It read, “While we understand that some Knicks fans could be disappointed with tonight's news, we continue to be upbeat and confident in our plans to rebuild the Knicks to compete for championships in the future, through both the draft and targeted free agents.”
This time the Knicks are praising the cap space — although they had the most in the NBA last summer and turned it into contracts that they are now trying to attach assets to in an effort to get them off their books. They point to 11 first-round picks and 11 second-round picks in the next seven drafts. Eventually, it has to translate into victories and that just hasn’t happened enough in New York for two decades.
Draft winners and losers
While the Knicks and Nets were absent from the first round once the dealing was done, a number of teams may have changed their path Thursday.
WINNER: Detroit Pistons: It hasn’t taken long for GM Troy Weaver to build a base of young talent for the Pistons and Thursday he may have exceeded his own imagination. Detroit resisted overtures to move up from No. 5 to 4 to assure a chance to select Ivey. Sacramento, at No. 4, blinked after efforts to deal the pick failed and Ivey refused to work out, interview or even provide medicals to them, and took Keegan Murray. That left Ivey for Detroit and sources indicated immediately that Weaver really wanted Jalen Duren, the 18-year-old big man from Memphis. There was some thought the Knicks could put a package together if they drafted Duren at No. 11 to pry Ivey from them. Instead all it took to get Duren was absorbing Kemba Walker’s salary into the trade exception Weaver created a day earlier when he sent Jerami Grant to Portland and also the 2025 Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick Detroit had acquired in the Grant trade. Add that Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey and you have a nucleus of young talent.
WINNER: Oklahoma City Thunder: After years of piling up draft picks Sam Presti turned that into three lottery pick additions with Chet Holmgren, Osmane Dieng and Jalen Williams — three of the top 12 picks in the draft landing on the Thunder roster. While pairing Holmgren with 7-foot, 190-pound forward Aleksej Pokuševski might mean some pressure on team nutritionists, there is a lot of talent here. With 23-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and 19-year-old Josh Giddy the young core is now in place.
LOSER: Jaden Hardy: The green room had cleared out as the night wore on Thursday and only one table was left in place after the first round was over — that of Hardy and his family. Hardy was one of the top-ranked prospects a year ago coming out of high school, but after a season with the Ignite he fell all the way to No. 37 in the draft. The Ignite still had the No. 8 pick as Dyson Daniels was picked by the New Orleans Pelicans and then MarJon Beauchamp went to the Bucks at No. 24.
Trust Walt Perrin
Although the Knicks dealt out of the first round, they grabbed Duke freshman Trevor Keels at No. 42 overall in the second round. Perrin, who long oversaw the Utah Jazz college scouting, has put up a solid record of later picks in his first two seasons with the Knicks as they grabbed Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, Miles McBride, Rokas Jokubaitis and Jericho Sims. So we’ll wait to see what happens with Keels, who some thought could have gone in the first round.
The Knicks also have signed Jean Montero, who will turn 19 years old before the Las Vegas Summer League begins. The 6-2 guard from the Dominican Republic starred for Overtime Elite last season, the scoring champion of the team’s inaugural season. He finished in the top three in the league in scoring, assists and steals.