When the trade deadline came and went, and like the most recent free-agent market, established that patience might be the most intriguing character trait for Knicks’ president Leon Rose, Tom Thibodeau spoke about the plan and was all in, at least publicly.
The Knicks had only made a minor tweak to their roster, sending out Austin Rivers and bringing aboard Terrance Ferguson and adding two more second-round picks to their growing supply. As it has been in the last two offseasons, the salary cap space and flexibility remained in place.
But the question remains, the one that cost Steve Mils his job and brought Rose into the organization and one that hasn’t been resolved yet — what are they waiting for?
"Leon and his staff did an unbelievable job," Thibodeau said after the deadline passed. "They had a plan that was very well thought out. There was a number of possible opportunities and I thought they were very disciplined. We love the team we have. So it worked out well for us.
"Again, as a head coach you want to see all the possibilities and Leon is very inclusive. Everyone has a voice. That’s all you can ask for. But I really respect and admire the discipline to follow the plan and to weigh everything out and determine if it makes sense or not. For us it’s building the foundation, going step by step and if something can help us then we would certainly consider it and he did. But it was very well executed so I was very pleased with that."
Thibodeau has set that foundation in place, taking a roster not all that different from last year’s 21-45 squad and turned them into a playoff contender. They entered Saturday’s game in Milwaukee at 23-22, in fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
Is the strategy the correct one? The team immediately ahead of them, the Charlotte Hornets, and the team tied with them, the Atlanta Hawks, made bold moves in the offseason. Behind them the Heat, Bulls and Celtics all went big at the deadline, reshaping their rosters and undoubtedly improving.
What comes next will determine the strategy. The Knicks had the money and the assets to make moves and they still do. So what is the well thought out plan? That remains to be seen with Rose remaining mute — not speaking before or after the deadline (or before the season, or at any point other than when he was part of the Thibodeau introductory news conference).
There is the buyout market right now if the Knicks want to add to their roster for a postseason push. LaMarcus Aldridge has already been bought out by the Spurs and is rumored to be headed to Miami with Portland and Boston interested.
While Andre Drummond has been the most visible buyout candidate with the Lakers, Celtics and Hornets recruiting him, we are hearing the Knicks are not very active in the Drummond pursuit. They like their three defensive-minded centers — Mitchell Robinson, Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson — and want to see what Robinson does with the starting role.
If they opted for help, it's more likely it might be a player like Gorgui Dieng, who played for Thibodeau in Minnesota, and Otto Porter. They are two lesser-discussed candidates who both might fit better in providing perimeter shooting for the Knicks, who still need someone to relieve the pressure on Julius Randle and RJ Barrett.
One player who the Knicks have had interest in, Al Horford, announced Saturday that he would be working out at the Oklahoma City Thunder's facility, but would not play again for them. He has $27 million on his contract for next season and a guarantee of $14.5 million for the 2022-23 season.
Those are stopgaps though for this season. The Knicks success, while crucial to shedding the dysfunctional labels that have dragged the team through much of the last two decades — it was nice to hear from Phil Jackson this week as a reminder — has hindered the chances of being players in the top five picks of the NBA Draft. It's a draft that most scouts peg as loaded in those top five spots and then facing a precipitous decline after that. The Knicks have the assets to move up, even if they fall completely out of the lottery, they're able to package their pick with the Dallas first-rounder this year or some combination of the second-round picks (including Detroit’s this season).
Free agency seems to have faded from holding the 2021 market as a bonanza into a flea market with slightly-used players with little allure. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum and De’Aaron Fox all signed huge extensions to remain in place rather than gamble on an uncertain market with the pandemic threatening the salary cap.
Kawhi Leonard remains the biggest name, although he is expected to remain with the Clippers. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry might be the most enticing unrestricted free agents while Lonzo Ball is restricted and there are player options for the likes of Jrue Holiday, Chris Paul and Norman Powell.
The 2022 free-agent class right now is more loaded, but just like this one, with plenty of time that could change and players could opt to remain in place.
So the plan and if it was the right or wrong one for the Knicks right now, remains to be seen. Like Rose, we have to be patient to find out.