It is just over two weeks since the Knicks kicked off the trade season more than a month ahead of the Feb. 8 deadline with a franchise-shifting deal to bring OG Anunoby to New York.
And those two weeks — like the rest of the days to come until the deadline — have been filled with speculation about the next move for Knicks president Leon Rose and his front-office staff.
As the star names float out there with some teams staging fire sales — hello again, Toronto — and others such as Detroit, Atlanta and Chicago believed to be open to tearing down their rosters, it’s hard to turn on your television without finding an opinion on what piece could push the Knicks over the top.
But there have been a few constants to the franchise since Rose took over. The most often cited — patience — comes with a disclaimer. Rose has been resistant to overpaying, holding back when the price gets too high. But the Knicks have not waited for the deadline to pull off their moves.
They started the trade season this time by sending RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley, along with an attractive second-round pick, to get Anunoby along with Precious Achiuwa and Malachi Flynn. Last season, Josh Hart was acquired at the deadline, but the year before that, the Knicks moved early to deal for Cam Reddish. And in 2021 they moved early to acquire Derrick Rose.
If you’re really looking for a common denominator and a hint toward what’s next, look at the players the Knicks have been stockpiling on the roster.
One team source pointed out that in moving out Obi Toppin last summer, then Barrett and Quickley recently, “We got rid of the softies.” The roster now consists nearly completely of hard-nosed defenders. And consider the players who are more offensive forces: Jalen Brunson leads the NBA in charges taken and is a fearless leader; Julius Randle plays a brand of bully ball that is hard to match.
So the first thing to look for is fit. While the Knicks aren’t closing their eyes to the chance to add another star, the most likely move is a less flashy one. The first look instead might be to a Tom Thibodeau-approved player, one who fits what the team is trying to do.
So maybe getting Alec Burks back from Detroit as a backup at both guard spots with a veteran presence might be more likely than landing Donovan Mitchell — who is not expected to be dealt before the summer anyway — or Dejounte Murray, who cost the Hawks three first-round picks and has not fit beside Trae Young.
The play of Isaiah Hartenstein and the renewed hope that Mitchell Robinson will be back before the season ends dims the need for help at the center spot.
It’s not as much fun to consider a Burks when there is a chance to get a Murray or a Mitchell — but do the Knicks need a player who needs the ball as much as they need a veteran presence on the bench?
Don’t rule out the stars, but remember what got the Knicks where they are right now, assembling a team in Thibodeau’s image. It was Hart last year, Donte DiVincenzo signing on in the summer and Anunoby connecting it all together.
Is that enough to lift the Knicks to a level above where they have been, to get them past the second round of the playoffs and to contend with the best in the NBA? The answer for this season is well, maybe. And that’s still a long way from where the Knicks were for decades.
Kyrie praises Brunson
In Dallas on Thursday night, Kyrie Irving was asked his thoughts on Brunson’s growth as a player, but he took a different tack to praise Brunson’s life in New York.
“Nothing short of proud of him,” Irving said. “Man, what a beautiful situation that him and his dad have in New York City. As a peer of his, as a brother of his, I definitely look at that and say, man, I wish my dad was on the bench coaching me and I could look down at him — ‘What do you think about that play?’
“It’s healthy, It’s a legacy league, and to see them working together, but to see Jalen take that torch that his father left for him as he’s teaching him the game of basketball. And Jalen’s gone on to have an incredible college career. I’ve been watching for a long time. He’s a winner. He’s incredibly resilient and he does the little things for his team to win. It’s good to see him getting his respect amongst the peers and the media, too. Just want him to continue to do his thing and stay healthy.”
Goodbye and good riddance?
Most consider the trade with Toronto a win-win, with the Knicks getting the fit they needed while RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley get a chance to flourish north of the border. But one Knicks legend had another take on Barrett’s departure.
“He’s just a bland player, bro,” Carmelo Anthony said on his digital series show, “7PM in Brooklyn,” this past week. “That’s not a shot. That’s not disrespect. I ask a lot of people who are Knicks fans to see what they say, it’s just like, ‘He’s good, he gets it done sometimes, but he’s not an exciting player.’ You don’t know if he’s going to [score] four or 26.
“ . . . OG is doing the same thing RJ doing. He just don’t demand it the way RJ demanded to be a part of the offense. Like, OG is cool sitting around on the wing and cutting and waiting for somebody to swing it to him and knock down a three. He still will play defense. No matter what. Whereas RJ, he got to score 20.”