Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
The New York Knicks are relentlessly hopeless and have every intention of staying.
Spin her 2022 NBA draft performance any way you want. The end result does not change.
The Knicks are helpless, almost hilarious, unable to formulate or execute a coherent vision. Sometimes they take a break from their trademark incompetence, but they are fleeting respites from the inevitable next chapter of the organization’s self-sabotage.
Which brings us to Thursday evening. Entering the 2022 NBA draft at the number 11, the Knicks have been the focus of various too-good-to-be-true rumors.
Would they act to land Jaden Ivey and finally invest real equity in a glamorous prospect on the floor?
Or would they flip a lottery pick to make room for the bare cap opportunity to pay Jalen Brunson, an incredibly talented offensive force who is also not good enough to accelerate or define the organization’s schedule?
Choosing the busier road, New York traded the No. 11 to the Oklahoma City Thunder for three heavily protected first-round picks, one of which is used to grease the wheels of a Kemba Walker pay depot. The full (and complex) order of operations, according to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, is as follows:
Tim Bontemps @Tim Bontemps
What the Knicks did tonight:
NYK trades 11th pick for OKC
OKC trades 3 firsts (23 DEN, DET, WASH) for NYK
NYK then trades 23 DEN, 4 seconds to CHA for the 13th pick
NYK, then 13th pick & Kemba Walker to DET for MKE’s 25 first
NYK trades 11, Kemba, 4 2nds & gets 3 future 1sts
This is what it looks like when an NBA team sinks into oblivion.
Functionally, the Knicks not only exchanged the 11th overall victory. They effectively traded both #11 and #13. 11th place in the Eastern Conference is unthinkable.
Those hoping the Knicks would continue to trade like a normal organization posited at various stages throughout the night as details emerged that it could be part of an attempt to flesh out a larger deal package. It was not.
New York dropped Kemba Walker and the cap on a lottery ticket for exactly the reason you think it did: to run freehand on Jalen Brunson.
Mark Stein @TheSteinLine
The Pistons are getting Jalen Duren… and the Knicks, more crucial to the immediate concerns of free agency, are giving Kemba Walker’s salary to Detroit to help fund their free-agent pursuit of Jalen Brunson. https://t.co/DDs1fk3JGC
Do these three additional future first rounds – all heavily protected, one of which has a reasonable chance of never being mediated (Washington’s 2023 First) – make the pain go away? I’m afraid they don’t.
Jak Fischer @JakeLFisher
If the 2023 DET is not initially submitted in 2027, it will become the 2027 second round of the DET.
If the 2023 WAS is not first delivered in 2026, it becomes Wizards’ 2026 and 2027 seconds.
If the 2023 DEN is not first delivered by 2025, it becomes Denver’s 2025 and 2025 seconds. https://t.co/w9MyjiCGcd
After accounting for Mitchell Robinson’s (miniature) free-agent hold, the Knicks will exit draft night with around $15-$16 million in space if they match Ryan Arcidiacono (free-agent hold) and Taj Gibson (not guaranteed) throw off That essentially means they jumped through all those draft night hoops to…come within an extra pay hole To offer Brunson a contract at market value, which is expected to be in excess of $20 million annually, according to the Bleacher Report Jak Fischer.
There are many flaws in this latest Knicks scheme. Most importantly, the Dallas Mavericks exist. The Mavs have a fifth year to dangle from Brunson, and team governor Mark Cuban sure sounds like someone willing to pay him. Fischer also remarked on an episode of the Please do not aggregate this podcast (Sorry Jake!) that Brunson’s return to Big D will be portrayed as “basically a done deal.”
Things change. So let’s assume they have it. The Knicks recently hired Rick Brunson, Jalen’s father, to join Thibs’ staff. Team President of Basketball Operations Leon Rose is also Jalen’s former agent. And what’s more, there’s no way the Knicks can do this without being confident they have a shot at getting Brunson out of Dallas.
Brunson has had a fantastic season, averaging 16.3 points and 4.8 assists while putting down 54.5 percent of his twos and 37.3 percent of those threes. The only other players to meet or exceed these benchmarks: Kevin Durant and Jrue Holiday.
Brunson’s star rose even further in the playoffs, where he mangled the Utah Jazz in the first round and kept the Mavs afloat without Luka Doncic. The pressure he puts on the opposing defense down the line with his footwork and finish is really impressive. Among all players who had 500 or more drives last season, Brunson ranked fourth with 56.7 percent shooting, behind only Chris Paul, Karl-Anthony Towns and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The addition of Brunson would be admirable if your team needs a final play or if your best player also happens to be a top 10 star. The Knicks are nowhere near the finished product, nor do they have a legitimate star in their employs.
There is a real chance Brunson will become their best player if he signs with them. It alone doesn’t guarantee a place in the playoffs, let alone an even rosier ceiling. Best case scenario: Brunson, RJ Barrett and Julius Randle all exist on comparable aircraft. That leaves New York… still smack in the middle of the Eastern Conference and chugging along at their pace, having won four seasons since 2001.
And that’s assuming the Knicks actually get Brunson.
Plans B are limited unless he goes to New York. This isn’t the summer to have material cap space, so of course the plan is to have material cap space this summer.
They are common likely to turn around into a Malcolm Brogdon trade with the Indiana Pacers if they sniff Brunson — a contingency befitting a franchise seemingly obsessed with acquiring non-Star Guards who make more than $20 million a year.
This is not a harmless dose of myopic thinking. This is organizational misconduct — the kind of short-sightedness that should cost those responsible their jobs.
Alan Sepinwall @partition wall
If this has happened, everyone in the Knicks front office must be fired immediately. Kemba’s salary for next season – in a contract signed by that front office – is just $8 million. https://t.co/hHANfMTNe7
This recent crisis stings a little more if you know New York Reformation indicated at the beginning of the Leon Rose era.
It’s not like the Knicks lost every transaction. (For the most part, that regime has fared well.) Their missteps, like swapping first-round picks last year, have been marginal. Sure, they grossly overestimated how they would build on their 2020-21 success. But so far, their most unforgivable moves have included extending Julius Randle (four years, $117 million) and giving Evan Fournier three guaranteed years, while only handing out two to Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel.
In New York’s defense, there are still plenty of off-season runways to deal with. And head coach Tom Thibodeau likely would have ignored both lottery prospects for 35-43 wins. None of this is as comforting as terrifying.
On Thursday night, the Knicks once again revealed the truth about themselves. And the truth is that in their own way they are forever an organization, unfit for change, eternally married to the middle.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics are from NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead, or Cleaning the Glass. Salary report via Spotrac.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by NBA Math’s Adam Fromal.