By Lenn Robbins
It’s been said many times that patience is a virtue. It can be a tortuous one.
The Knicks, under the guidance of president Steve Mills, GM Scott Perry and coach David Fizdale, have vowed to be patient, vowed not to part with No.1 picks, vowed to build a team that could sustain success.
In other words, they vowed not commit the foolish Knicks blunders of the past.
Some say this is an impossible path to take in the metropolitan area. New Yorkers love superstars, crave instant gratification from their teams and, shoot, why worry about the future if there’s even a sliver of a chance of winning today.
This is how that mindset has played out for the Knicks:
They last won an NBA Championship in 1973.
Not every management team committed the same blunders as the most one headed by Phil Jackson. But there have been enough mistakes made to fill every seat in The Garden.
Finally along came what was supposed to be the summer of redemption, of celebration, of rebirth.
The possibility of the No.1 pick in the draft, a Fort Knox amount of salary cap space, and the outdated notion that New York and The Garden are enough to lure free agents, had Knicks fans believed their decades of wandering in the NBA desert were over.
You know what came next. The first pick became the third. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant chose the Nets over the Knicks. And if you read the fine print, owner James Dolan is an obstacle that must be overcome, or bought out.
The news that broke early Saturday morning that Kawhi Leonard was signing with the Clippers, who also are acquiring Paul George, might have tasted like a latte with spoiled milk to Knicks fans. Not only is Brooklyn more desirable than Manhattan, but the Clippers are a more favorable franchise than the Knicks.
That last statement might be a bit unfair but when did fairness go into the fans’ though process. The Knicks never had a chance at signing Leonard.
But at the least the Knicks Plan B was better than the Clippers Plan A.
The Clippers reportedly will send four unprotected future first round picks (2021, 2022, 2024, 2026), a protected first round pick (2023) to the Thunder in addition to Oklahoma’s right to swaps picks with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025.
In poker parlance, this is the epitome of all in.
As we learned from the Toronto Raptors, who gambled on trading for Leonard a year ago, a championship trumps any hand. Although Leonard didn’t resign with Toronto, he gave the city, heck, the entire nation of Canada, it’s first NBA Championship.
If Leonard and George bring a title to other NBA franchise in LA – the Clippers – than this trade might be worth the Herschel Walker-like haul that Oklahoma City is obtaining for Paul. But if they never manage to win it all (they might not be the best team in LA) than the Clippers are going to be golfing in June for a long time to come.
This is where tortuous patience paid off for the Knicks. Having lost out on one of the greatest free agent classes of all time, the Knicks went to a smart Plan B. They signed Julius Randle (three years), Reggie Bullock (two years), Bobby Portis (two years), Wayne Ellington (two years) and Elfrid Payton (two years).
Add in RJ Barrett and the Knicks will be significantly better than they were last season. They might even sneak into the last playoff spot if Barrett plays like the former No.1 high school recruit and second-year swingman Kevin Knox takes the next step.
Regardless, the Knicks didn’t overspend for Boogie Cousins and other second tier free agents. They didn’t hand out any absurdly long contracts. They kept their first round picks.
What the Knicks need is for Barrett or second-year center Mitchell Robinson to emerge as first team All NBA players. Than they will have the cache that Leonard, Durant, James, Irving and George have – elite players that can attract other elite players.
It’s a matter of patience. Tortuous patience.