all photos nysportsextra/neil miller copyright 2019
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The possibility of the No.1 pick in the draft, a Fort Knox amount of salary cap space, and the outdated notion that New York and The Garden are enough to lure free agents, had Knicks fans believed their decades of wandering in the NBA desert were over.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.
By Lenn Robbins
Not since former Maryland star Len Bias have I seen a college basketball touched by the athletic hand of God as was the case this season.
Duke’s Zion Williamson was heavier than almost every NBA player, yet he could leap to the top of the backboard. He has biceps a professional body builder would envy. He handled his season in the spotlight with more grace than should be expected from an 18-year-old.
That’s right, Zion is just 18. Notice, he already is identifiable but just his first name – like Serena, or Tiger, or LeBron.
It was with great hope that Williamson goes on to enjoy a healthy and successful NBA career. Three-three years from now I hope he’s being compared to James, Jordan and Magic. Everything points to him possibly achieving such heights. Godspeed.
So why, on the day that Williamson was the No.1 pick in the NBA Draft by the New Orleans Pelicans, do we mention him and Bias in the same space? Because no one, repeat, no one knows for certain the future of any player or for that fact, any person.
With that in mind, Knicks fans should be thrilled, not disheartened by the fact that their team selected Duke’s RJ Barrett with the third pick. He was nattily dressed in a pink suit over a black shirt and tie. He pumped both of his fists twice when Adam Silver announced his selection.
“I’ve given this game all I got for a long time and I’m just ready for this and I want to embrace the city and embrace the team and everything,’’ Barrett told ESPN’s Maria Taylor. “So I’m ready to go.’’
The Knicks, of course, had the worst record in the NBA and therefore had a terrific chance of gaining the No.1 pick and selecting Zion. It didn’t happen.
Those Knicks fans need to stop bemoaning what might have been and start celebrating what is:
Barrett has all the signs of developing into a perennial NBA All-Star. His father player at St. John’s. His mother is a Brooklyn native who ran track for the Johnnies. His godfather is Steve Nash.
He has played in The Garden and is as prepared to play in the Big Apple as any player coming out of college after one season.
“RJ will flourish here in New York,’’ Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said on his SiriusXM show this week. “He wants to be here. He is so mature. He just turned 19 last Friday, but he’s been a part of the Canadian basketball program since [he was] a little guy, always played up.”
In a perfect world, wouldn’t it be spectacular if Zion and RJ developed a Magic-Bird like rivalry?
The socio-economics of the time made for the perfect landscape for those two Hall of Famers. They seemed as polar opposite as two Americans could be, yet they developed into the closest of friends and possibly saved the NBA.
Zion has a Xenon smile. Barrett is more reserved by comparison. Zion blew out a Nike sneaker causing a temporary plunge of the company’s stock price. Does anyone know what sneaker Barrett wears?
This potential rivalry has foundation Magic and Bird didn’t have. They already are best of friends. They’ve been teammates at Duke. They know each other’s families and friends. What if McDonald’s shot a commercial at Duke (assuming this isn’t a violation of some tedious NCAA rule) featuring Barrett and Williamson?
Or what if they do an Instagram video of them playing one-on-one in Cameron Indoor Stadium? Bird and Magic didn’t have the burden and opportunity of social media.
Wouldn’t it be great for the NBA if its biggest market – New York – and one of its smallest markets – New Orleans – met in the NBA Finals several times in a few years? Zion vs RJ. RJ vs Zion.
I can see it. A pre-Finals video of them dining at Commander’s Palace in the Big Easy and Peter Luger’s in the Big Apple?
This scenario is not a pipedream. The Knicks are building with young talent in Barrett, Kevin Knox and Michael Robinson. The Pelicans are building with young talent in Williamson, Jrue Holiday and a rededicated Jahil Okafor.
Pelicans fans can choose to wallow in the bitter pool dug by Anthony Davis who shaded the Crescent City by demanding a trade. Or they can bask in the glow of a future with Zion, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and three first-round draft picks.
Knicks fans can opt to stew in the humid summer of disappointment. Or they can revel in the cool ocean breeze of the two additional first-round picks they received in the Kristaps Porzingis trade.
None of us know the future. But the Knicks and Pelicans have good reason to be cautiously ecstatic.
NOTES: The Brooklyn Nets selected Mfiondu Kabengele with the 27th pick. According to reports, the Nets traded the pick to the Clippers. In return, the Nets got the 56th pick in the 2019 draft and a first round pick in 2020.