Teams around the NBA are always evolving and looking for ways to improve their championship outlook. Whether that means trading for a star player or going after numerous big-name free agents, we constantly see contending teams upgrading the talent on their roster. Just this past offseason, the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks both pulled off big trades for All-Stars like Kristaps Porzingis, Jrue Holiday, and Damian Lillard despite winning over 50 games last season. Then there is the New York Knicks, an organization that continues to stand idle, waiting for something good to happen to them.
For years, the Knicks were one of the laughingstocks of the NBA, consistently finishing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Since Tom Thibodeau took over on the sidelines ahead of the 2020-21 season, New York has put their losing ways behind them. The Knicks have been to the playoffs in two of the last three seasons and recently won their first playoff series since 2013. As far as progress goes, this team has definitely improved.
However, to say that the Knicks are real threats in the Eastern Conference right now may very well be wishful thinking, especially since their progress has evened out. If you need any proof of this, look no further than the NBA In-Season Tournament.
The Knicks advanced to the quarterfinals of the first in-season tournament this year and faced off against the Bucks, a team they lost by five points to in the group stage. Given their toughness and rebounding abilities, many thought the Knicks could be threats to Milwaukee, one of the title favorites this season. Tuesday night's in-season tournament game proved something else, as it has become abundantly clear that New York is still a part of the Eastern Conference's middle tier of teams.
The Bucks defeated the Knicks 146-122 on Tuesday night, knocking New York out of the tournament and once again reminding the Knicks they are far off from being real contenders in the East. Julius Randle scoring a game-high 41 points and Jalen Brunson going for 24 points was not nearly enough for the Knicks against one of the top teams in the East. While some of this was due to an unsustainably hot three-point shooting performance by Milwaukee, there are legitimate questions about how this Knicks franchise will look to improve their roster between now and the end of the season.
At 12-8 on the year, there is certainly no reason for the Knicks or their fan base to panic. New York is still just three games back from the 1-seed in the conference and has proven to be one of the best defensive teams in the league. Nevertheless, the need for a true superstar in New York has become apparent.
Knicks to be active on trade market?
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. The Knicks have had the same core group for a couple of seasons now, and yet they have not made any real progress as far as becoming threats in the Eastern Conference. Jalen Brunson has only been with the team for a year, but Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, and Immanuel Quickley have been the main building blocks for this franchise since Tom Thibodeau was named the head coach.
The Knicks are definitely a good team that can make the playoffs, but they are by no means a great team in the East right now.
When comparing the Knicks to some of the top teams in the conference, it is very clear to see where there is separation. In fact, Kenny “The Jet” Smith perfectly broke down where New York stands in the league on TNT's Inside the NBA.
“Every game that they play, they always have the second-best player,” Smith stated. “You play Boston, you've got the second or third-best player. You play Orlando with [Paolo] Banchero, they don't have a player that's better than Banchero. Milwaukee, we know they don't. Philadelphia, they don't. The Indiana Pacers, Tyrese Haliburton is the best player on the floor … you don't have the best player on the floor any night.”
Smith also pointed out that Donovan Mitchell is the best player on the court when the Cleveland Cavaliers play the Knicks, and one can also point to the Miami Heat with Jimmy Butler being the best player on the court when facing off against the Knicks. This is by no means disrespect to Randle or Brunson, as they are both fantastic players, but to say that either one of them is the top option on a team that has championship-contending hopes is not realistic.
The Knicks simply need a star, which has been the main storyline surrounding this franchise in the Big Apple for years now. Maybe the constant change in front office leadership has deterred All-Star free agents from wanting to join the Knicks. Perhaps James Dolan and his questionable moves as the owner of the team have resulted in the Knicks' inability to lure star free agents their way. Whatever the case may be, it truly does seem like the only way the Knicks will be able to change their roster for the better is on the trade market.
At this time, it is unknown which star players could become available and just who Leon Rose may be targeting. Zach LaVine is the biggest name on the trade block right now from the Chicago Bulls, while Bulls teammate DeMar DeRozan reportedly would welcome a trade to New York if he's moved. Teams are also monitoring the availibity of Toronto Raptors All-Star Pascal Siakam. Cavs guard Donovan Mitchell and Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns have also been linked to New York in recent years, yet Cleveland and Minnesota do not appear to be on the verge of dealing one of their top talents.
Regardless of who is available, the Knicks are expected to gauge the trade market and see if there is a star player worth giving up a chunk of assets for to win right now, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania. What the Knicks would potentially give up to land another big-name player is the key question that would need to be answered.
Veteran three-point specialist Evan Fournier is obviously the big contract to be included in any proposed deal, as he is making $18.8 million this season, and there always seem to be questions surrounding Barrett's future with the team. There were rumors that the Knicks almost dealt him to the Utah Jazz a couple of years ago to possibly acquire Mitchell, and he is the No. 3 option on this team next to Randle and Brunson.
Aside from draft picks, the next couple of assets the Knicks may look to leverage are Quentin Grimes and Immanuel Quickley, two young guards on rookie contracts who may be getting frustrated with their current roles.
Futures of Quentin Grimes, Immanuel Quickley in New York
While the Knicks have basically the same roster from a season ago, Tom Thibodeau has slightly tweaked his approach on offense. Last season, the Knicks were a great offensive team because they moved the basketball and were constantly looking for ways to get everyone outside of Randle and Brunson involved. So far in 2023-24, that has not been the case, as this team's offensive production has begun to decline. Through 20 games, the Knicks rank 28th in assists per game and 27th in team field goal percentage.
Where this team gets production outside of Randle, Brunson, and Barrett is a question mark each and every night. Quentin Grimes and Immanuel Quickley were supposed to be two guards who could supply the Knicks with instant scoring and three-point shooting, yet they have not lived up to what was advertised coming into the season.
Quickley is in the final year of his rookie contract and is the team's fourth-leading scorer at 15.0 points per game. Even though New York is getting great value for Quickley off the bench in terms of his scoring numbers, the young guard's inconsistent minutes have everyone wondering about his future. Over the Knicks' last six games, the former first-round pick has played less than 20 minutes four different times. Over his last three games, Quickley has played in only 19 minutes all three times, averaging only 7.3 points and 2.0 assists per game while shooting 26.1 percent from the floor in this span.
Seeing as the Knicks are committed to long-term deals with Brunson, Randle, and Barrett, there have been a lot of question marks surrounding Quickley and his upcoming extension. According to HoopsHype's Michael Scotto, the team did offer Quickley around $18 million per year during extension talks this offseason, but the young guard was looking for something more in the ballpark of $25 million per year given his contributions as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. As a result of not agreeing to an extension before the season, Quickley is a trade candidate many around the league are beginning to keep a close eye on.
As for Grimes, he appears to be very frustrated with the way things have gone in his third season with the Knicks. After averaging 11.3 points per game and shooting 38.6 percent from three-point range in 71 games last year, Grimes has averaged just 5.8 points per game while shooting 34.5 percent from deep in 18 games this season. Against the Bucks on Tuesday night, Grimes played just 18 minutes and went 0-for-1 from the floor, failing to score in the team's blowout loss.
“It’s just hard when you go the whole quarter without touching the ball, the whole second quarter without touching the ball, and then you get one shot and you got to make it,” Grimes said after the team's loss during the in-season tournament, via Stefan Bondy from the New York Post. “So it’s tough going out there and just standing in the corner the whole game. Then you got to make the shot when you shoot the ball one or two times per game. It is what it is.”
Grimes also explained that he feels like he is going to be exiting the game as soon as he misses a shot despite the team constantly reassuring him to take open shots. At this point, it seems like Grimes has lost a lot of confidence in his shot, resulting in his struggles and mindset.
The Knicks' best win this season has come against the Miami Heat, who currently find themselves 11-9 on the season and behind New York in the Eastern Conference standings. The Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Orlando Magic all sit above the Knicks in the standings to this point. Boston and Milwaukee have gone a combined 4-0 against the Knicks this season, while Philadelphia and Orlando have not yet played them.
Only having wins over teams with losing records and those below them in the standings, the Knicks find themselves in a position where something needs to change as soon as possible. The NBA In-Season Tournament provided the Knicks with a chance to prove who they really are and, now, they have clarity on where they stand in the East. A star is needed in New York, which is why Grimes and Quickley are both players who could wind up on the chopping block in the coming months.