The New York Knicks entered the 2013-14 campaign expecting to compete in a championship. Instead, they sit 12 games below .500 at the All-Star break. Yet, there is a silver lining in the Knicks' disappointing season: they may be bad enough to convince owner James Dolan to take the franchise in another direction.
The Knicks' modus operandi under Dolan has been to surrender young assets and future draft picks for players whom management believes can help them win immediately.
New York has rarely had a plan in place to build a team. Rather, the Knicks have chased every superstar on the market and, more times than not, wound up settling for their second or third option, without regard to the player’s price tag or how well he fit the team's personnel and system.
This past summer was no different. Encouraged by the Knicks’ 54-win season in 2012-13, their general manager at the time, Glen Grunwald, traded a first-round pick in 2016, two second-round picks, Marcus Camby and Steve Novak, to the Toronto Raptors for forward Andrea Bargnani in July.
The Knicks hoped that Bargnani would be the final piece to a championship puzzle. Nevermind that his mid-range game does not fit the small-ball offense that was so effective for New York last year, or that he is a defensive liability. New York also overpaid to re-sign mercurial shooting guard J.R. Smith. Neither move worked out.
Bargnani has a PER of 14.6, a net efficiency rating of -6.2, via NBA.com (subscription required) and has not spread the floor as the Knicks had hoped. Smith was suspended for the first five games of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, benched by Coach Woodson after he was fined $50,000 by the NBA for repeatedly untying opponents’ shoelaces and is shooting a dismal 38.9 percent from the field.
Those are just the latest in a long line of ill-advised acquisitions by the franchise.
If the Knicks won over 50 games again this season, or even in the high-40s, and advanced to the second round of the playoffs, Dolan and his minions would have continued to buy into the "one-player-away" delusion that has plagued the franchise for over a decade. But this season has been so disastrous that the owner will be forced to reconsider his strategy.
Do not expect the obstinate Dolan to completely change course and endorse a full rebuilding project. He will continue to fawn over superstars and is likely to re-sign Carmelo Anthony to a new maximum-salary contract this summer, even though Anthony recently stated that he would be willing to take less money to stay in New York, via Frank Isola of NY Daily News.
However, Dolan and general manager Steve Mills will be more inclined to develop a young core, either around Anthony, or to replace him in the event that he leaves via free agency, rather than trading their few valuable assets for overpriced, marginal talent.
Dolan has already provided indications that he is thinking more about the future of the franchise. During training camp, Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com reported that the Knicks owner placed a premium on reserving the final roster spots for young players whom the team could develop.
Two of the bright spots for the Knicks this season have been rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. and 22-year-old power forward Jeremy Tyler. Hardaway oozes confidence and has earned significant playing time off the bench with his ability to run the floor and three-point accuracy. (He is currently shooting 38.5 percent from downtown.)
Tyler, who skipped his senior year of high school to play professionally overseas, is still very raw in his third NBA season, though he has excellent athleticism for a player his size (6'10'', 260 pounds). He has provided a regular boost to the Knicks depleted front court since signing with the team in late December, averaging an impressive 16.4 points and 11.7 rebounds per 36 minutes, via basketball-reference.com.
Dolan also reportedly rejected a trade for point guard Kyle Lowry, in December, because he was unwilling to surrender one of the team’s few valuable assets (believed to be either Hardaway, Iman Shumpert or a 2018 first-round pick), via Frank Isola of NY Daily News. The move would have been short-sighted, as Lowry's contract expires this summer.
It is fair to expect Dolan to continue to target young players with upside on the trade market and in free agency this summer. He may even begin to invest more heavily in the draft after Hardaway’s success.
These are mere baby steps for one of professional sports' most clueless owners, but at least he is moving in the right direction. One more disappointing season for the Knicks and their fans would be well worth it if Dolan changes his ways.