The New York Knicks are—and have every intention of staying—relentlessly hopeless.
Spin their 2022 NBA draft performance however the hell you want. The end result doesn't change.
The Knicks are helplessly, almost hilariously, incapable of mapping out or following through on a coherent vision. At times, they take a break from their trademark brand of incompetence, but they are fleeting reprieves from the organization's inevitable next chapter of self-sabotage.
Which brings us to Thursday night. The Knicks entered the 2022 NBA draft with the No. 11 pick and at the center of various too-good-to-be-true rumors.
Would they trade up to land Jaden Ivey and finally invest real equity in a glamorous floor general prospect?
Or would they flip a lottery pick to clear cap space for the mere opportunity to pay Jalen Brunson, an incredibly talented offensive force who also isn't good enough to accelerate or define the organization's timeline?
New York opted for the road more traveled, trading No. 11 to the Oklahoma City Thunder for three heavily protected first-round picks, one of which will be used to grease the wheels of a Kemba Walker salary dump. The full (and complex) order of operations is as follows, per ESPN's Tim Bontemps:
Tim Bontemps @TimBontemps
What the Knicks did tonight:<br><br>NYK trades 11th pick to OKC<br><br>OKC trades 3 firsts (23 DEN, DET, WASH) to NYK<br><br>NYK then trades 23 DEN, 4 seconds to CHA for 13th pick<br><br>NYK then trade 13th pick & Kemba Walker to DET for MKE's 25 first <br><br>NYK trades 11, Kemba, 4 2nds & gets 3 future 1sts
This is what it looks like when an NBA team galaxy-brains itself into oblivion.
Functionally, the Knicks didn't just trade the 11th overall pick. They effectively traded both No. 11 and No. 13. That's impossible to stomach coming off an 11th-place finish in the Eastern Conference.
Those holding out hope the Knicks would continue acting like a normal organization posited, at various stages throughout the night as details trickled out, that this could be part of an attempt to flesh out a larger trade package. It wasn't.
New York dumped Kemba Walker and the cap hold on a lottery pick for the exact reason you think it did: to make a run at Jalen Brunson in free agency.
Do these three additional future first-rounders—all heavily protected, one of which has a reasonable chance of never conveying (Washington's 2023 first)—make the pain go away? I'm afraid they do not.
Jake Fischer @JakeLFischer
If the 2023 DET first doesn't convey in 2027, it becomes DET's 2027 second rounder. <br><br>If the 2023 WAS first doesn't convey in 2026, then it becomes Wizards' 2026 and 2027 seconds. <br><br>if the 2023 DEN first doesn't convey by 2025, then it becomes Denver's 2025 and 2025 seconds. <a href="https://t.co/w9MyjiCGcd">https://t.co/w9MyjiCGcd</a>
After accounting for Mitchell Robinson's (miniature) free-agent hold, the Knicks exit draft night with around $15 million to $16 million in space if they jettison Ryan Arcidiacono (free-agent hold) and Taj Gibson (non-guaranteed). This essentially means they jumped through all these draft-night hoops to...come within one additional salary dump of offering a market-value contract to Brunson, who's expected to command $20-plus million annually, per Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer.
Flaws abound in this latest Knicks scheme. Chief among them: The Dallas Mavericks exist. The Mavs can dangle a fifth year in front of Brunson, and team governor Mark Cuban sure sounds like someone prepared to pay him. Fischer also noted on an episode of the Please Don't Aggregate This podcast (sorry, Jake!) that Brunson's return to Big D is being portrayed as "basically a done deal."
Things change. So, let's assume they have. The Knicks just 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 beyond that, there's no way the Knicks do this without some assurance they have a chance to pry Brunson out of Dallas.
Brunson is coming off a fantastic season in which he averaged 16.3 points and 4.8 assists while downing 54.5 percent of his twos and 37.3 percent of this threes. The only other players to match or exceed those benchmarks: Kevin Durant and Jrue Holiday.
Brunson's star ascended even further during the playoffs, where he mutilated the Utah Jazz in the first round while keeping the Mavs afloat without Luka Doncic. The pressure he puts on opposing defenses in the lane with his footwork and finishing is genuinely impactful. Among every player who had 500 or more drives this past season, Brunson's 56.7 percent shooting clip ranked fourth, trailing only those of Chris Paul, Karl-Anthony Towns and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Adding Brunson to the fold would be admirable if your team is in need of a final piece, or if your best player also happens to be a top-10 star. The Knicks are neither close to a finished product nor do they have a legitimate star in their employ.
There's a real chance Brunson becomes their best player if he signs with them. He alone isn't guaranteeing a playoff berth, let alone an even rosier ceiling. Best-case scenario: Brunson, RJ Barrett and Julius Randle all exist on comparable planes. That leaves New York...still smack dab in the middle of the Eastern Conference, chugging along at their four-winning-seasons-since-2001 pace.
And this assumes the Knicks actually get Brunson.
Plans Bs are limited if he doesn't head to New York. This is not the summer to have material cap space, so naturally, the plan is to have material cap space this summer.
They're widely expected to pivot into a Malcolm Brogdon trade with the Indiana Pacers if they whiff on Brunson—a contingency befitting a franchise seemingly obsessed with acquiring non-star guards earning $20-plus million per year.
This isn't some harmless dose of near-sighted thinking. This is organizational malpractice—the kind of short-circuitry that should cost those in charge their jobs.
This latest crisis stings a little more knowing New York hinted at reformation at the start of the Leon Rose era.
It isn't that the Knicks have lost every transaction. (This regime has mostly drafted well.) Their missteps, like last year's first-round-pick swap, have been marginal. Sure, they clearly overestimated how they'd build on their success from 2020-21. But until now, their most unforgivable moves included rushing to extend Julius Randle (four years, $117 million) and giving Evan Fournier three guaranteed years when they only doled out two to Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel.
In New York's defense, there's a lot of offseason runway still to cover. And head coach Tom Thibodeau probably would have ignored either lottery prospect in pursuit of 35 to 43 victories. None of which is consoling so much as terrifying.
On Thursday night, the Knicks yet again revealed the truth about themselves. And the truth is, they are an organization forever in their own way, unsuited to change, eternally married to the middle.