Forever Incapable of Rebuilding, NY Knicks Strike out Looking at Trade Deadline

Yaron Weitzman@YaronWeitzmanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2017

New York Knicks President Phil Jackson speaks with the media att Madison Square Garden training center on July 8, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith        (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
BRYAN R. SMITH/Getty Images

The trade deadline has passed and nothing has changed for the New York Knicks.

Carmelo Anthony is still in New York. So are Derrick Rose and Courtney Lee, Brandon Jennings and Kyle O’Quinn. Ricky Rubio isn’t bringing his pass-first ways to Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks are today what they were yesterday: a scuffling team with a mostly bare cupboard, a franchise with a potential stud but seemingly unsure of how to best move forward. 

At 23-34, and with the league’s sixth-worst defense and seventh-worst point differential, the Knicks have little chance to creep back into the playoff picture—even in the lowly Eastern Conference, where they trail the eighth-placed Detroit Pistons by four games.

There are three ways to react when a season goes awry: You can try to plug your holes, which is almost always a slippery endeavor. You can sell off parts to improve your future position, which is typically the smartest thing to do. Or you can foolishly keep all your cards, sit back and wait to see what happens. 

The Knicks, for some reason, chose the last one.

There were moves to make, too.

Maybe now wasn’t the right time to trade Anthony (though perhaps things could have been different if team president Phil Jackson ever had an open and candid conversation with his star about the future, something which Anthony has told reporters multiple times has never happened).

But there’s no reason for Brandon Jennings, Kyle O’Quinn and Derrick Rose to still be on the roster today. You can even make a case that the Knicks should have pulled the trigger on something involving Courtney Lee.

Brandon Jennings, Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Kyle O'Quinn
Brandon Jennings, Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Kyle O'QuinnMike Stobe/Getty Images

O’Quinn is a productive reserve big man (15.1 PTS 13.1 REB, 3.2 BLK per 36 minutes, via Basketball Reference) on a team-friendly contract (signed for $8.3 million over two years with a player option on the second year) with no spot in New York given the emergence of Willy Hernangomez. He is not part of the Knicks’ future. Even acquiring a second-round pick for him would have been the savvy move.

Then there are Jennings and Rose. Both will be free agents this summer, and both are unlikely to re-sign. Keeping them on the roster means the Knicks will now enter the offseason with around $25 million in cap room, enough to chase a big-time free agent.

Who might that free agent be? Well, that’s the problem and why the Knicks made a mistake when playing hardball with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Timberwolves were considering a Rose-for-Ricky Rubio swap, but ESPN.com’s Ian Begley reported that the Knicks initially refused to budge on “their insistence that a second piece be added to the deal.”

The Knicks, according to Begley, later came off that stance. A league source told Bleacher Report that Minnesota, after considering the proposal, walked away from the deal because it didn’t want to take on a rental and had no interest in giving Rose a big contract this summer. 

Bringing in Rubio was far from a no-brainer, but it’s a move that would have improved both the Knicks’ present and future standing. For one, he’s a pass-first point guard (averaging 8.9 assists per game despite finishing just 15 percent of the Timberwolves' possessions) whose game would jell well with Kristaps Porzingis'.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 2:  Ricky Rubio #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves drives to the basket during a game against the New York Knicks on December 2, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

He’s not the defender he once was, but his effort is always there, and that differentiates him from Rose. That alone could help keep opposing jitterbugs out of the paint, which would help Porzingis stay out of foul troublehe leads the league in personal fouls per game, according to TeamRankings.comwhich should be Priority No. 1 for the franchise.

Rubio is signed for the next two seasons, at about $29 million total. That would take away the Knicks’ ability to chase blue-chippers—but then again, who are they getting to come run the point? Steph Curry isn’t going anywhere. Chris Paul probably isn’t either, and, given his statement following the team’s Oakley debacle, he almost certainly wouldn’t want to play for the Knicks.

It would take a max offer to lure Jrue Holiday (unlikely to leave New Orleans, which can offer more years and money) or Utah's George Hill (an excellent player, but already 30 years old). That leaves guys like Indiana's Jeff Teague and San Antonio's Patty Mills.

The right move would have been to bring Rubio in, take advantage of the losing season and draft a point guard in what is by all accounts a deep draft for the position. Bring that player along slowly and go from there.

Rubio could start or play 25 minutes off the bench. Playing alongside a true point guard could also help Porzingis snap out of his funk. Replacing the shoot-first, no-defense ways of Rose could have also allowed head coach Jeff Hornacek to get a jump-start on rebuilding the team’s schemes this year, as opposed to waiting for his next training camp. 

Which brings us back to the primary question: What exactly is the Knicks' plan?

In Porzingis they have the type of player teams spend years tanking for, yet they’ve shown no vision in the past two years. They brought in Rose and inexplicably signed Joakim Noah last offseason—moves you make when the present is what matters most.

Thing is, it’s the future that the Knicks should be worried about. Acquiring future assets, establishing a culture, and, in certain times—such as now when the Knicks actually own their own first-round pick—improving draft position is what a rebuilding team should always be looking to do.

Acquiring Rubio would have fit the first two categories. Trading Jennings, O'Quinn and/or Lee could have fit the former and latter. Instead, they did nothing.

Maybe the problem is the Knicks don’t view themselves as rebuilding.

Either that, or they don’t know how.

Neither reason is good. 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats from NBA.com unless otherwise noted and accurate as of Feb. 23. 

Yaron Weitzman covers the Knicks, and other things, for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman and listen to his Knicks-themed podcast here.

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