After recently passing the halfway point of the 2019-20 season, the New York Knicks find themselves tied for the third worst record (12-32) in the NBA after 44 games. The franchise is headed for their seventh consecutive losing season and sixth consecutive season with at least 50 losses.
After losing out on star free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving last summer, the Knicks front office attempted to save face by adding mid-tier free agents such as Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, and Bobby Portis. The result of mixing numerous veterans to a young core has not worked as planned. The Knicks have a multitude of questions to ask as they play out the second half of another lost season. Here are the five most important.
Is Marcus Morris a part of the team's future?
Two seasons ago, the Memphis Grizzlies signed swingman Tyreke Evans to a one-year, $3.3 million deal. Coming off of multiple injuries, Evans' deal was a bargain and the former Rookie of the Year excelled immediately. Though Memphis struggled as a team, Evans posted 19.9 points along with a career-high 39.9 percent from three.
After his value skyrocketed, the Grizzlies looked to deal Evans. Knowing that they were likely to lose him in free agency, Memphis held out for a future first round draft pick. After being unable to find a taker, Memphis held on to Evans and he left in free agency, signing with the Indiana Pacers.
The Knicks find themselves in a similar position with Morris. After signing a one-year $15 million deal with the Knicks, Morris is having a career year, leading the Knicks in scoring at 19.0 points. The 30-year old forward is third in the NBA in three-point shooting at 45.7 percent. Though Morris has made it clear he is interested in re-signing with the Knicks, his fit in New York's future is murky at best.
The Knicks will be able to re-sign Morris despite not having his bird rights, since they are projected to have around $51 million in cap space. The team should try to cultivate their collection of assets, and a trade of Morris for future picks is an easy way to start a true rebuild and end the charade of being competitive.
Will the Knicks commit to playing younger players over veterans?
The Knicks are seven games behind the Brooklyn Nets for the eighth seed. They are eight games out in the loss column. Realistically, any hopes for competing for a playoff spot are dead. New York should focus on the development of their young players. In their most recent game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, four of the five players that saw the most action on the court have played at least six seasons in the NBA. The franchise needs to prioritize the development of their younger players.
The ghosts of Jarrett Jack, Sasha Vujacic and Jose Calderon have come back to haunt the Knicks as they have continued for the past six seasons to play veterans in meaningless games over younger players.
Can Mike Miller become a permanent head coach?
The Knicks have played slightly better under Mike Miller, going 8-14 after a 4-18 start with David Fizdale. With Miller at the helm, the Knicks have shown improvement as a team, but still find themselves nothing more than mediocre. New York is 22nd in both offensive and defensive efficiency since Miller took over. The chances of Miller staying on are relatively slim.
Does it matter if they finish with a better record than last year?
It seems that after selling fans on last season as a year in the tank, the Knicks have been obsessed with respectability. The franchise wasn't as concerned with making the playoffs as much as just being good enough to win a few games. The awkward and impromptu press conference by president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry early in the season stands out. Besides sealing Fizdale's fate as a fired head coach, it crystallized that New York wanted to show modest improvements in the win column.
The Knicks seem to be headed to a higher win number this season, but it doesn't change much. A three or four-win improvement doesn't matter in the big picture and seems hollow considering the stunted development of players like Kevin Knox, Allonzo Trier, and Dennis Smith, Jr.
Are the Knicks looking to pursue a superstar center?
Over the past few months, the Knicks have been linked to All-Star centers Andre Drummond and Karl-Anthony Towns. While the interest in Towns makes sense, the pursuit of Drummond is perplexing. At 24, Towns is in the early stages of a five-year, $158.3 million max contract. He's a two-time All-Star and has one of the most unique and multi-faceted skill sets the league has ever seen.
Drummond is a solid All-Star, but at 26, he has a player option for $28.8 million that if declined, would make him an unrestricted free agent. Though the Knicks may have ended their in-season pursuit of Drummond, they have expressed interest in a possible run at the Detroit Pistons center in free agency. Currently, the Knicks have been focused on the development of 21-year old Mitchell Robinson. The potential addition of Drummond would stunt Robinson's growth and leave questions of whether the Knicks are truly invested in the former second-round pick.
Going back to the inconsistent playing time that Knicks prospects have received this season, this is a reflection of a team walking in two directions with an unclear vision for the future. The interest in Drummond is a sexy, press conference-winning move, but without a proven, dynamic backcourt player to complement the center, the addition of Drummond would qualify more as sizzle than steak.