It was a smack in the face for Knicks team president Steve Mills.
New York had a 20-point loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles last season, and the Lakers weren't one of the best teams out West. On the bus ride to the airport, Mills knew what his team needed to do for that not to happen again.
"We just kept looking at each other and we said the Lakers weren't particularly good at that point, but the athleticism differential when you watched our team play their team is alarming," Mills told Newsday's Steve Popper. "If we want to compete and build something we have to get more athletic. It was so glaring."
Getting the right players in place and making his team more athletic has been the plan since Mills and GM Scott Perry took over. But that doesn't come overnight. That is why patience is a key component of the Knicks' plan to return to greatness.
Patience will be tested this season with the Knicks still mired in their rebuild, and their star Kristaps Porzingis likely out for a good chunk -- if not all -- of the year. But Mills wants to continue seeing a competitive team on the court for all 82 games, which was the same goal last season as well.
"We just come in with the approach that we want to see our guys compete every night, create an environment where they know this is a place where we expect competitors to be here," Mills said. "We expect our team to play hard every night, compete every night, win as many games as we can win, and play in a way that gets Knicks fans excited about what we're doing and the guys that we have on the team."
The guys the Knicks have are young and still need development to be true competitors. But that doesn't mean Mills has to go out and find big-name veterans to counteract that inexperience. It is something the Knicks have tried doing in the past, and it hasn't worked out.
A great example is what Mills is trying to figure out with C Joakim Noah right now. Former team president Phil Jackson signed Noah to a four-year, $72.5 million contract back in 2016, and that clearly hasn't worked out for the Knicks.
Mills has seen what potential short-term fixes can do, which is why patience is key.
"I've been around, I've seen a lot here at the Garden, and what I try to do is learn from what I've seen and what I've experienced," he said. "I know those short-term quick fixes, you're planning one way and then all of a sudden you're making a shift. It's one thing if you're right on the cusp of competing for a championship, but when you're where we are to all of a sudden pivot and go in a different direction, I've just seen it go wrong too many times. I'm not going to be part of doing it that way."
Next offseason, though, Mills is expected to be a heavy contender for top free agents, including Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, and Kevin Durant among them. So, making the team attractive to these veterans is a priority as well.
"The first thing we had to do was convince players this is a good place to play and that we have a plan, what their role is in the plan, and to make them feel comfortable that we're doing something the right way, that we're going in a positive direction and make them feel like part of something important and they're going to be part of something big," Mills explained. "And that was our goal throughout the season, to make these guys believers in us and believers in the Knicks."