The 2018-19 season is going to be a transitional one for the Knicks.With a brand-new coach in David Fizdale and a highly touted rookie in Kevin Knox, there is plenty of reason for a long-suffering fanbase to be hopeful for the future. But there's also a lot of uncertainty.
Kristaps Porzingis is rehabbing a torn left ACL, and it remains to be seen when he'll play - or how good he'll look when he does. Second-year guard Frank Ntilikina showed promise in his rookie campaign, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, but he still has a long way to go.
After waiving Joakim Noah's onerous contract with the stretch provision, Scott Perry and Steve Mills will go into 2019 free agency armed with enough cap space to lure a big name. In the meantime, the Knicks can choose one of two paths: Go for broke and make a dark-horse playoff run, or embrace the tank for one more year and add to their collection of young players. Each approach would have its advantages and its drawbacks...
Knicks overachieve, make unlikely playoff push
Pro: For one thing, if the Knicks are anywhere near playoff range, that will mean Porzingis came back quicker than expected and looked like something close to his old self. With much of their long-term hopes still tied up in him (and what is sure to be a lucrative new contract looming in restricted free agency), it would bode well for the future if Porzingis' knee surgery looked to be in the rear-view mirror.
A playoff run would also mean a huge second-year leap from Ntilikina, immediate impact from Knox, and Mario Hezonja finally figuring things out. If all of that happens, the Knicks become much more attractive to star free agents like Kevin Durant and Jimmy Butler, but they'd be well set-up for the future even if one of those names doesn't sign.
Con: For the Knicks to make a postseason push, they'll need more out of Porzingis than can be realistically expected of someone his size coming off a serious knee injury. Rushing him back for some short-term success would be exactly the kind of short sighted move the organization has stressed a desire to move away from.
And for what? Even if they defy odds and scrape the No. 7 or 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, they're sure to get destroyed in the first round by whichever of Boston, Toronto, or Philadelphia they face. Making the playoffs would provide a short-term PR boost, but the more likely scenario if they went for it would be falling just short and getting a worse draft pick. This isn't a team that's ready to compete seriously, and the handful of players on the roster who are legitimate building blocks are works in progress.
If Durant decides to sign in New York in July, it will be because of the off-court interests he can pursue in the league's biggest market asa well as his belief in the long-term potential of Porzingis, Ntilikina and Knox -- not because of a roster that will be mostly different won 10 more games than expected the previous year.
Knicks bottom out, score big in draft lottery
Pro: The Knicks have nothing to play for this season. There's absolutely no reason to let Porzingis suit up before he's 100 percent recovered, and even if he plays later in the year, the smart thing for Fizdale and the Knicks' training staff to do would be to limit his minutes and hold him out on back-to-backs.
As promising a prospect as Knox is, there are going to be growing pains for the rookie. He might as well be allowed to play through them and learn the ropes in his first year as a pro without the pressure of the win-loss record mattering. Courtney Lee is still a useful player on an affordable contract who could help a contender, and if the Knicks go all-in on the tank, they could get something for him at the deadline that will help them down the road -- be it cap relief, a younger player, or a draft pick.
If all goes according to plan, New York will be in the mix for the biggest names on the free-agent market next season, meaning this will be their last chance to add a lottery-level talent before their picks become much, much lower. They would do well to take advantage of that.
Con: As of this season, tanking will become much less of a surefire way to rebuild. Under the new lottery rules that go into effect this year, the ping-pong ball distribution flattens out, with the four worst teams in the league each having a 14 percent chance to earn the top pick. No longer does the worst record come with a 25 percent chance at No. 1 overall, so the chances are greater that the Knicks would take an embarrassing amount of losses and not even come away with a lottery victory to show for it.
An awful record in the regular season could also be a turn-off for the kinds of free agents they're hoping to attract next summer, who are sure to be focused on a chance to win right away.