The New York Knicks approached the trade deadline the same way they did in the offseason. They operated with silence and guided by prudence.
For the first time in a long while, the Knicks roster has chemistry. Their overachieving group, which currently sits fifth in the Eastern Conference with a 23-22 slate, reflects the stability in the Knicks hierarchy.
“Leon and his staff did an unbelievable job,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau said in the aftermath of a quiet NBA trade deadline for the Knicks. “There’s a plan that was really well thought out. There were a number of possible opportunities and I thought they were really disciplined. We love the team we have. So it worked out well for us.”
Unlike his predecessors, Rose, the unassuming president of the most magnified NBA franchise, has successfully kept himself from a media firestorm.
But don’t mistake their silence for passiveness.
The Knicks did entertain and were active on calls. But even when there were tempting talents within their reach, Rose and co. showed restraint. It’s a refreshing change for a franchise that has long been known for knee-jerk reactions and irrational actions.
“For us, it’s building the foundation by going step by step. If something can help us, we’ll consider it and we did but it was very well executed. So I’m very pleased with that,” Thibodeau said.
They were linked to Evan Fournier, who eventually went to Boston Celtics for two second-round picks. The Knicks could have had him. But they stuck with their guns as Alec Burks continue to flourish and Reggie Bullock providing defense and outside shooting. Both players are outplaying their contracts and have cemented their spots in Thibodeau’s rotation.
When the Knicks are healthy, it’s tough to insert Fournier, who will have to learn and adjust to Thibodeau’s system while also thinking of his next contract.
Lonzo Ball was also on their radar, and the Knicks were active in the negotiation table until the 11th hour, Ian Begley of SNY reported. No deal was made. Perhaps it was too rich for their blood. But Ball will certainly get an offer from the Knicks in his upcoming restricted free agency.
Rose chose their present team chemistry over altering their DNA that might pose a risk to their team’s upward trajectory.
The Knicks only made one minor move: picking up two more future second-round picks for a couple of players out of their rotation. They dealt Austin Rivers and Ignas Brazdeikis in a three-team trade with the Philadelphia 76ers and the Oklahoma City Thunder that netted them Terrance Ferguson and Frenchman Vincent Poirier, who was waived, along with the additional draft capital.
Rivers became the ambassador of goodwill for the Knicks at the beginning of the season. And for a while, his run with rookie Immanuel Quickley in the second unit’s backcourt was fun. Too bad, the “Quivers” didn’t last long. Some good things never last.
Rivers fell out of the rotation once Derrick Rose, the former MVP, and a Thibodeau favorite, arrived.
“It didn’t work out. We have a situation in which we have a number of players and we didn’t have injuries. There was a period when we were shorthanded and I thought Austin played well. He’s been a good player in the league,” Thibodeau said. “Obviously, we wish him well and we’ll go from there.”
The Knicks still have a cap space of nearly $15 million which they can use until the next Draft but cannot carry over to next season. Or they can use it right now to sign a free agent to fill up the roster spot vacated by Poirier.
They can make a run at Andre Drummond or sign any player from the free-agent market. Whatever the Knicks decide to do with their remaining cap space, expect that decision to be guided by prudence, a hallmark of Rose’s leadership.
On the day the Knicks were frantically taking and making calls, Thibodeau was in and out of their war room checking out on every possible Knicks trade while preparing his team for a rematch with the Washington Wizards later that night.
His mind was divided. But his heart wasn’t.
“Leon is very inclusive. Everyone has a voice and that’s all you could ask for. But I really respect and admire the discipline to follow the plan and to weigh everything out and determine if it makes sense or not,” Thibodeau said. “For us, it’s building the foundation by going step by step. If something can help us, we’ll consider it and we did but it was very well executed. So I’m very pleased with that.”
Thibodeau knew in his heart that he has the team that he can go to war with. The Knicks have the lowest payroll, but they have managed to stay in the middle of the pack of the bunched-up Eastern Conference.
Thibodeau did not say it directly but reading between his lines. He fought for this team to remain intact. He fell in love with this team, whose effort reflects his hard-nosed coaching.
“Their willingness to commit to play for each other, sacrifice to put the team first, come in every day. We know we have a long way to go. It will require more commitment and more sacrifices and more fight because you can see how bunched everyone is. You need some good fortune but you also need the willingness to play as a team. This team has demonstrated that all year and so we want to continue to build and see where we can go,” Thibodeau said.
Later that night, the Knicks proved their coach right. They came back from as many as 17 points down to sweep their regular-season series against the Washington Wizards, 106-102.
“It’s great to understand the front office has confidence in us,’’ said Taj Gibson, the 35-yeard old third-string center who closed out the game with his splendid play. “But we got to continue to grow. It was a hard-fought win that showed the character of our team.”
How far can these Knicks go?
Thibodeau wants to find out. Rose and his front office agreed.
For the first time, there’s synergy within the Knicks organization. Out with the disfunction, in with the positive transformation. The once-moribund franchise is finally headed in the right direction.
Even with more than $50 million in cap space and a stacked draft capital this summer, expect the Knicks to operate the same way they did this season.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo