Bing Bong! Inside the culture behind Knicks’ early success

The New York Knicks are on top of the Eastern Conference.

It is expected to remain that way after Saturday’s night road game in Big Easy with no Zion Williamson as a roadblock.

“Whenever [Zion] is on the court, it makes it a lot tougher, for sure,” RJ Barrett, the hero in the Knicks’ road win in Chicago, said. “Nonetheless, they’re still a good team. They have a lot of weapons. We can’t overlook anybody.”

The Knicks have made that mistake against the Orlando Magic, and they paid dearly for it — the only blemish so far in an otherwise perfect record dating back to the preseason.

They have won in a myriad of ways and best quality teams. They have also lost to a bad team. But this team is built for overcoming adversities.

“It’s hard to win in this league,” Kemba Walker said following their tough win in Chicago where the Knicks almost blew a 13-point lead inside the final three minutes.

They have found ways to win even when their odds are stacked against them. They have risen above adversities early in the season because, as Tom Thibodeau would always say, “don’t fight pressure with pressure.”

Past Knicks teams would have folded up easily to pressure. But not this new, rejuvenated Knicks team of misfits and outcasts tied together in a string by a journeyman coach who’s been kicked out twice but found a way to get up and reinvent himself.

They all found a home in New York.

They have been winning on the court and stealing the hearts of fans in a demanding city that requires toughness and recognizes real hard work.

“I think the way we play together, you know our connection, our togetherness, it’s unreal,” said Walker who has never felt great and looked healthier than this in the last two seasons.

That cohesiveness made them survive against Boston and Chicago and made them reign over Orlando and Philadelphia.

Walker is starting to find his groove and spot in the team after early struggles to start the season. The Bronx native has racked up back-to-back 20-point games, and his backcourt partnership with Evan Fournier has juiced up the Knicks offense.

Walker and Fournier have combined for 36 three-pointers through the first five games. The Knicks are winning even when the teams are loading up on their All-Star leader Julius Randle.

“I love the way every game they get better and better. So, they’re building chemistry,” Thibodeau said of his reloaded starting unit.

“We’re gelling so well. We care for each other,” Walker added. “Nobody cares who scores the basketball or who makes the play. We just want to win. That’s what this game is about, man. It’s all about guys playing to win. And that’s going to make us special. That’s going to take us a long way.”

The selflessness had been infectious.

Derrick Rose quickly put to bed any issue between them and Walker right on the first day of training camp. The former MVP has ceded the starting role to Walker. When Rose closed out the first three games, Walker didn’t have qualms about it. Eventually, Walker’s rising play earned him minutes to close out the last two wins.

Their mutual admiration and respect have made them seamlessly fit in Thibodeau’s egalitarian system.

The Knicks have carefully constructed a balanced roster that is two-deep in each position. That keeps players on edge and makes each scrimmage competitive.

Iron sharpens iron.

Not every team can boast of that.

One example is the team they have recently beaten. Ahead of the Knicks-Bulls game, Chicago coach Billy Donovan admitted that they didn’t have anyone resembling Mitchell Robinson in practice. Donovan has staggered his starters with his bench throughout the game to compensate for their lack of depth.

On the other hand, the Knicks have one of the best second units in the league. Their bench currently ranks fifth in the league in scoring with 39.2 points per game and third in plus differential with 4.6 plus/minus.

“When we sub, there’s not a drop-off. And so whoever is going good, some nights one guy will play a little more and the other guy a little less,” Thibodeau said. “But I love the fact that everyone is sacrificing for the team and putting the team first. And that’s how you win big in this league.”

Selflessness is fueling their togetherness.

Culture is a buzzword that is thrown around often these days. That word seemed to have remained foreign to the Knicks until Leon Rose shifted from representing stars in the league to accepting the challenge of cleaning the mess in New York. When Rose handpicked Thibodeau, a few eyebrows were raised. Thibodeau, critics argued, is coaching rethread, who has quickly worn out his welcomes in his past two stops.

Rose’s first offseason quietly came and went. But Thibodeau, like in Chicago and Minnesota, made some noise right away. The challenge for him is how to sustain it longer than his past two stops.

Nobody saw this New York thing coming. Nobody thought the rebuilding would be this quick. From ping pong (balls) to bing bong, the Knicks are making the headlines now for all the right reasons.

For Thibodeau, culture isn’t just about the Knicks’ defense or how they are blitzing a pick and roll.

“Culture is what you do every day. It’s not one particular thing. It’s how you approach everything from draft, free agency, trades, player development, practice, travel, summer program,” Thibodeau explained during the training camp.

That starts by showing up in the training camp in good shape. In a nutshell, that is Thibodeau’s way or highway. The Knicks treated preseason like regular-season games. They went 4-0 with the starters playing deep in the fourth quarter.

Thibodeau defended that as his way of setting the tone for the season and keeping his players extra sharp ahead of the league.

“You have to be in shape to play for Thibs. It’s non-negotiable,” said Barrett, who dropped a season-high 20 points in Chicago on an array of drives and transition points. “That’s what we do. That’s what we practice.”

What happens when you’re not in top shape?

“You’re not going to play,” Randle said. “It’s the standard. We have a standard and a culture. That’s a part of it. It’s not just Thibs standard. It’s our standard that marks us as a team. We hold each other accountable. Everybody comes in the right shape. That’s the first thing.”

Randle earned Thibodeau’s respect when he showed up in great shape ahead of last year’s training camp. It set the tone for his breakthrough season that carried the Knicks to a surprising playoff run. That golden standard is what is driving them again to early success this season.

“How are you going to win games if you’re not in shape?,” Randle asked.

The minutes’ police keenly monitored Thibodeau’s first season with the Knicks. But Randle, who led the league in minutes, proved to be durable. He played all but one of the 72 regular-season games.

Even Walker, who did not play back-to-back games last season, has only missed one so far in a nine-game stretch dating back to the preseason. Walker revealed after the Knicks win in Chicago that taking care of his balky knees is a whole day routine, not just when he’s in the practice facility.

“I think guys know when they’re coming here to the Knicks, they’re coming here to play for Thibs. That’s what it is,” Randle said. “When you sign up to play here, you expect that of yourself. You expect that other guys to come in [with the same mindset].”

Thibodeau loves being around this team because they have embraced the culture of hard work, accountability, and togetherness.

It’s becoming a norm to see Knicks players working on their game outside their schedule in their practice facility. Randle’s road game routine of having extra work in the gym rather than checking out bars — something that he’s learned from the late Kobe Bryant — has caught on with the whole team.

But all work and no fun is no fun at all.

Thibodeau has learned that the hard way from his previous stops. There is still his gruffness and toughness on the court. But off the court, he’s now socializing and opening himself up a little bit.

The report coming out in Chicago is another reminder of that. The Knicks reportedly have stayed the night after their grueling win. Usually, they fly out to their next destination after games. Instead, they went out for dinner as a whole team.

“I don’t think I’ve seen that all my years in the NBA,” NBA analyst Brian Scalabrine, who played for Thibodeau in Chicago and Boston, said on SiriusXM’s NBA Radio.

Thibodeau still yells and yanks his players out of the game when he sees them repeatedly committing mistakes. But you will never hear Thibodeau throwing any of his players under the bus in postgame pressers, unlike other coaches around the league.

He still runs brutal practices. But he also throws around occasional jokes and cut short scrimmages when he feels his team needs a break.

“[Culture] is how you do everything and approach each day. If you have an organization putting everything they have and teaching every day, good things come out of that,” Thibodeau said.

From top to bottom, the Knicks have a synergy never before seen in James Dolan’s era. And to Dolan’s credit, he has given everything the team asked for — from robust analytics department to installing the league’s most comprehensive Noah Basketball system at their practice facility, from keeping out of any PR mess to letting Rose and the Thibodeau run the organization and the team.

“You couldn’t ask anything more [from Dolan]. Leon (Rose), Wes (Wiliam Wesley), and Scott (Perry) have been terrific,” Thibodeau said.

“Our players have been very committed. It’s a hardworking group but we don’t have it all figured out and there’s a long way to go. And it doesn’t go away. You have to do it every day. You can’t let up. There’s no shortcut to this. So everyone has to be willing to pay that price.”

Not everyone is built to play in New York. In the same way, not everyone is fit to play for Thibodeau. You have to be mentally tough and always ready for the grind — the price of sustainable success.

The Knicks are not the same old Knicks. Even with a large salary cap space in the offseason, they did not go after the flashy names. Instead, they signed role players to team-friendly contracts. They are keen to continue developing their own young players into stars with flexibility to trade for one who fits their culture.

Even if devoid of superstars, the Knicks are winning. They are thriving because of their culture.

“It’s still early, but we just want to continue to fight for each other and play the right way,” Walker said.

The Knicks are on top. And they don’t have any plan to come down.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

NBA GM Poll: Knicks outside East’s Top 7 despite having best defensive coach

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

Just like last year, the NBA general managers keep on sleeping on Tom Thibodeau and the New York Knicks.

Despite the addition of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier to a core that finished fourth in the East last season, the general managers around the league don’t see a top-seven team.

In the annual NBA GM survey released Tuesday, Knicks’ crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets emerged as the heavy favorites to win the title, netting 72 percent of the overall votes, followed by Los Angeles Lakers (17%) and Milwaukee Bucks (10%). 

The Knicks were nowhere to be found among the Eastern Conference’s top seven teams. According to the general managers, the Nets, Bucks, Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, and Indiana Pacers are better than the Knicks.

But this is the least of concern of Thibodeau, who likes their chances once he gets the same buy-in as last season.

“It doesn’t really matter what outsiders think,” Thibodeau said in the training camp. “What matters is what we think. And we have an understanding of what we’re doing each and every day. And we understand we have to do it together.”

“I think you go into every season and we feel if we’re doing the right things, the results will take care of themselves.”

Naysayers view the Knicks’ surprising fourth-place finish in the regular season as a fluke, inflated by the COVID-related absences of key players of the other teams and the crowd-less games for most of the season. The playoffs exposed the chinks in the armor of the overachieving Knicks.

Leon Rose and his front office tried to plug those holes with the addition of Walker, a four-time All-Star who had knee issues in the past two years, and Fournier. Walker ranked fifth on the list of the most underrated player acquisition.

They have also added two defensive-minded rookies who can shoot the lights out in Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride to add more depth to a roster that can go as deep as a 12-man rotation. McBride, the 36th pick, also received votes for the biggest steal at where he was selected in the Draft.

The Knicks’ front office was also recognized for their prudent decisions, getting votes in the list of teams that made the best overall offseason moves.

Thibodeau, who won his second NBA Coach of the Year award last year over Monty Williams, isn’t considered a top-five head coach in the league next season. Heat’s Erik Spoelstra topped the list for the second year in a row, followed by Williams, Quin Snyder, Gregg Popovich, and Mike Budenholzer.

However, NBA GMS overwhelmingly picked Thibodeau as the top head coach with the best defensive schemes. He also received votes in the head coach who makes the best in-game adjustments.

“Understand what goes into winning, do everything you can to help the team win, and if we get the whole group doing that, we like our chances. There’s no easy way to do this. The teams are good, all 30 teams have great talent so you have to find a way to win games,” Thibodeau said.

Finding that edge is one of Thibodeau’s strongest suits as he has the uncanny ability to squeeze everything he can from his team.

With the crowd returning in full force this season, the Knicks were voted third behind Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets as the top teams with the best home-court advantage.

That will be in full display starting Tuesday when the Knicks host the Pacers in a preseason game at 7:30 p.m. in the Garden.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks: Tom Thibodeau explains why Kemba Walker will start over Derrick Rose

knicks, kemba walker

On Wednesday, New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed that Kemba Walker would be the opening night starter.

Derrick Rose, an early Sixth Man of the Year favorite, will reprise his role as the second unit leader, giving the Knicks a solid point guard rotation they lacked last season.

“Pretty much [Kemba Walker will start]. I had an idea going in what we wanted to look at,” Thibodeau said on the second day of the training camp. “The one thing I feel very strongly about is that our second unit played very well together last year. So I want them to stay intact.”

“But that doesn’t mean it will stay that way. A lot of these guys are interchangeable. So yeah, they’re gonna play with both groups. And I’ve never really been concerned with who starts as much as I am with who finishes. So the guys who give us the best chance to win will gonna finish.”

The Knicks front office, led by team president Leon Rose, had assembled arguably the deepest roster that Thibodeau will handle since 2011 when he coached the MVP Rose-led Chicago Bulls to a 62-20 record on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. That team featured a starting lineup consists of Rose, Keith Bogans, and Luol Deng as the constants while Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Kurt Thomas, and Taj Gibson rotated in the starting frontline with CJ Watson, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, and Omer Asik coming off the bench.

Looking at this year’s Knicks depth chart, they resemble that depth or arguably even better in terms of a combination of talent, veteran leadership, and depth. This Knicks team is two to even three-deep in each position.

One of the Knicks’ strengths last season was their bench depth. The Rose trade proved to be a masterstroke that swung their playoff chances to their favor. The Knicks went 24-11 with Rose in the lineup.

Their bench scoring jumped from 23rd (33.9 points) to fifth in the league (39.7 points), per NBA stats tracking data, since acquiring Rose from Detroit in February.

According to Cleaning the Glass, the lineup of Rose, Quickley, Burks, Toppin, and Noel had a plus differential of +6.3 on a total of 78 possessions which ranked in the 85th percentile. That quickly jumped to +17.9 on a total of 252 possessions, ranked in the 99th percentile, when you swapped Noel with Gibson. A small sample of that second unit with Robinson in the middle had the biggest plus differential of +20.0 on 10 possessions, ranking in the 100th percentile.

Last season, there were times when the Knicks bench outplayed the starting lineup, which relied heavily on Randle. The addition of Walker and Fournier is expected to balance out a starting unit that was lacking in shot creation.

With Rose leading the way in the second unit and Quickley and Toppin expected to make a leap in their second year, Thibodeau hopes that continuity will lead to more productivity.

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Knicks News: Leon Rose details ‘aggressive’ approach, team signs Wayne Selden to camp roster

wayne selden, knicks

The New York Knicks have entirely changed course after hiring new president Leon Rose to help steer the ship in a direction that better represents New York City. With a tough defensive mentality under head coach Tom Thibodeau, players are beginning to view the Knicks as an appealing destination in free agency, despite missing out on several big-name players like Damian Lillard and Chris Paul. However, the front office has been working diligently to add talent to an already strong team.

Rose indicated that they consider every opportunity aggressively, which hints at their mentality this offseason eyeing blockbuster trades. Nonetheless, while Lillard remains with Portland and Paul sign an extension with Phoenix, the Knicks walked away with Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker, two players that should contribute significantly moving forward.

The mentality toward growth and development is what should spark fans’ excitement. The team finally has a front office that is not making premature moves and decisions that would set the franchise back, but they are remaining diligent and progressive.

“We’re gonna be aggressive as far as knowing what’s going on and as far as being on top of things and looking at opportunities,’’ Rose said, per The New York Post. “But at the same time, we’re going to be prudent and disciplined in decisions that we make that are going to take into account positives and negatives, short term, long term, all those factors in a decision-making process.”

The front office has failed to remain disciplined over the past few years prior to the 2020-21 season, making premature moves and signing players without an established plan has hurt the team’s progression and draft selections. After a strong first season under Thibodeau, they backed up their words with several improvements to the roster and a strong draft class, including Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride.

The players have adapted this disciplined mentality also, partaking in intense scrimmages before training camp even begins in a few weeks.

The Knicks are signing a few players as camp bodies, including Wayne Selden, who agreed to a non-guaranteed training camp contract, per Keith Smith of Spotrac.

Selden has spent three seasons in the NBA, enjoying 124 games of action. He averaged 7.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game. Selden spent the off-season with the Knicks playing in the Summer League, and while he’s a long shot at making the roster, you can never have enough bodies competing to start the season.

Knicks reunion among Carmelo Anthony’s options during free agency

New York Knicks, Carmelo Anthony

After the Portland Trail Blazers moved on from him, Carmelo Anthony considered a reunion with the New York Knicks.

In Chris Hayne’s podcast on Monday, Anthony revealed that moving back to New York was among his options in the free agency before the Los Angeles Lakers offer came along.

“It was (hard) because I had just moved and bought a house in New York, Anthony said. “It was unexpected. My son starts school (today) in New York. So it was like, I’m here, I’m home. I never expected the Lakers to call.”

While Anthony said he’s been spending summertime in Los Angeles for more than a decade now, moving his family there never crossed his mind.

Anthony, a Brooklyn native, spent some of his prime years with the Knicks and led the team to the playoffs in 2013.

The Lakers were the Knicks’ rivals during their two championship runs in the 70s. The spotlights of Broadway and the glitz and glamour of Hollywood made them the two biggest markets in the NBA.

“I don’t know if I was ready to do that because that’s a big shift. When you wear the purple and gold, that’s different. Even in New York, when you wear the blue and orange, that’s blood. That runs deep. It’s the same way as the purple and gold. It’s just at different sides of the country,” Anthony said.

Anthony said he was in constant communication with Portland’s stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. He was waiting for the Trail Blazers’ call that never came. So he thought he’d move back to the east coast.

“I made [Portland] almost like a home for me. Within two years, I felt like I was a part of that community,” Anthony said. “New York was always there. Coming back to New York was always a story. I’ve always told my son when he goes to high school, I’ll be right there with you. The New York thing made sense.”

Anthony would have added more firepower to the Knicks’ bench that already has Derrick Rose and the pair of electrifying sophomores Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin.

Aside from the Knicks, the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Orleans Pelicans also showed interest.

“I didn’t really get a chance to really converse with Philly, but there was interest there,” Anthony said.

He then revealed that Philadelphia’s stars Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris reached out to him, but he never had the chance to talk to them as the Lakers scooped him up before the Sixers did.

The opportunity to chase a ring with his good friend LeBron James and Anthony Davis was too good to pass up, but it was never an easy decision.

“Having a great chance to win [was what made me decide to join the Lakers]. It took me some days to really like sit down and kind of break it down and really dig deep into making that decision,” Anthony said.

“To most people, it probably would have been an easy decision to make. But to me, it wasn’t. I really have to align a lot of things and put things in order for things to work out, for me to feel comfortable to be away from my family for another year and the kids not being there. People don’t understand that part. That’s the hardest part. The basketball (part) is easy.”

Anthony was linked to the Knicks when his former agent Leon Rose became the team’s president. But the former Knicks star said the interest wasn’t mutual.

“At this point, it wasn’t really a lot [of consideration],’’ Anthony said in the summer of 2020. “The Knicks were making moves and were trying to figure out the direction they wanted to go in. They weren’t done making moves. I’m sure they have a plan. I don’t think me coming in and trying to mess their plan up was good for either party.”

“They are rebuilding and figuring out what’s in their near future. It was me personally wanting to be part of a situation I was already comfortable with. I just finished playing with these guys two, three months ago. I felt it was the right fit at this point of time where I’m at right now this particular year.’’

Then the Knicks made a surprising run to the playoffs and have positioned themselves to make another serious run this season with the addition of four-time All-Star Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.

What a difference a year makes.

The Knicks suddenly became an attractive destination to Anthony again until Hollywood pulled him away from home.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks: Leon Rose swings for the home run with Kemba Walker NY homecoming

New York Knicks, Julius Randle

Kemba Walker in New York is the first sign that the Knicks are starting to shed their “no man’s land” label.

It will be the first time since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2010 that an All-Star caliber player will be signing with the Knicks. Never mind if Walker is coming off a down year derailed by a knee injury. But consider this: an All-Star talent like him could have commanded several offers from playoff teams, but he chose the Knicks and gave them a hometown discount.

On one good knee, Walker still averaged 19.3 points and 4.9 assists in 43 games last season.

This summer, his focus is on getting back to full health and return to his All-Star form next season.

“I’m planning on a big summer and getting myself feeling good again. It’s been a while since I’ve really had time off,” he said after the Boston Celtics were eliminated in the playoffs last June. “This is an important time for me.”

A healthy and motivated Walker next season could be the difference-maker for the Knicks after their surprising playoff run ended in a gentleman sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks. Walker is a massive upgrade from Elfrid Payton, giving Tom Thibodeau a bona fide playmaker and shotmaker that will command attention away from the team’s other All-Star and the league’s Most Improved Player, Julius Randle.

Walker is projected to join a supercharged starting unit alongside fellow newcomer and former Celtics teammate Evan Fournier with holdovers RJ Barrett, Randle, and Mitchell Robinson or Nerlens Noel at the middle.

The Bronx native who starred in Rice High School and nearby UConn in college is coming home to the Madison Square Garden, where he had his legendary Cardiac Kemba Shot.

More than his reputation as a big shot maker, Walker is also a great locker room presence and a leader who fits the culture the Knicks are building.

The Walker homecoming came out of the left-field. Leon Rose and the Knicks were ridiculed following a ho-hum start in the free agency after creating as much as $52.6 million in cap space this summer.

They started the free agency by re-signing Alec Burks (3-year, $30 million), Nerlens Noel (3-year, $32 million), and Derrick Rose (3-year, $43 million deal via Early Bird Rights). Then they upgraded the wing spot with Evan Fournier (4-year, $78 million) after Reggie Bullock departed for the Dallas Mavericks (3-year, $30.5 million).

Taj Gibson also agreed to return on a 1-year, veteran minimum deal ($2.7 million).

It turned out all the multi-year deals they doled out have team options in the final year, giving Knicks flexibility in 2023 free agency where Zion Williamson and Joel Embiid could be the potential crown jewels.

The Knicks have been sneakily good since Leon Rose came to power. The shrewdly executed trades in the NBA Draft have set them up for a banger of a summer.

They traded away their 19th pick to Charlotte for a future first-round pick, then traded back from 21st pick (from Mavericks via Kristaps Porzingis trade) to 25th pick for 3-and-D prospect Quentin Grimes — a move that saved them $2.7 million in cap space. Then they flipped the 32nd pick into the 34th (Miles McBride) and 36th pick (Rokas Jokubaitis) and took Texas Longhorn center Jericho Sims, a candidate to slide in one of their two-way player slots, with their 58th pick.

Here is the Knicks updated Depth Chart:

PG: Kemba Walker, Derrick Rose, Miles McBride

SG: Evan Fournier, Immanuel Quickley, Luca Vildoza

SF: RJ Barrett, Alec Burks, Quentin Grimes

PF: Julius Randle, Obi Toppin, Kevin Knox

C: Mitchell Robinson, Nerlens Noel, Taj Gibson

The Knicks accomplished three things with their savvy moves — continuity, flexibility, and respectability.

They are determined to prove that last year’s playoff run was no fluke and took some risks to upgrade the talent in their roster. Walker and Fournier should provide an offensive boost to a starting unit that heavily relied on Randle.

Based on their shooting percentages last season, Fournier is a significant upgrade over Bullock.

Meanwhile, the return of Rose and co. maintained the league’s fourth-best bench unit (37.6 points per game) last season, with Robinson and Noel anchoring their top-4 defense (107.8 defensive rating).

It took a while before the Knicks’ grand plan this summer all came together. And it started with a perfectly executed bunt in the Draft that allowed them to hit singles with Fournier, Rose, Burks, and Noel to cover all bases before swinging for the home run with Walker.

Well played, Leon.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

NBA Free Agency Primer: Will Knicks remain conservative or make a splash?

The New York Knicks remain a mystery despite a playoff run that purged the long years of misery. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from Leon Rose’s leadership after a year of operating in the shadows is that patience is a virtue.

There’s already a pattern we can deduce from the way they approached last summer’s free agency and last Thursday’s NBA Draft.

Last summer, the Knicks created over $40 million in cap space, yet their signings didn’t scream sexy and fancy. Instead, they went after grimy stuff and made them shiny once the sexy names like Gordon Hayward went off the board.

Last week, we saw the same kind of maneuvering from the Knicks in the NBA Draft when they took a calculated conservative approach once their targets were off the board. They got away with Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride, two rookies who could become rotational pieces after the once-grimy stuff they stumbled upon last summer sign fancy deals somewhere else.

They followed up that conservative Draft Day by exercising their $1.8 million team option on Mitchell Robinson and waiving Norvel Pelle and Frank Ntilikina. Now, they are armed with the most significant cap space — $52.6 million — in the NBA landscape this summer.

All moves are indicative of one thing — creating the largest cap space as much as possible.

The thing is, the Knicks also want the shiny stuff like the rest of the league. Even their two-time NBA Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau pleaded for stars, whether from free agency, trade market, or at the very least, organically developing one through the draft. But after returning to relevance with a first-round playoff appearance, the third option is no longer viable. And it’s no longer as impossible as it was a few years back for the Knicks to land a star via free agency.

Rose moves in mysterious ways. He may be silent, but the Knicks’ actions are pretty telling. His silence is synonymous with the Knicks’ patience.

Based on their recent actions, here is my educated guess on what the Knicks free agent board look like:

Top Targets

Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard remain this summer’s biggest prizes despite overtures that they will re-sign with their respective teams, Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Clippers. Things can change quickly in the NBA.

The Knicks can easily slot one of them to their cap space and possibly work a trade to dump salaries if both A-list stars want to team up in New York. The operative word here is “if.”

Backup plan

If Paul and Leonard opt not to move, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will dictate this summer’s free agency. Both former All-Stars are on their last legs, and reuniting in a contender would be a dream come true for the best of buddies.

Pat Riley has his eyes set on Lowry via sign-and-trade and DeMar DeRozan for the Miami Heat’s full MLE.

The Knicks have all the cap space in the world to scuttle those plans and immediately solve their glaring holes in the point guard and wing spots while still having the option to have either Derrick Rose and Reggie Bullock or both of them re-sign via their Bird rights.

Lowry and DeRozan starting alongside Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, and Robinson with Rose and Bullock leading the bench with Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin will make them more formidable than last year’s overachieving roster.

This move makes them a bona fide playoff contender for the next couple of years while they continue to organically develop their young core and angle of the next disgruntled star.

Place holders

Just like last year, the Knicks could always go back to the route of signing underrated players to shorter deals to preserve cap flexibility. If Stephen Curry, Jimmy Butler, Bradley Beal, and Zach LaVine won’t sign an extension this year, next summer’s free-agent market will be loaded.

And there’s always the allure of the trade market as Damian Lillard’s clock in Portland has begun ticking or even Beal if he sees the Wizards heading to a rebuild rather than contending soon.

But having the cap space to absorb the exorbitant contract of a disgruntled star isn’t enough for the Knicks to become a major player in the trade market. They can use this free agency to get solid pieces that can help them in the present and become salary fillers in a blockbuster trade in the future.

If the Knicks decide to punt this summer again, here are some names to watch outside their own free agents:

(starting salary range based on ESPN’s projection)

PG: Spencer Dinwiddie ($18-20M), Lonzo Ball ($18-20M), Dennis Schroder ($16-18M), Devonte Graham ($12-14M), Reggie Jackson ($10-12M), Cameron Payne ($8-10M)

SG: Norman Powell ($18-20M), Evan Fournier ($14-16M), Danny Green ($8-10M), Malik Monk ($6-8M)

SF: Duncan Robinson ($14-16M), Josh Hart ($10-12M), Kelly Oubre, Jr. ($10-12M), Carmelo Anthony ($4-6M)

C: Richaun Holmes ($12-14M), Andre Drummond ($10-12M), Javale McGee (veteran minimum)

The Knicks have all the tools to upgrade — cap space, stable organization, family environment, and a team on the rise. They will strike when the opportunity arises. This summer gives them a small opening to get that shiny stuff and not settle with the grimy one that needs elaborate work. But they are also disciplined and wise to acknowledge when they couldn’t crack that opening wide enough.

Let’s see if the patience the Knicks have shown so far finally pays off.

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Tom Thibodeau bares what Knicks are looking for in NBA Draft

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

The New York Knicks have four picks (19th, 21st, 32nd, 58th) in the upcoming NBA Draft. But the consensus around the league is that they will not be adding four more rookies to a core that finished fourth in the Eastern Conference this season.

New York coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed that belief on Friday at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.

“For myself, I’m catching up. Our scouts have evaluated them. They put a lot of work into it. And then you have to be ready for all the possibilities — whether you move up, move back, or you trade out,” Thibodeau said.

The Knicks have met with some prospects who are mocked out of their range, such as projected lottery picks Scottie Barnes (FSU), Jalen Johnson (Duke), Jaden Springer (Tennessee), James Bouknight (UConn), and Corey Kispert (Gonzaga).

They have to package some of their picks or a combination with one of their players under contract to move up.

Teams who could be willing trade partners are the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Warriors have two lottery picks (7th and 14th), while the Thunder have three picks in the top 18. The Cleveland Cavaliers, who are picking at No.3, are also rumored to be moving on from Collin Sexton as they can land either Jalen Green or Jalen Suggs.

But the Knicks are also prepared to stick with their picks, looking for two particular skill sets in this Draft.

“I love coming here for the opportunity to sit down and interview with players. You get to know them a lot better. So you’re still gathering information. You see who might be a good fit for you. And again, I think we’re looking for wings and guys who can shoot. So there’s a number of guys that we think are gonna be good pros. So there’s a lot of value here,” said Thibodeau.

So far, the Knicks have zero in on guards and wings who can score in a myriad of ways.

Aside from the five projected lottery picks mentioned above, they have also either interviewed or conducted a workout with Jared Butler (Baylor), Nah’Shon Hyland (VCU), Ziaire Williams (Stanford), Miles McBride (West Virginia), Joshua Primo (Alabama), Aaron Wiggins (Maryland), Jose Alvarado (Georgia Tech), Mac McClung (Texas Tech), Alan Griffin (Syracuse), Marcus Zegarowski (Creighton), Geo Baker (Rutgers), Tyson Etienne (Wichita State) and big men Trey Murphy III (Virginia), Luka Garza (Iowa), Moses Wright (Georgia Tech) and Fardaws Aimaq (Utah Valley).

“These players are remarkable and how well they present themselves. I think they’ve gotten used to this environment. I think the agents are doing a good job in preparing them. You’re also doing a lot more research. You’re talking to a lot of people around them. And then you’re seeing and evaluating whether all the intel matches up to what the players are saying,” Thibodeau said of the Draft process.

“A lot of times, you find a lot of interesting things. I think that’s an important piece of this. It’s not the end-all, be-all, but it’s a big part of determining who would fit into your group,” he added.

Last year, the Knicks successfully picked two rookies — Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley — who were gym rats that seamlessly fit into Thibodeau’s culture. The past regimes have more misses than hits in the NBA Draft. But after team president Leon Rose beefed up the Knicks scouting department led by scouting guru Walt Perrin, there’s hope that the Knicks have a much better grasp of the process this time around.

On top of the specific skill sets they are looking for, the Knicks also value their background. They have cast a wide net, including unranked prospects, to have more intel which becomes useful down the road.

It’s a Perrin signature that his former team, Utah Jazz, did in trading for the likes of Jordan Clarkson.

“There’s a great value in [character]. You try to measure their drive and intelligence and how players have improved over a period of time. And also if they have gotten through some adversity. You’d like to see that quality as well. There are a number of things you’re looking for,” Thibodeau said.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Magic Johnson on Knicks: ‘Superstars are gonna want to play here now’

The days are gone that superstars would avoid the New York Knicks like a plague.

That’s how Magic Johnson views the current Knicks situation following a surprising turnaround this season.

Appearing as a guest on Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin radio show, Johnson said the Knicks have become a viable destination.

“Superstars are gonna want to play here now (in New York),” Johnson said.

The former Lakers executive explained how players think and play out a possible scenario.

“I think because they made the run and got to the playoffs. And the city is alive about the Knicks, right? I think guys are now looking at and say, ‘Hey man, if I put myself in that lineup with Julius (Randle), (Immanuel) Quickley, (RJ) Barrett and on, and on. Hey, man, we could do something special.’ Because that’s what guys wanna see,” Johnson said.

“If I put my talent with those guys, can we make a run for the championship? And that guy will talk to another guy and that’s how it’s gonna get started. And Julius Randle, I think guys would want to play with him because he plays hard, he’s a team player. He’s tough and rough,” he added.

Johnson said he’s glad that he had a hand in Randle’s development with the Lakers.

Randle, who left Los Angeles for New Orleans when LeBron James took his talent to Hollywood, finally found a home in New York. His hard work paid off with his first All-Star appearance, a spot in the All-NBA Second Team, and the Most Improved Player award on top of leading the Knicks to the first round of the playoffs.

While the Knicks, under former super-agent turned league executive Leon Rose, have finally found stability, the rest of the league is in a state of flux.

Some of the league’s stars enter the summer with their future in question.

Damian Lillard openly aired his frustrations in Portland following another first-round exit. Washington’s Bradley Beal has one year left in his extension with a new coach coming in. Luka Doncic just lost the executive who handed him the keys to the Mavericks’ franchise. Zion Williamson will be having his third coach in three seasons in New Orleans’ small market. Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers are reeling from a second-round upset, in large part, due to Ben Simmon’s broken jumper.

Seven teams are searching for a new coach. Established superstars fell one by one in the first two rounds, failing to survive the pandemic-condensed season. There’s a new order in the league. There will be a new champion this season.

Then there’s the Summer Olympics in Tokyo which could become another breeding ground for a future super team.

For the first time in decades, the Knicks have more to offer than just money and the bright lights of Broadway. They finally have a culture and a young playoff core to pair with their large cap space of more than $50 million.

Magic Johnson always tweets the obvious as a reaction to what’s happening around the league. This time, he’s manifesting the obvious direction of the Knicks’ franchise.

There’s a perfect storm waiting to happen in New York.

Can the Knicks capitalize?

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

 

Report: Chris Paul plans to decline player option; are Knicks in the mix?

Is a 36-year old Chris Paul the answer to the New York Knicks point guard woes?

The Knicks’ weakest link had been exposed in the playoffs as Tom Thibodeau scrambled for options at the point guard spot. Thibodeau was forced to rely heavily on Derrick Rose, who admirably played well until the former MVP ran out of gas in Game 5.

Enter Paul, who is reportedly planning to decline the lucrative player option that could make him the third-highest paid NBA player next season.

Eric Pincus, Bleacher Report’s salary cap guru, reported on Thursday that Paul would seek a multi-year deal that will pay him up to his late 30’s.

“Paul has a $44.4 million player option, which according to several sources, he intends to decline with hopes of inking a new multiyear deal (perhaps in the $100 million range over three seasons). It’s unclear if his recent shoulder injury changes his plans. Gordon Hayward, who has battled more severe injuries than Paul, made a similar decision this past offseason, opting out of his final year with the Boston Celtics to sign a four-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets,” Pincus wrote.

The Knicks balked at Paul’s price tag last offseason. With Paul becoming more affordable, will the Knicks take a flier on his last remaining NBA years? Paul’s ties with the Knicks’ leadership could play a factor.

“The New York Knicks appear to be a player away from being a competitive playoff team in the East. With Paul’s relationship with former CAA agent Leon Rose, now president of the Knicks, the Suns may have some competition for the veteran’s services next season,” Pincus added.

While Paul is currently dealing with a shoulder injury, his impact on a Phoenix Suns team that jumped from a borderline playoff team to the second seed in the West with him has been one of the biggest storylines along with the Knicks’ remarkable rise.

Paul’s friend and former teammate Matt Barnes said in November last year that the Knicks were on his shortlist.

“He was saying the Knicks were an option but, you know, if he was going to New York he wanted the full Knick experience, meaning he wanted the fans, he wanted the essence, he wanted the ambiance of that Madison Square Garden crowd. And going there now, you know, we don’t know if that crowd will ever be back,” Barnes said.

The crowd turnout at The Garden in the Knicks’ first playoff appearance in the last eight years could gravitate Paul to New York and reunite with his former agent Leon Rose.

Paul’s numbers may be down in the playoffs, but that can be attributed to his injury. His leadership, however, is immeasurable. The Suns are on the cusp of eliminating the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, with Paul guiding the team’s young core.

Derrick Rose hinted at Knicks’ big offseason plans following their playoff exit.

“You know how that goes, man, that’s not up to me,” Rose said. “That’s up to the front office. They got big plans. Who knows if I may be back. I don’t know. I’m going to let my agent and them talk about it. But it’s really not up to me at all. We’ll just leave it like that.

Was he referencing Paul or another marquee player? That is up for debate in the next couple of months.

Paul could be the All-Star point guard that could catapult the Knicks to true contention in the East when healthy. But it’s going to be a move that comes with a risk given Paul’s age and playoff injury history.

The Knicks could opt for a younger point guard in LaMelo Ball, a restricted free agent, or Dennis Schroeder. But Chicago is also strongly interested in Ball. Meanwhile, Schroeder has been a big disappointment in the playoffs. The German point guard recently declined a four-year, $84-million extension with the Lakers.

If Schroeder wants more than that, it might be best for the Knicks to take a flier on Paul or Kyle Lowry or bring back Rose while waiting for a worthy successor.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo