D. Karpin: Who the Knicks Should and Should Not Target in Free Agency

So many options have come and gone and so much time has gone by but the championship drought is 46 years and counting.

The New York Knicks traded the guy who could have potentially been the face of their franchise for the next decade, and are now tasked with building their team in the short term through the NBA Draft and the acquisition of free agents. This is not an unorthodox route. It’s worked in other sports for a variety of teams but in the NBA it’s not that common. The success of the Knicks’ strategy relies on a multitude of factors that have to work in their favor. Will they be able to build a cohesive unit by literally plucking guys off of other teams? Will they have enough fiscal mobility to acquire all the guys they want and need? Will they even select the right people who could work together with their young core? (Mitchell Robinson, Alonzo Trier and Kevin Knox)

Now there’s a lot of options available in free agency. Some of the guys they might want to try and sign, they may not have a real good shot at because of rumors and how successful those guys may have been in their current situations. I think it would be foolish to try and target players like Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard. Thompson has had nothing but success from day one with the Warriors organization, I think it’s a good chance he doesn’t go anywhere. Leonard had a falling out with his former team, the Spurs, just last year. With him now in such a successful situation in Toronto, I could definitely see him staying there especially if they have some post-season success. So the consensus seems to hinge on the Knicks’ becoming contenders again by signing two key players because of their cap space. The two guys whose names have been thrown around a lot are Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Here’s why they shouldn’t sign either:

Should Not: Kyrie Irving

While Irving is a tremendous talent, I think he falls more into the “just scoring” ability rather than anything else. The Knicks had a guy like that for years and they could never put the right team around him to make it all work. His name was Carmelo Anthony. Players who are really only scorers, above everything else, need the PERFECT team around them to have success. Look at how things have gone in Kyrie’s second season in Boston for evidence of that. His relationship with the media is spotty, that’s not the kind of attitude you’d want from someone who is going to be playing in the most scrutinized basketball market in the world. Not to mention how injury prone he is. I think all of these things add up to a “no go” for when I’m asked if I want Kyrie Irving on the Knicks.

Should: Kemba Walker

I think if they really want to go the route of the high scoring PG, I think Kemba Walker might be a better choice. While Walker is still a little injury prone, he hasn’t missed as much time in his career as Kyrie. Walker is also a local guy so he knows exactly what it takes to come and play for the Knicks. The U Conn product is a bit older than Kyrie so he would probably require a shorter deal, but that would also give the Knicks more of a chance for a reset if this whole off season plan doesn’t work out. Walker is stuck in no man’s land in Charlotte so they might even be able to get him for cheaper than what they’d have to pay Kyrie.

Should Not: Kevin Durant

Now I have to admit, the prospect of signing Durant is a lot more amenable than acquring Kyrie. The real problem here is that Durant is going to be 31 years old when you get him on your team. Is that really enough time to get the whole team championship ready? he also checks all the media scrutiny boxes that Kyrie has checked off. Durant has had his scraps with the media in the past. If they both come here and do not start winning immediately, it could be a match made in hell with reporters trying to get answers out of them as to why things aren’t going right. I hope both him and Kyrie know well enough what kind of market and expectations they’d be signing into if they want to sign with the Knicks. If I was the Knicks, I’d focus on Kemba and this next guy.

Should: Khris Middleton

Ok ok, you might be thinking “How the hell can you compare Khris Middleton to Kevin Durant,” but hear me out. This is a guy who has really developed into a nice overall player the past few years. He can score with or without the ball, something that is WILDLY under-valued in today’s NBA. Middleton can defend multiple positions, being the underrated athlete that he is. He would most likely cost less than Durant too. He’s also 4 years younger than Durant and is in the top 10 for defensive “win shares” for this season. I think he would be a great choice to help the Knicks usher in a new era. With the Bucks having to decide between keeping him and Eric Bledsoe, the Knicks just might be able to steal him away.

Some dark-horse candidates to consider if they strike out on all 4 guys mentioned above.

Patrick Beverley-PG

This is someone who would likely come pretty cheap and could help shore up their defense at the guard position. Frank Ntilikina is basically all but traded at this point so the Knicks could really use someone who specializes in defense at that position. He probably wouldn’t start for them but could be the perfect foil to Dennis Smith Jr or even someone like Ja Morant.

Malcolm Brogdon–SG

Another guy from the Bucks system who checks a lot of similar boxes as Khris Middleton, heck this guy may even have more upside than Middleton because he’s younger and has been playing behind guys like Giannis and Eric Bledsoe for a couple of years now. A tenacious defender who, without elite speed or athleticism, can get to the rim and shoot the three. He went down with an injury earlier this season but was ultimately playing the best ball of his career before then. With the injury he just incurred, the Knicks could probably offer him a 1-year deal to get him to prove to them that his recovery goes well.

Tobias Harris–SF

For some reason teams keep trading this guy and all he does is just get better and better. A crafty forward who can also play on and off the ball, I feel like he would complement any player on their roster right now. The only thing is he will probably be looking for a long-term deal worth good money, just based on how valuable he has proved himself as he’s moved from team to team. He’s also a New York native and would be fully aware of the media scrutiny he would take on by coming here. Harris even won the title of Mr. New York Basketball. (Although it’s worth noting another guy who the Knicks brought in, had also won that award and his tenure in the big apple did not go well at all) Still though if they can’t get Middleton and it comes down to between him and Durant, I would prioritize Harris.

Julius Randle–PF

I actually wrote about how I wanted the Knicks to take a shot on him before he ended up signing with the Pelicans. I still think he’s a good young candidate to help the Knicks return to being relevant. He plays a hard-nosed style of “in-the-paint” basketball that I think the Garden would eat up. Another snag similar to Tobias Harris, Randle would potentially be looking for a long term contract worth a lot. It looks like he went to the Pelicans to prove his worth on a short contract so he could cash in big this off-season. They really should only consider him if the price is right. I wouldn’t commit such large money or long years to him. If he’s willing to take a 2-3 year deal, I would go for it.

Thomas Bryant–C

A lesser known candidate for free-agency this off season, this is someone who the Knicks could potentially target if they don’t think DeAndre Jordan is a good choice to be their center next year. Bryant would require a bit more money than Jordan but it may be worth it. He’s played behind Dwight Howard this season on the Wizards but when he’s gotten the playing time he’s made the most of it. He’s got 10 double-doubles on the season and albeit those have come when he starts. Bryant could be the perfect complement to help Mitchell Robinson grow, oh and he’s only 21. Imagine having him and Robinson anchoring their center position for the next 3-4 years, it could really help improve their front court.

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