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Anthony Rushing

Rushing: Knicks, Without Zion, Can Still Give Fans What They Want

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The third overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft for the New York Knicks won’t be Zion Williamson.

The New Orleans Pelicans, and their six percent chance of winning the draft lottery, will almost certainly make sure Williamson’s name is off the board with the top overall pick.

So, after the Memphis Grizzlies make their selection with the second pick, where does that leave the third-place Knicks?

It leaves them still in damn good shape.

Is it that hard to believe? The Knicks, a team with the third longest drought in the NBA for not reaching the playoffs, can still give their fans what they want even after losing out on a potential mega-star like Zion Williamson? These are, after all, the Knicks we’re talking about.

The frustration of coming so close to securing the number one overall pick is understandably high for Knicks fans. Long-time fans of this franchise just want to feel what it’s like to cheer for a winning team again.

Mourning over not getting Williamson is okay, but just try not to go through the entire box of Kleenex. Because there’s still a lot the Knicks can do between now and opening night.

For starters, picking third overall in this year’s draft isn’t bad by any means.

The thought of Ja Morant running the point for the Knicks in Madison Square Garden is appetizing. He thrilled the country in his sophomore year at Murray State and, like Williamson, is a SportsCenter highlight just waiting to happen.

The Grizzlies, according to reports, are targeting Morant as their selection with the second pick. This makes sense because they have a potential need at the point guard position.

Veteran Mike Conley still has two years remaining on his deal and has made it known he wants to compete for a championship. How the Grizzlies go forward with the 31-year old, and what’s left of his very large contract, remains to be seen. If they can move Conley in a trade, it’ll open the door even wider for drafting Morant.

Memphis selecting Morant would position the Knicks to take R.J. Barrett from Duke.

Barrett averaged 22.6 points per game and 7.6 rebounds in his one season for the Blue Devils. The argument can be made he was overshadowed by the incredible season his teammate, Williamson, put together. In any other year, Barrett would have likely turned out to be the top overall pick.

Morant and Barrett are the next best available on the board after Williamson. It’s not the grand slam home run fans wanted in Zion coming to the Garden, but there’s enough potential in either Morant or Barrett to feel good about the what the Knicks do with the third overall pick.

And that’s just it right there, potential is the keyword in all of this. Because the Knicks have an opportunity to maximize their potential not just with the draft, but also with free agency this summer.

The Knicks will have the salary cap room to offer max deals for two top free agents. Yes, getting Williamson would’ve been the perfect start, but they still need to hit it big this summer when the market opens.

That means a full-court press for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, as expected. It also means taking a long look at Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, and Kawhi Leonard. There’s a deep pool of options for the Knicks to dive in and give their best free-agent pitch.

And wait, I already know what you’re thinking. What about Anthony Davis?

If there was ever a wild card to be played, this one comes in the form of a 6’10” 26-year-old All-Star who’s made it known he’s looking to relocate.

If the Pelicans are unable to sway Davis away from his trade request they’ll need to decide if trading him now is their next best move. This is where the Knicks, and that part earlier about maximizing potential, come into play.

The Knicks could potentially package their number three overall pick, with a mix of future draft picks and some of their younger players, for New Orleans in exchange for Davis. That’s if New Orleans chooses to do business with them over potential suitors, like the Lakers or Celtics.

The possibility of Davis, Durant, and Irving together would instantly turn the Knicks into a playoff team. But, there’s also a complicated path for them to take in turning that vision into a reality.

A move in that direction would mean taking a gamble on trading draft picks and young players without knowing for sure if Durant and Irving are coming aboard. And remember, there’s still the fact that Davis is entering a contract year. Any conversation to discuss acquiring Davis must include a strong sense that you can re-sign him.

Knicks fans will look at the risk vs reward and likely push all their chips in for an Anthony Davis trade. Just like all chips were pushed in for drafting Zion Williamson. Because that level of frustration they feel with this team is as real as it gets.

The frustration doesn’t discriminate within the fanbase. It applies to the ride-or-die fan, the casual fan that just wants to see their hometown team win, and the analytics junkie sitting at home.

Any memories from the last 46 years, the last time the Knicks won an NBA championship, come with advisory warnings.

Fans remember Patrick Ewing’s missed finger roll attempt. They remember the night in the NBA Finals when John Starks went 2-for-18. They remember the Stephon Marbury / Isiah Thomas era. They remember the way Ewing, Bernard King, and Carmelo Anthony finished their time as Knicks.

Today, the challenge for Knicks fans is managing that frustration while also leaving room for faith they finally have the right people in place to make the right decisions.

Team president Steve Mills, general manager Scott Perry, and head coach David Fizdale have worked hard to implement a culture change they believe will play a key role in attracting free agents this summer. If that happens or not, remains to be seen.

What we do know is the Knicks have positioned themselves to give their fans what they’ve been waiting for. Now is where they’ll be judged, not for missing out on Zion Williamson. Now is where the real work begins.


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