Grading the New York Knicks Free Agency Fails
The rumors were too good to be true. The Knicks traded Kristaps Prozingis to Mavericks to free up cap space and get draft picks. The New York Knicks finally had sufficient payroll flexibility to sign two max free agents this off-season. Fans and Garden executives set their sites on perennial All-Star Kyrie Irving and former league MVP, Kevin Durant. But the Knicks’ dreams quickly turned to nightmares. After months of rumors and innuendo, Irving and Durant signed with the Brooklyn Nets on the first night of the free agency. As if the Knicks weren’t dealing with enough bad news, they also lost out on Zion Williamson, the first overall pick in June’s NBA Draft. The Knicks failed to reshape their roster and their free agency grade is an F. But let’s review what exactly happened and where this once proud franchise goes from here.
The Fish Rots from the Head
The Knicks have not been a consistent winning franchise in over twenty years. In that time there have been several regimes hired and entrusted to build a winning team. There was the Isiah Thomas era, then Donnie Walsh, Phil Jackson, and now Scott Perry and Steve Mills. Several head coaches and offensive philosophies have been installed and failed. The one constant in all that losing is owner James Dolan.
Why us Dolan one of the worst owners in the league? First, he’s doesn’t know how to spend the payroll. Two, Dolan is a control freak and three, he’s more interested in generated profits than fielding a winning team.
Random Over Spending and Then Stinginess
Dolan is schizophrenic when it comes to spending money on the roster. He’s tried to create a winner by signing horrible contracts again and again. Allan Houston was a great Knick but not exactly a player to build a franchise around. Despite the fact that no other team offered more than $75 million, Houston was signed for six years and $100 by Dolan and then GM Scott Layden.
Dolan’s run on centers is even worse. Do we remember Jerome James? James signed a five-year, $30 million based on an 11-game stretch in the playoffs as a member of the Seattle Sonics. Or how about Eddy Curry? The Knicks signed Curry to a six-year $60 million contract even though he had potentially fatal health concerns. Joakim Noah was signed to a four-year $72 million contract coming off two significant injuries that limited him to 29 games in 2015-16. The Knicks released Noah in 2018, still owing him $38 million.
So when the 2019 free agency period rolled around, no one believed the Knicks would offer less than the max to Kyrie and KD. But according to Ramona Shelbourne of ESPN, that’s exactly what happened.
The Knicks and owner Jim Dolan were not prepared to offer Kevin Durant a full max contract due to concerns over his recovery from the Achilles injury, league sources tell me and @wojespn. Knicks officials are in Los Angeles tonight, meeting with free agents such as Julius Randle.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) June 30, 2019
He’s An Egomaniac
Dolan has reigned over Madison Square Garden like a dictator, without any success. He’s engaged in a long-time feud with The New York Daily News resulting in reporters being barred from all MSG press events. ESPN reported in 2018 expose, Dolan tried banning any reporter he felt were unfair in their coverage. Dolan fired long-time Knicks announcer Marv Albert for his continued criticism of the team’s struggles in 2004. Also, players and team officials are barred from having conversations with the press without an MSG media relations representative present.
He’s picked fights with ex-Knicks legends like Charles Oakley, who is currently banned from the Garden. Oakley is one of the loudest critics of the Dolan regime and in 2017, was escorted from his courtside seats for screaming in Dolan’s direction and arguing with security. Then in 2019, Dolan banned a Knicks fan from the Garden for life who yelled for him to sell the team. All this from an owner with no basketball background, who books his blues band as the opening act at concerts held in MSG venues.
The Losing Culture
It’s very simple to point the finger at James Dolan for the Knicks failure. But one of the key differences between the Knicks and the Nets was the strength of the existing rosters of the respective teams. The Nets made the playoffs and will surround their two superstars with a core of young players including Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, and Caris LeVert. The Knicks tanked their season and won a total of 19 games. Irving and Durant have a much better chance to compete for a title sooner as Nets than Knicks.
Call it bitter irony that a roster that put you in position to get the number pick in the NBA draft and sign two max contract free-agents was also a hindrance to signing premier players. The Knicks have been forced to regroup and build around a very young core. Elfrid Payton joins Dennis Smith Jr. at point guard. Number three overall pick R.J. Barrett will battle for playing time with Alonzo Trier, Wayne Ellington, and Reggie Bullock. Kevin Knox will be the starting small forward with newly-signed power forwards Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, and center Mitchell Robinson making up the new Knicks frontcourt.