Most of the work seems done. The Knicks’ offseason looks more or less set, after the signings of Jalen Brunson and Isaiah Hartenstein — and the re-signing of Mitchell Robinson — leaving them with just the $5.2 exception at mid-level.
The Post’s Zach Braziller offers five thoughts on President Leon Rose’s work so far:
Incremental progress made
The Knicks are better, but how much better? They’ve filled their most pressing need at point guard (Brunson) and added some versatility up front (Hartenstein), but that won’t put them in a serious fight. If all goes well – if Brunson and franchise cornerstone RJ Barrett step forward as stars, if the enigmatic Julius Randle regains his 2020-21 form, if Hartenstein explodes with more opportunities, if the actors behind them excel – it’s still a team that isn’t part of the Eastern Conference elite. The loaded Celtics, Heat, 76ers and Bucks remain the teams to beat in the East. The Hawks, after the Dejounte Murray trade, and the improving Cavaliers are both better on paper. And Kevin Durant’s draw could propel someone else into the next echelon, like the Raptors. Don’t get me wrong, the Knicks should be more competitive. A place in the play-in round is very realistic. But anything above seven seeds would be amazing for this roster as it currently stands.
Two years after being one of the best players in the NBA, Randle will have to make major adjustments. He will play with the ball less, which could reduce his production. A playmaker like Brunson could free up Randle, but it will also mean a new way of playing for the killer striker, who is used to creating, but with a high turnover rate. There’s also the issue of spacing, as Brunson, Randle and Barrett all excel from below the 3-point line, and non-shooting center Mitchell Robinson also clogs the paint.
The Knicks traded their best 3-point shooting percentage to Alec Burks to create enough salary cap space to land Brunson, and it’s a team that was 13th in the league in 3-point shooting percentage ago. a year. Brunson, a career 37.3% shooter who can create open looks for his teammates, obviously helps. But the Knicks will need more young players Quentin Grimes and Cam Reddish, provided Reddish stays with the team, and they should have a better chance to perform. Immanuel Quickley, who will likely play mostly off the ball next year, saw his shooting percentage drop from 38.9 per cent to 34.6. So improvement on his part is not a crazy request. It may be a necessity for the Knicks.
Brunson had the right decision
I noticed a lot of criticism about this decision, that the Knicks are paying too much for a good player, but not a great player. That Brunson, who agreed to a four-year, $104 million deal on Thursday night, doesn’t make him a title contender. That he’s not one of the top five point guards in the league. I am not here to disagree with any of these ideas. But what he does is make this team better. He probably places them in the play-in tournament. There’s this notion that unless the Knicks add a superstar, what’s the point? Well, unless you’ve been in a coma for years, you understand the NBA is star-run. They decide where they play, regardless of their contractual status. I think Barrett can be a No. 2 on a title contender and Brunson can be a No. 3. The way to get a No. 1 is to make yourself more attractive, by creating a winning culture, and you do that by adding good players. It’s Jalen Brunson. He makes the Knicks better. Perhaps his playoff breakthrough, in which he averaged 21.6 points in 18 games, was a sign of a young player ready to really emerge. Either way, as ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy told me, “he’s a big player in the NBA,” the Knicks need as many of these guys as possible.
Two shots left
The Knicks could use another wing after knocking out Burks and Barrett is now eligible for a max rookie contract. This is the activity that I see happening to crown the off-season. Players in Barrett’s class – Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and Darius Garland – are said to have accepted rookie max extensions. The ever-improving Barrett could receive a deal of up to $185 million over five years. As for the wing position, right now the Knicks have Barrett, Reddish and nothing else. A veteran is needed. Injury-plagued scorer TJ Warren, one of the best unsigned players on the free agent market who played just four games last year for the Pacers due to a stress fracture in his left foot, could be a valid bet.