Dropped the ball: How the New York Knicks’ brass is to blame for disastrous free agency as Brooklyn celebrates
The New York Knicks are the perfect representation of Murphy’s Law: “What can go wrong, will go wrong.”
This has been apparent within their organization over the past several years. Star players changed heart and walked out, terrible draft picks and trades have continued to set the team back, and poor management has led to missed opportunities in free agency. Even current star players like Steph Curry were missed on thanks to draft lottery placements.
However, just mere days ago during the most pivotal time in the Knicks’ offseason, if not the most pivotal offseason in their recent history, the truth of Murphy’s Law in relation to the Knicks reached its culmination.
Last Sunday afternoon, the Knicks’ faithful clung to their televisions and cell phones hoping for the free agency news they had been praying hard for, but the NBA’s 2019 free agency period began and brought exactly the opposite news.
With just one bomb-dropping tweet from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, they saw not only an entire summer rebuilding plan get blown to pieces, one that was stirring excitement in the fans for months and could ascend the Knicks out of mediocrity, but the most important piece of that plan as well. Free agent and two-time NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant had decided to leave Golden State but to join the team across the river in the Brooklyn Nets.
Now, the New York Knicks are left with nothing but a bunch of draft picks from a useless and mistake-filled trade, young players in whom they must hope for team changing development, and a bunch of second tier free agents acquired with the $72 million in cap space that was intended for max players.
The following year’s free agent class, and possibly the several ones after that, will not be nearly as talent packed and league changing as 2019’s was. Once again, the Knicks saw a golden opportunity fade away.
As Knicks fans and the New York media try to calm down from the free agency disaster that has ensued before their very eyes and dissect it, part of doing so involves figuring out who is to blame.
In the case of the Knicks missing out on Kevin Durant and similarly Kyrie Irving, in addition to seeing their summer 2019 rebuild goals come up empty, it is clear that management—including owner James Dolan— are at fault and should receive the heat. They are the main cause of the team's disastrous offseason and are responsible for messing up their free agency agenda.
Their actions even before this offseason have painted a bad picture of the franchise, making free agents like Durant talk about how great New York City is but continuously avoid it. In the big moment, with the time upon them to make the big free agency move and end all the “What ifs?”, they choked up. Lastly, like they’ve done numerous times in the past, they made a horrible decision and dropped the ball.
James Dolan, the owner of the New York Knicks, despite claiming uninvolvement in the basketball operations side of the organization, has poorly represented the Knicks and what they stand for.
He has behaved very childish through banning fans and media outlets because they’ve expressed their opinion of the team under him in a negative fashion. These bans from certain media centered events has led to increased backlash and financial repercussions in the form of fines from the NBA.
To add to this, he hasn’t treated some of the Knicks historic greats with the same amount of respect—namely Charles Oakley—and has brought in certain leadership in recent seasons who did not have the Knicks’ best interests in mind and have not brought a winning tradition back to MSG.
With all the negativity and media criticism surrounding Dolan and the Knicks, especially in New York City itself, Madison Square Garden has become a place that deters star players from signing because they don’t want to deal with it. They would rather take their one or two visits to MSG a season, bask in the lights with their own fans, most likely get a win, and move on.
Even promising players who were bold enough to take on the challenges of New York or were selected to endure them have become weary from the lack of a culture change, resulting in them wanted out. For a recent example, take Kristaps Porzingis who came in as a promising draft pick, yet towards the end of his rookie contract decided he wanted to leave. He too got tired of the culture and having to put the team on his back every night to the point of injury.
The New York Knicks leadership has had plenty of time to redirect the ship and bring back both winning basketball and a winning culture—46 years to be exact— yet they have failed and that starts at the top with James Dolan.
Culture matters in the NBA today. Going to the place where you can get the most money isn’t the sole factor in a free agent’s decision to sign with a team, there is culture factored into it as well.
Putting the culture problem aside, there comes these times when a player of superstar caliber decides that they want to go to a team and change the culture even if it means doing so alone. They usually have a goal in mind when making this decision and they take all measures to express their interest in signing. The only thing left to do is for the team to make their move.
Knicks President Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry, under these circumstances, had the opportunity to offer Kevin Durant a max deal to join the team, knowing that New York City was his preferred destination to go should he leave Golden State, but they failed miserably and then made a horrible decision at the same time. No longer was culture the sole reason to blame them for the disastrous offseason.
Shortly after the news broke that Kevin Durant was signing with the Brooklyn Nets, a report was released by ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne which stated that the Knicks, with James Dolan presiding over, were unprepared to deliver a max offer to Durant in the hours leading up to his final decision. This led some to believe that there were concerns over his Achilles injury suffered during the NBA Finals, although that wasn’t confirmed until later.
Despite having several months to figure out how to make an appealing max offer with the $72 million in cap space they received from gambling in the Kristaps Porzingis trade with the Mavericks, Dolan, Perry, and Mills came unprepared to the discussion table and that is when the Nets came in and cleaned house. The Knicks couldn’t connect the dots, so the Nets did with the cap space they traded for and landed the big fish.
Then as if being unprepared was bad enough, it was reported that the trio then decided before the Nets actually sealed the deal, to not come up with a max offer for Durant because of their apprehension over his injury recovery. Upon reviewing the result of the medical documents regarding his injury, the Knicks management started heading towards their plan B for free agency.
Recently, the truthfulness of that report was denied by Stephen A. Smith on the June 28th airing of the Michael Kay Show on 98.7 FM ESPN NY, who said that he was informed through close sources that the Knicks just wanted to do their “due diligence” before working on a contract offer. Kevin Durant’s injury timeline wasn't going to impact the team’s vision for the post-injury years.
Either way, the decision by Dolan, Mills, and Perry was another characteristic of the Knicks franchise for the past 20 years out of 46 especially: horrible. It was clear that Kevin Durant’s Achilles injury and recovery didn’t bother the Nets, an organization also looking to lift themselves up to becoming a team of interest in the NBA, and it shouldn’t have bothered the Knicks either.
Although he would miss the first year of his contract recovering from the Achilles tear, Kevin Durant is a superstar player with a championship pedigree that the Knicks could have taken advantage of in the remaining 3 years. Adding Durant would have instantly improved the team’s roster in every facet, given he is one of the best basketball players in the world.
The New York Knicks, with their lengthy championship drought and losing culture, needed to do whatever they could to get Kevin Durant and his NBA Finals experience to come to New York and change the culture. They had probably their greatest opportunity since LeBron James in the Miami Heat decision year to bring in a star player, especially one who wanted to go somewhere where he could prove he can win as the lone guy.
Instead, the Knicks management decided to let injury concerns spoil months of salary cap and roster preparation, leaving two sought after free agents to walk away and join the team across the river in Brooklyn.
Now Kevin Durant will get his chance to define himself in New York, except it will be as a Net instead of a Knick. Ultimately, the failure of the Knicks' entire offseason and free agency plans falls mostly on the shoulders of James Dolan, Steve Mills, and Scott Perry.
As they’ve done time and time again, even before Perry’s hiring by the team, they have asked for trust in what they believe is the right rebuilding route for the Knicks and yet that route has taken two steps forward, one step back. Media coverage, criticism, and conversation, often fueled by James Dolan’s behaviors or statements, have made the Knicks look like an organization stuck in their ways and have kept top talent like Kevin Durant away.
Lastly, when placed under the spotlight, they could not close a deal with one of the NBA's best players.
For the loyal but hurting Knicks fans, the long and difficult rebuild from youth development will continue with discussion about the failures and feelings towards the management increasing.
They've stuck through constant rumors, risky moves, and pleading from management with patience, but they will still see the fruits of their labor come up empty. In replacement of two max free agents, the result of the Knicks free agency ends up being numerous two or three-year contracts dished out to guys such as Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, Wayne Ellington, and Taj Gibson and the possibility of a minor win total increase from last season.
What happened in the days leading up to and on June 30th will continue to be a hot topic for the Knicks and the media, but what is certain is that the Knicks must now go through the draft like the Philadelphia 76ers did in order to fulfill their process.
The biggest and most talented free agent pool in years, $72 million in cap space, and serious interest from arguably one of the game’s best players, but once again the New York Knicks couldn't finish what they started.
It was first a lack of preparedness by the franchise’s management and basketball operations, but more so it was a massive and historic dropping of the ball.