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Race to revamp: Why the New York Knicks are in a much better position compared to the Los Angeles Lakers

ANALYST
Feature
85   //    05 Jun 2019, 00:07 IST

This summer is going to be an absolute roller coaster for both the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks 
This summer is going to be an absolute roller coaster for both the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks 

The most iconic and staple franchises in sports today, such as the New York Yankees or the Boston Celtics, have throughout their storied histories been defined by a similar set of characteristics. They have winning cultures, arenas or stadiums lined with championship banners, excellent management and coaching, a historic plethora of legendary players, and the respect and admiration of everyone in their sport and of those who watch it.  

Throughout most of their history since their founding, the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers have had a share in this prestigious club as two of the NBA’s primordial teams and have displayed these characteristics. Recently, however, the tides have turned against them and the two teams have become epicenters of losing and media criticism making them the NBA’s laughing stocks.  

Neither has made a playoff appearance nor achieved a winning record since 2013. Their leadership has been mediocre, unprofessional, and unable to make the moves that will positively impact the team. Coaches have come and gone, and any trace of talent has either been foolishly traded, waived or has retired leaving youth filled rosters trapped in a constant rebuild.  

As a result of their youth, poor managerial decisions, and media criticism, both teams have been deflectors instead of attractors of star players looking to win in a big market, despite Los Angeles drawing in one of the game’s best in LeBron James.    

The Carmelo Anthony downfall from Madison Square Garden despite him being the most recent beloved Knick, the Kristaps Porzingis drama and woeful ACL injury, the failure of the LeBron experiment, the Luke Walton accusations, and the Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka debacle. The Knicks and the Lakers have certainly had their fall from prior prominence and reverence in the NBA.  

For the two teams’ fanbases, the dark cloud standing over MSG and the Staples Center looks like it’s not going away anytime soon. However, that reality could soon change and the fruits of several seasons of tanking may finally show as several of the league’s powerhouses look for possible new homes.  

Unfortunately for the Los Angeles Lakers, however, is that the odds of that happening are looking brighter for the New York Knicks.  

While the final years of the Kobe Bryant era kept them somewhat relevant in the league, the Los Angeles Lakers since his final few seasons and post-retirement have been nothing but a franchise bereft of the Hollywood fame and success.  

Since the death of her father who was the team’s patriarch, Jeanie Buss has run the Lakers as a family-oriented and Laker-centric organization. The "Magic Johnson as President of Basketball Operations" experiment may have put the face of a Laker great at the realm, but it only led to a stint of, as he said, “backstabbing” and “deceit”.  

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If there was one excellent move Johnson made it was bringing in LeBron James. However, to this point, it has not born any fruits like in Cleveland and Miami. The roster surrounding “the King”, the face of the NBA, is full of players whose attitudes and play have struggled to keep them on rosters and win. The first season of LeBron resulted with nothing but player and coaching drama, a power struggle between James and his coaching, a below .500 record, injuries, and an end to an impressive NBA Finals streak.  

Magic Johnson did not have a successful stint as Director of Basketball Operations 
Magic Johnson did not have a successful stint as Director of Basketball Operations 

Regarding the power struggle, it’s hard for any prospective free agent player to decipher the system in place in Los Angeles. One player’s agent can walk around team facilities with seemingly about as much power as a general manager. The latter is making players and coaches feel uncomfortable and verbally limited when it comes to expressing opinion through their behaviors. Talented and deserving coaches aren’t getting hired because of the opinion of one player towards them.  

The Los Angeles Lakers have even thought about going to the extreme and trading away the entire team minus LeBron James, including some players who could be good secondary impact players for the central stars. Considering an approach like this in pursuit of those stars such as Anthony Davis where you're not entirely sure whether the said player would commit his future to the franchise can lead to massive repercussions.  

For the Lakers, there is certainly a ton of issues that need to be fixed before championship basketball returns to Tinseltown.  

Meanwhile on the opposite coast, as the rumors keep flying every day and the Knicks faithful are calling on the basketball gods, the direction of the upcoming free agency tour of guys like Kevin Durant is pointing right towards the Big Apple.  

The New York Knicks have experienced similar struggles as the Lakers over the past six seasons, but after numerous failed strategies, management changes, and a lack of resources needed to attract big-time players, they are looking primed for an exciting and game-changing offseason. It’s finally a summer where they have the greatest chance to snag a player or two who can lead them back to playoff basketball in hopes for a first championship since 1973.  

New York has had to deal with a lot of bad decisions made by owner James Dolan and their last few GMs - both basketball related and otherwise - but they look like they finally have the best interest of the Knicks in mind.  

Unfortunately, luck was not on their side at the draft lottery and they were dealt the 3rd overall pick which most likely means no Zion Williamson. However, they seem on par to take another appealing rookie player to play with a possible star free agent.

The one temptation they will need to avoid is trading down in the draft or trading that pick away with an entire team of assets for a star player like the Lakers tried for Anthony Davis.  

With Davis wanting to be traded from New Orleans, it is expected that the asking price will be huge. Many have expressed concern about the Knicks’ willingness to ship away the future stars of the franchise for an unguaranteed revival with the Pelicans star. There is a fear that if the Knicks don’t sign a max free agent such as Kevin Durant this summer, Anthony Davis will be inclined to leave the team and it’ll be back to square one and another decade-long setback.

The Knicks are also coming into the summer with the highest cap space total, nearing $73 million, after making a series of moves including one that sent former first-round draft pick Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas. Additionally, some players on the roster have expiring contracts meaning their departure could open even more space.  

Knicks' 2018 draft picks Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox
Knicks' 2018 draft picks Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox

Therefore, the financial resources are finally there to use on max contracts for at least one star player, if not two, and the Knicks aren’t carrying very much dead cap money at the moment. GM Scott Perry and company have repeatedly expressed their desire to use that cap space on a star free agent as opposed to divvying it out across several average players who won’t truly elevate the roster which is what is necessary.  

Not only is the money there, but the young talent to build around as well.

Everyone knows that youth is a great thing but having veterans on a roster is what makes a team a playoff contender. With the acquisition of the latter, the Knicks could have the best of both worlds as Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson are looking like bright additions to the team. Robinson, who made the NBA All-Rookie Second Team in his first season in the league, is making stat junkies fall in love with his increasing block averages and point totals and the team is all in on him. Undrafted additions such as Alonzo Trier and Dennis Smith Jr. are can push the tempo and play hardnose defense.  

Besides the money and assets, there is also the intrigue that comes with playing in New York that gives the Knicks an advantage. This is not to say that Los Angeles is a small market, but there is something about playing in New York, the Garden, the Mecca of basketball that makes all players love to visit the Knicks and maybe one day join the franchise.  

Players like Kevin Durant must realize that as a player of their caliber, if you come to New York and win a title for their teams, you are instantly treated like royalty and you gain the city’s respect and admiration for life.  

Carmelo Anthony has even recently been reported as saying indirectly that he would consider the idea of a return to the Knicks if Kevin Durant was recruited there. For all the Knicks fans upset over his departure, this could be a great reunion after he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder a few seasons prior. 

The New York Knicks have not had a winning season since the 2012-13 season when they won 54 games under then head coach Mike Woodson. That could all change this summer if they scoop up a big-time free agent or two like Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving.  

This summer is going to be an absolute roller coaster for both the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks, with both vying for superstars to revamp their rosters and return their team to prominence in the NBA.  

The Lakers will have to choose wisely as to what they do with their 4th overall draft pick as it is their biggest recruiting asset now. Additionally, they will have to overcome the LeBron James experiment failing in the first year and the months of negative media attention negatively affecting their chances of adding to star players to the roster and returning to the Lakers glory of the past.  

For the Knicks, they will have multiple resources to recruit star players to Madison Square Garden and make it a place where the Knicks play again, not just where opposing teams come to showcase for fans outside of their state. The odds are in their favor, but management and James Dolan will have to move wisely and hope the cards fall in the right place.  

The resurgence of either of these teams is not only a necessity for the markets but for the entire NBA as well.

The Knicks and Lakers are to the NBA what the Giants and Browns are to the NFL: two of the original franchises with storied histories and a power to attract followers to the game of basketball. Their identity as the foundation teams make them popular teams for international fans and those foreign to the city to see. 

Most of all, even if one is not a fan of the teams, most people like to see these teams succeed and compete in the playoffs each year because of their past.

As the countdown to July 1st continues, the intrigue towards what happens to these two teams will continue to grow. However, as the Los Angeles Lakers continue to charge their downfall with losing basketball with an evident power struggle pervading through the organization, it’s the New York Knicks, who are looking more primed to return to prominence in the NBA.  

It feels like winning basketball will be returning to Madison Square Garden faster than it will to the to the purple and gold half of Los Angeles.  

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