GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The New York Knicks went into full spin mode on Monday, as if their owner, James Dolan, hadn’t gone on the radio back in March and all but guaranteed that his team was going to have a massive haul in free agency.
So, as usual, no one was buying what they were selling.
After all, Dolan had indeed appeared on “The Michael Kay Show” on ESPN 98.7 FM and declared, “New York is the mecca of basketball and we hear from people all the time, from players from representatives, about who wants to come. I can tell you from what I’ve heard, we’re going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.”
Maybe Dolan heard wrong. Or maybe he got bad information. Because the Knicks failed mightily in their pursuit.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant both took their talents to Brooklyn. Kawhi Leonard teamed up with Paul George in Los Angeles.
Even Kemba Walker, a native New Yorker, ended up signing with Boston.
The Knicks traded Porzingis to the Mavericks in late January and then ripped him on the way out, clearing enough salary-cap space for two max free agents.
But none of that happened.
Plan A, B and C all went out the window, leaving the Knicks’ front office to claim that Dolan was satisfied with Plan D — adding Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Elfrid Payton, Wayne Ellington, Reggie Bullock and RJ Barrett to a group that already included Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina.
“Absolutely,” president Steve Mills said in the Knicks’ first media address since June 21. “Jim knew we were going to have a successful free agency, and we feel we did that. He was on board with what we were doing, and one of the rosters that he saw well in advance of free agency was one that looks like what we’re going to put on the floor this year.”
Asked why the Knicks couldn’t get meetings with the top players in the free-agent class, Mills responded: “I mean, you’ll have to talk to those players about why they made the decisions that they made. But there were a lot of max-type players that we could’ve gotten, that were interested in coming here. We had a certain way we wanted to build this team, and this is the way we chose to build it.”
As if the Knicks had a choice.
They were beaten in their own backyard, in the city that they own.
The Nets did everything their hated rivals didn’t, building a strong culture, developing their young players, winning games and making an easy case for themselves. K.D. said he considered the Warriors, Clippers and Knicks for only “a couple seconds” before deciding on Brooklyn.
In that regard, the Knicks have a lot of catching up to do. And it starts at the top.
“I’m not blaming anybody. I had an amazing time with the Knicks,” Enes Kanter told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report. “But other teammates that I talked to or if they’re on different teams, they always said, ‘Amazing city, MSG is amazing, everything is so good, but the ownership.’ They would just keep saying, ‘But the ownership.’ Some of the players, I guess, are just scared to come here and don’t even want to deal with that.”
The Knicks must now figure out a direction and stick with it. The 2020 free-agent class is considered far weaker than this year’s crop, but 2021 could have Giannis Antetokounmpo. They need to build a culture, develop their young players in Barrett, Knox and Robinson, and win games in order to become an attractive destination.
In their favor: they play in the Eastern Conference and they’ve got some guys who will play hard.
“This is a team New Yorkers are going to like,” Mills said. “The grittiness of these guys. The toughness they bring to the court.”
But if history is any indication, it won’t work out. It typically doesn’t work out for the New York Knicks.
In any case, Mills, GM Scott Perry and coach David Fizdale have a daunting task ahead of them. And they won’t have the immediate help of any NBA superstars.
But at least James Dolan will be able to see Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kemba Walker, Kristaps Porzingis, Zion Williamson and Anthony Davis at the mecca of basketball, Madison Square Garden — in opposing uniforms.
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