Knicks fans are parched for a winner but have shown staggering patience, too.
With the new Knicks administration failing to significantly upgrade the roster in free agency despite attempts, there appears little to be thankful for with the season opener beckoning Dec. 22.
Or is there?
Perhaps the Knicks are headed to an eighth straight non-playoff season — even with the expanded 10-team format. But here’s why Thanksgiving should be filled with thanks — not just tanks.
1. David Fizdale is in the rearview mirror, though he’s still getting paid by James Dolan for the next two seasons. But Dolan hopes he’ll have Tom Thibodeau around to pay for five years. The Knicks saw patches of respectability after a 4-18 start after which Fizdale was bounced for interim Mike Miller. Thibodeau and his eight assistant coaches will have the club more prepared for every tipoff than any coach in the league.
2. The Knicks haven’t played a game since March 11 — an OT victory in Atlanta. That means you haven’t heard the strains of Hall of Famers Mike Breen and Walt Frazier in tandem on MSG Network for nearly ninth months. That ends real soon as Frazier decides on his favored pun for Obi: “He’s Poppin’ and Toppin”.
3. Less than 10 teams are expected to allow socially distanced fans inside their arenas. The Garden won’t be one of them because of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ban on indoor gatherings for pro sports. Look at the bright side: saving the $128 for marginal 200-level seats (the average ticket price last season). And cutting back on the $14 pulled pork sandwich at the arena’s Hill Country BBQ. (They are good though).
4. RJ Barrett, the No. 3 pick in last year’s draft, has the intangibles/work ethic to turn into an All-Star-level player. The 6-foot-7 Canadian rebounds terrifically for a guard, sees the floor well, attacks the rim with ferocity and plays inspired defense. It was highway robbery Barrett got excluded from the two all-rookie teams. His friends said he’ll be using that as motivation. After a slow start during OTAs, he wound up impressing Thibodeau. An improved 3-point shot and more efficiency from the free-throw line will make all the difference.
5. Despite having 16 guys — one over the roster limit — the Knicks still have $18 million in cap space. It’s $23 million of space if Elfrid Payton uses the $5 million room exception for his pact instead of cap space. That’s if the Knicks get up to the cap. They only need to spend $8 million to hit the payroll minimum and don’t have to do that until late in the season, giving them trade flexibility.
They can obtain even more 2023 draft picks by taking on a bad contract that would be used in an important trade down the road. Or the picks can be moved to go full bore after former All-Star Victor Oladipo. However, taking on Nic Batum’s Superbad $27 million pact for another draft pick seems unfair to Dolan, who is facing a desolate Garden without revenue streams. Even if it’s a first-rounder, that has Dolan paying, all told, $23 million for the pick. Dolan never said he was Santa Claus.
6. The Knicks have a defacto GM in John Calipari — and he’s working for free. Knicks rookie executives Leon Rose and William Wesley have leaned on Calipari’s advice for years. It won’t stop now. Rumor has it, the Kentucky Wildcats will leave the SEC and become the Knicks’ new G-League affiliate.
7. Watching Toppin’s rookie year will be pure pleasure. The Dayton dunk machine desperately wanted to be a Knick — and that’s a rare case around the league. Maybe the Cavaliers will be owed a favor later from Creative Artists Agency in passing on him at No. 5 for Isaac Okoro despite Toppin’s Ohio ties. CAA, which Rose once ran, wanted him in New York. As one college scout said, “It’s a perfect spot for Obi. His personality is tremendous. If he’s as good as he could be, he’ll be the face of the franchise. I worry about Okoro as a scorer and whether he’d have been a good fit with RJ.’’
8. Be thankful for new signee Nerlens Noel, the former Kentucky standout big man. Because Calipari said so. Plus his name is perfect for the holidays. Noel wasn’t the sixth pick in the 2013 draft for nothing and played solid minutes as a shot-blocker and effort defender for OKC’s playoff team. He was their best signing as Mitchell Robinson still has stuff to figure out.
9. The NBA has not set a date for the draft lottery but there’s a chance a vaccine will be in place by then. Surely the Knicks Film School guys will be throwing a bar bash, COVID-willing. And Oklahoma State, where point guard Cade Cunningham attends classes, will be on ESPN a lot.
10. The Knicks’ 2023 draft will be epic.
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