The New York Knicks were one of the better (and more surprising) stories of the 2020-21 NBA season. What was supposed to be a rebuilding year focused on developing young talent and installing Tom Thibodeau's system and philosophy turned into a playoff run that had Madison Square Garden buzzing. The playoff run ended rather quickly, but there was a lot to be excited about.
The organization entered the offseason with two first-round picks and the most cap space in the league to play with in free agency. They chose to trade one first away and used the second to pick Quentin Grimes, a bit of a project player but one who could turn into an excellent three-and-D wing if things break right. The Knicks clearly didn't want to bring in two rookies to a playoff roster and instead looked to free agency for more ready reinforcements.
This free agency period would be a defining one for the Leon Rose-led Knicks. The last decade of New York basketball has been marred by big mistakes on the open market; the front office sees glimmers of competency, decide it's time to invest, and throw gigantic deals at big names to quickly fix any issues in roster construction. To this point, Rose hasn't followed that path that led to the Knicks mistakes of old. Nobody knew if he would continue to forge his own way or fall into the familiar trap.
We're now three days past the beginning of free agency and Rose made a few significant moves to change the roster. New York signed Evan Fournier to a four-year deal worth $78 million while bringing back Derrick Rose (three years, $43 million), Alec Burks (three years, $30 million), Nerlens Noel (three years, $32 million), and Taj Gibson (one year, $2.7 million). Those were all capped off by the somewhat stunning news that Kemba Walker's contract was bought out by the Thunder and the Bronx native planned to join the orange and blue. The terms of that agreement aren't yet known, but since the Knicks only have about $9-12 million in cap space, they can't give him much. He's coming to New York because he wants to be there, not because the Knicks can pay him more than anyone else.
Does all that make the Knicks a championship team? Certainly not. Any NBA title contender needs at least one top-10 player on the roster, and the Knicks have an assortment of guys ranging from average to pretty good but no legitimate superstar. For that reason, you can't really say the Knicks "won" the offseason. There were no stars of that caliber available to acquire, sure, but filling up the roster with competent players does not make for a great offseason. Merely a good one.
And that's what is most important. It would have been really easy for the Knicks to screw this up and mortgage their future in order to get marginally better. Sending an unjustifiably large haul to the Raptors for Kyle Lowry or rising to Philly's asking price for Ben Simmons or sitting on their heels hoping Damian Lillard would demand a trade were all realistic paths that the Knicks of old would have taken and been worse off for it. Sacrificing future flexibility for older players or going overboard to load up on assets for a trade that might not happen would not have been surprising decisions to see from the New York Knicks.
But they didn't. They added good players to complement the good players they already had. They're taking a swing on Walker's knees being in good enough shape to contribute to a winning team, and if they're wrong it won't matter because they aren't paying him much. Maybe paying Fournier nearly $20 million a year will prove to be a mistake, and maybe $43 million for Rose is a little much. But those are both moveable contracts. And if they work out, the Knicks are winning games and proving to future free agents that MSG is once again a desirable place to play.
The Knicks didn't need to come away from this offseason with a championship roster. They have enough young talent that they can afford to play the long game. The one thing they couldn't do was drop everything to try and become a title contender right this second. New York resisted that temptation and emerged a better team because of it. It's easy to say the Knicks didn't win the offseason, seeing as they'll probably only be a four-seed at the absolute best in a top-heavy Eastern Conference next year. But it's impossible to say the Knicks lost this offseason.