The New York Knicks were projected to finish the 2020-2021 season with less than 25 wins. The game isn’t played on paper though, and the Knicks proved that. They ended up winning 41 games and were the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. With that came a lot of Knicks fans and national talking heads saying New York had built a foundation with young pieces to build around. But they haven’t built a true foundation. Teams don’t have an actual foundation until they identify and acquire their superstar player.
A Culture Shift, Not Just a Foundation
Do the Knicks have a better culture? Of course. But that’s not the same as a foundation. Tom Thibodeau made his players practice hard and weren’t afraid to bench players who didn’t give it their all on the court. Julius Randle and RJ Barrett elevated their games, partly because they developed an amazing work ethic. Knicks players would go right to a gym instead of their hotel when arriving in a city. The culture could attract All-Star players in free agency because players know the Knicks are all about winning moving forward.
A Foundation is Still Needed Though
When we look at recent championship teams, they have something in common: a star player(s). The Los Angeles Lakers had LeBron James and Anthony Davis in 2020. The Toronto Raptors had Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry in 2019. In 2017 and 2018, the Golden State Warriors had Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant. If the Lakers didn’t have LeBron and Davis, there wouldn’t be a championship in the bubble. If the Raptors didn’t bring in Leonard they wouldn’t have had a foundation that beat Golden State.
The Knicks don’t have two stars (or even one) to build around. Randle was thought to be a star but real stars perform in the playoffs and Randle didn’t. He went from averaging north of 24 points during the regular season to not reaching 24 points in any game against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Knicks Should Follow Other Examples
There were teams in the same spot over the last few years that the Knicks are in currently. The 2018-19 Miami Heat had Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic before adding their franchise cornerstone, Jimmy Butler, in free agency (via sign and trade). To a lesser degree, the 2018-19 Brooklyn Nets had Joe Harris, who’s now their fourth option, as one of their leading scorers. That was before Sean Marks acquired Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden.
The Phoenix Suns had Devin Booker, an All-Star player who averaged 26.6 points last season. That’s around the same points Randle averaged this year. But the Suns didn’t have their true star yet. That was until Phoenix acquired All-Star Chris Paul. He was the difference in Phoenix going from a middle-of-the-pack team to the No. 2 seed this year. Randle is the Knicks’ version of Booker. An All-Star that needs a star (or two) to be the one that the team builds around.
Follow Ben Fadden on Twitter @ben_fadden
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