Basketball

Kristian Winfield: Knicks aren’t the cool thing now, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be later

Kevin Durant has been pretty outspoken on his free-agency decision-making process, the inner workings of a group of stars who chose the Nets over the Knicks this summer. On media day, he told reporters he gave other teams – including the Knicks – two seconds of thought before choosing the Nets. Then on Tuesday, in an interview on Hot 97's "Ebro in the Morning," he elaborated on what might be an accurate, universal perception of a rebuilding Knicks franchise.

"I think a lot of fans look at the Knicks as a brand and expect these younger players who, in their lifetime, don't remember the Knicks being good," Durant said. "I've seen the Knicks in the Finals, but kids coming up after me didn't see that. That whole brand of the Knicks to them is not as cool as let's say the Golden State Warriors or even the Lakers or the Nets now.

"The cool thing right now is not the Knicks."

Durant is right. The cool thing right now is not the Knicks.

The Knicks couldn't have possibly been cool. Not after they failed to build around Carmelo Anthony, then hung him out to dry. Not after Kristaps Porzingis requested a trade and reportedly told other big-name free agents not to sign with the Knicks. Not after the team traded Porzingis to create cap space for two max free agents, watched its owner go on the radio and claim "a very successful offseason" was on the way, then struck out on Durant and Kyrie Irving to the "little brother" franchise across the bridge. And certainly not after putting together a 163-329 record over the past six seasons with zero playoff appearances to show for themselves.

The cool thing has not been the Knicks in the latter half of this decade, and the franchise has no one to blame but itself for its ineptitude. But that doesn't mean the Knicks can't be cool again. In fact, they're already on their way there.

Just Monday night, during the Knicks' preseason opener, Marcus Morris pulled a playground move and cracked his defender in the head with the basketball. He got ejected, and might even be suspended (he tried to take Justin Anderson's head off with an elbow first), but the same player who'll go out there and get you 20 on one end will be the enforcer on the other. In the same game, the Knicks' biggest free-agency signing – Julius Randle – finished with nearly a triple-double. Randle could be the Knicks' four of the future. That's pretty cool, too.

Other cool things: The very first possession of Monday night's game ended with a Mitchell Robinson block; RJ Barrett finished with 17 points on 13 shots and showed signs he could be the future of the franchise; and Frank Ntilikina actually played with some aggression on offense. The Knicks haven't been cool, but this is as interesting as they've been to the very fans Durant referred to.

So yes, the Knicks will be the subject of unexpected, unwarranted criticism from all parties and directions – including players, like Durant, who chose to sign elsewhere. The words of others are none of the Knicks' business. They should only focus on developing their players and putting a competitive, fun-to-watch product on the floor.

One last cool thing: The Knicks maintained cap flexibility and will be absolutely loaded in 2021, when LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can all become free agents. They'll have an opportunity to add stars to a group of talented, young players, similar to how the Nets built their contender over the years.

That's pretty cool. And for the last five seasons, the Knicks have been anything but.

  Comments