Knicks’ free agency whiffs mean its time for an image overhaul
LAS VEGAS — With $70 million of cap space, Knicks brass bought time instead of a star player. Striking out shouldn’t be shocking when reviewing their past lack of conquests.
The Knicks’ narrative for the last several months, despite the league-worst 17-65 record, is the company had changed its image league-wide, changed the culture.
Knicks coach David Fizdale was trotted out on the national stage after the season ended in mid-April, sitting down with the Dan Patricks and Rachel Nichols of the world to promote their spin.
“I think going into free agency, we’ve got a lot of good things we can show and how this is going to be a different deal going forward with the Knicks,” Fizdale said on “The Jump’’ during their long spring. “I think we’re going to end up doing some good things.”
Maybe there has been a small momentum shift, but there’s no hard evidence. They’ve been roasted for getting no meetings with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Kemba Walker and Kawhi Leonard.
The latter was a tentative pow-wow set up for Wednesday but the Knicks felt so little of their chances, they tactically moved on to spend their cap space before he market dried up. Leonard still hasn’t come to a decision.
While some critics contend the Knicks brass should have waited out Leonard and let potential starting point guard Elfrid Payton go elsewhere, it may be more a sign of president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry feeling strongly about their six signings than a potential courtesy meeting.
The root of the Knicks’ issue on their lackluster free agency is Irving: Why did Irving feel so dispassionate about the Knicks after all the good things he had said about the franchise in the past?
If Irving was gung-ho about the Knicks, Durant would have followed, too, with his agent/manager pushing the Knicks’ brand as better for KD’s business ventures.
The Nets made the playoffs, but were ousted quickly. Compared to the Knicks, that’s nirvana. The Knicks have the worst record in the NBA since the 2000-2001 season, have made just four playoff berths in the last 18 years, have missed out the past six years and bottomed out this past season.
Fizdale, Perry and Mills seemed cocky enough to think 17-65 would not mean much to the stars. They were dead wrong.
And so was confident owner James Dolan, whose image still appears an issue. The Post reported back in the winter after his latest embarrassing run-in with a heckler that an NBA source said the club was afraid at striking out in free agency because of Dolan’s past incidents.
Charles Oakley went on WFAN and the New York Times stating his ugly incident at the Garden two years ago still weighs on players’ minds, alluding to KD. At the time, Dolan compounded the Oakley incident by going on radio and ripping him further as having anger/alcohol issues. Whether that’s true about Oakley or not, why fan the flames?
“You see the fire burning you don’t drive into it,’’ Oakley said this week.
In truth, Knicks brass doesn’t seem all broken up about the KD/Kyrie whiff.
During summer-league practices, Mills and Perry looked like a weight had been lifted from their shoulders, knowing the risk of taking on the injured KD and the checkered Irving, who destroyed the Celtics’ locker room.
But now they want to win, not tank. Many Knicks fans supported the 2018-19 tank and it improved their odds enough to land a top-3 pick. That shiny diamond, RJ Barrett, will make his debut Friday in Las Vegas. Too bad Barrett is matched up against Zion Williamson, so he could be outshone in his first outing.
Still, with this free agency all but done, Barrett is their most visible player, and maybe even will turn into their best player as the regular season carries on. But brass knows now losing isn’t the best strategy to attract future stars and the club will be in play again cap-wise for 2020 and 2021 free agencies.
When Mills and Perry discovered they were out of the KD/Kyrie hunt early Sunday, they hopped on a plane to Los Angeles to embark on a $70 million shopping spree. Credit Mills and Perry for having ready backup plans and reacting fast.
Mills did not want to be stuck with so much cash that they’d be in the position of calling up the Ron Bakers and offering a one-year, $7M deal.
Of their six signings, all overpays, Julius Randle is the closest to a potential star. His offensive game grew by leaps last season in New Orleans.
Payton, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington gives the Knicks a feeling of having just finished up an expansion draft. Serviceable rotation players but Fizdale is going to have to coach his butt off to get to the eighth seed without an All-Star.
At least the Knicks get another season to attempt to improve on their optics.
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