Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

New York Knicks fans have seen their fair share of struggles, and that’s putting it nicely. The franchise has the worst record in the NBA since 2000 and has not won a championship in over 45 years. The Knicks finished the 2019-2020 regular season with a very poor 21-45 record. Because of that and no big free agency signings in the offseason, the Knicks struggles were only supposed to continue. However, there might be light at the end of the tunnel. 

No team in the entire league had lower odds to win the 2020-2021 NBA championship than the Knicks entering the season. While the team likely won’t contend for an NBA Championship, they have surprised many this season. Entering the all-star break, the Knicks are currently 5th in the Eastern Conference. They are ahead of the Toronto Raptors, who finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference standings last regular season. The Knicks are also ahead of the Miami Heat, who reached the NBA Finals last season. Did anyone expect either of those things this late into the season?

Julius Randle has played a big role in the Knicks’ surprising performance. Randle is currently averaging 23 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists per game while shooting 48 percent from the field, 41 percent from three, and 80 percent from the free-throw line. The former Kentucky Wildcat recently got named as an all-star for the first time in his career. Additionally, Randle will only be 26 years old by the time next season starts so he could be a key player in New York for the foreseeable future. 

Tom Thibodeau is another reason why the Knicks are currently 5th in the Eastern Conference entering the all-star break. The Knicks decided to hire Thibodeau in July of 2020. After his disappointing stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves, I didn’t think the Knicks hiring Thibodeau was a wise move. The former Bulls head coach has a history of giving his best players too many minutes and not enough time for rest. Thibodeau also frequently has played lineups that contained a limited amount of three-point shooting. As we know, the three-point shot is a huge part of today’s game. Would Thibodeau be able to adapt?

Despite all of those concerns, Thibodeau has done a very good job in his first 37 games as the Knicks head coach. Additionally, Thibodeau is one of the few remaining NBA coaches that shows lots of emotion on the sideline and openly coaches his players hard. That cannot be ignored.

After going 69-177 in the previous three seasons, the Brooklyn Nets made the playoffs and lost in the first round in 2019. In the following offseason, the team signed Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in free agency. After three years filled with losing, the Nets surprised many by making the playoffs with a group of key young players. Similar to that Nets team, the Knicks have received production from their young players. RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, and Immanuel Quickley have all shown flashes this season. Like the Nets in the previous years before making the playoffs in 2019, the Knicks were amongst the league’s worst before this season. If the Knicks continue to play at their current level, their trajectory will be very similar to the Nets in 2019. The Nets got heavily rewarded with their success that season when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving decided to take their talents to Brooklyn.

Could the Knicks become a hot-spot for big-name-free agents similar to how the Nets did?

Kawhi Leonard is one of the NBA’s best players and will likely be the best free agent in the summer of 2021. When Leonard signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2019, many expected the team to win an NBA championship. Despite that, the team blew a 3-1 series lead and lost to the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the NBA playoffs last season. With the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers still in the way, it appears that the Clippers once again won’t even be playing in the NBA Finals. If the team fails to win an NBA championship this year, these past two years for the Clippers will have undoubtedly been a failure. In that event, would you be surprised if Leonard left? In 2018, the biggest free agent was Lebron James and he left the Cleveland Cavaliers to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers. In 2019, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, and Kemba Walker were all free agents and all decided to sign with new teams. Recent history shows that the best free agents prefer signing with different teams.

There’s reason to believe that Kawhi Leonard would be interested in signing with the Knicks. In 2019, Leonard left the Toronto Raptors, who just won an NBA championship to play with the Los Angeles Clippers. Leonard could have also signed with the Los Angeles Lakers and teamed up with Lebron James and Anthony Davis. Judging from that, Leonard wants to play in a big market where he will be the center of attention. He would certainly get that as a Knick. Also, as previously stated, the Knicks have mostly been a laughing stock over the past two decades. Leonard winning a championship or even just making a deep playoff run with the Knicks could greatly enhance his legacy. 

Since many players have turned down signing with the Knicks in the past, such as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in 2019, it’s reasonable to be skeptical about the idea of Kawhi Leonard signing with the Knicks this offseason. However, you never know what the two-time NBA Finals MVP is thinking. Until he officially made his decision, It was very unclear which team he would sign with in 2019.  We have to remember that Leonard has a different personality than most other NBA superstars. He’s very quiet and isn’t a big social media user. Would he continue his uniqueness as an NBA Superstar and sign with the Knicks this offseason?

If the Knicks were able to acquire Kawhi Leonard, they would suddenly be another all-star away from competing for an NBA championship. The Washington Wizards are currently 14-20 and 12th in the Eastern Conference. Unless they turn their season around, the Wizards might concede that they can’t contend or even make the playoffs with their current core. If they determine that, they might consider trading Bradley Beal when his trade value is extremely high and rebuild their team. Could the Knicks trade for Beal if he ends up being available this offseason? Here is what a potential trade could look like:

Washington Wizards get: RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, Mitchell Robinson, and two first-round picks.

New York Knicks get: Bradley Beal.

Two first-round picks and a plethora of young players would help kickstart the Washington Wizards rebuild. On the other hand, the New York Knicks would receive the 27-year-old Bradley Beal, who is currently averaging 33 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game while shooting 48 percent from the field. A big three of Kawhi Leonard, Bradley Beal, and Julius Randle could win an NBA championship. 

Other than being able to play in Madison Square Garden on a consistent basis, there haven’t been any reasons for why a player would want to sign with the Knicks. There’s a reason why it’s been such a long time since the team obtained a star player in free agency. The Knicks the worst record in the NBA since 2000. Now? They have shown improvement on the court. Can the Knicks continue to trend in the right direction? Is there light at the end of the tunnel? 

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