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The New York Knicks & the Emergence of a Championship Window

With the acquisition of Mikal Bridges, the Knicks are ready to be taken seriously as title contenders. Do they have enough to get it done?

When Leon Rose was hired by the New York Knicks, the franchise was in disarray. The longtime agent was tasked with the seemingly insurmountable assignment of resurrecting the Knicks. A team that had gone seven seasons without a winning record, only winning 33% of their games in that span. The team was, for lack of a better term, a disaster. In the four years since then, the team has been to the playoffs three times and has won two playoff series. It has identified and acquired a superstar in Jalen Brunson and is one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. 

But the name of the game in New York is to contend for championships. And this week the Knicks, who have been patiently hoarding assets the entirety of Rose’s tenure, decided to cash in on some of those assets and acquire Mikal Bridges from the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Bojan Bogdanovic and five first-round picks (four of them being unprotected Knicks picks stretching out to 2031). The price was steep, as should be expected when making a deal with a team that is fighting you for wins and headlines in the same city. More than anything, this trade shows that the Knicks are tired of being a feel good story, and are ready to start competing for championships. 

The Missing Piece

Ever since Rose took over, there has been a lingering sense that the Knicks were on the verge of a superstar trade. The infamous trade where a team dumps every asset they have to acquire a superstar that will forever change their trajectory. By and large, despite the pressures of the media and irrational demands of fans, the Knicks have taken a measured approach slowly building toward competitiveness. They started through the draft by drafting young players like Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, and Quentin Grimes to pair with Julius Randle and RJ Barrett. And slowly, the return to respectability happened. 

Then when it came time to upgrade the roster they opted to sign Jalen Brunson and passed on trading for Donovan Mitchell. It was a maligned move by many, but the Knicks wanted to remain flexible for the future. There was no guarantee of what Brunson would become, with most pundits and fans assuming he would be decent, but certainly not a superstar. As we now know, these expectations were smashed into a million pieces and Brunson has become an elite player in the NBA that received MVP votes this past season. 

This past season, the Knicks started to make their big swings. It started with the packaging of RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley, two key young pieces of the Knicks roster, to Toronto for OG Anunoby. That move signified that the Knicks were serious about taking the next step in their development. Leading up to this year’s playoffs, there was an argument that the trio of Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson, and OG Anunoby could contend with the best of the East and make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. This didn’t happen due to the team being ravaged by injury, but the message was sent that this core group was ready to compete. 

This is why they traded picks to get Mikal Bridges. The Knicks feel that Jalen Brunson is their true superstar, and what they have assembled around him is enough to contend for a title in an admittedly weak Eastern Conference. So instead of giving up on the main players in their rotation, they sacrificed draft capital to get a 27 year old wing that fits into what the team is looking for: length, shooting, and defense. They are doubling down on team culture, defensive length, three point shooting, and an anti-superstar method in 2024. What they are doing reminds me a lot of what the Boston Celtics accomplished and in some ways, this team is purpose built to beat the Celtics by matching shooting and length, for better or worse. 

The Expectations

The Knicks rotation at this point will feature the following players next season: 

  • Jalen Brunson

  • Julius Randle

  • OG Anunoby

  • Mitchell Robinson

  • Mikal Bridges

  • Donte DiVincenzo

  • Josh Hart

  • Deuce McBride

Give or take a backup center that could be added, this is a team with multiple scorers, active defenders, and high level shooting. Last season, the Knicks were 13th in the league in three pointers attempted. With the addition of Bridges and the return of Anunoby and Randle to the lineup, I would expect those numbers to increase. Defensively, the Knicks offer a lot of variance for opposing teams that will need to be schemed against. Anunoby is an elite defender who can guard every position on the floor, Bridges is also a tremendously versatile defender. On the interior, Mitchell Robinson is an elite shot altering big that completes the vision of the teams defense if he can stay healthy. 

On offense, the team is filled with three point shooters that can catch and shoot at decent efficiency. DiVincenzo was a 40% shooter from three last season, and the team is littered with players that made over 35% of their threes last season. Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle are isolation heavy players that often command gravity from opposing defenses. That gravity will open up shots for the rest of the team, making the potential for offensive efficiency very high for this team. In short, the Knicks will be a very good team next season. 

Looking around the East, the Boston Celtics are the team to beat. They are the defending champions and still employ two elite wing players (Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown) in their prime. In Philadelphia, the 76ers are amid a total roster reconfiguration around Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. Who they bring in and well's increasingly uncertain health of Embiid are big question marks for them. The Milwaukee Bucks have one of the best players in the world in Giannis Antetokounmpo, but also have an aging roster centered around Damian Lillard and Khris Middleton. It is not outlandish to say that they are towards the end of their championship window as currently constituted. The rest of the East features good teams on the rise like Cleveland, Indiana, and Orlando that may present challenges as well. 

Compared to all of these teams, the Knicks are well positioned to rise from the pack. This is the most well constructed Knicks team in decades. They are true contenders for the first time since the late 1990s, with a superstar and supporting cast that have fully embraced playing in New York and everything that comes with it. It is the most exciting that this franchise has been in many years, and now for the first time in many years have to deal with the burden of expectations. It remains to be seen if they can deliver, but they are now in a championship window and they will be expected to deliver. The time to show that the right decisions were made is now.

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