June 22, 2024

Brighton Journal

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The Knicks will be looking for the next great player but don’t want to disrupt their culture

The Knicks will be looking for the next great player but don’t want to disrupt their culture

The day before the loss that ended the New York Knicks’ season, OG Anunoby named his head coach.

Anunoby has not played since Game 2 of their second-round series against the Indiana Pacers, a battle that would end in his team’s demise in seven games. The 26-year-old striker has not yet been running, and is still suffering from the hamstring injury he suffered 11 days ago. But with the Knicks one defeat away from elimination and with the rest of the roster reeling, all notions of what should be considered healthy have disappeared.

“I wanted to at least try to help my teammates. I wanted to at least be there,” Anubi said.

Here’s what he told Tom Thibodeau.

The Knicks were fighting for their lives, and Anunoby, with a hamstring, wanted to play. He must have made a convincing argument.

Anunoby started Sunday’s Game 7 against the Pacers but moved as if he was taking his Willis Reed impression too far. He wasn’t able to run, defend and drive. Thibodeau took him out of the game less than five minutes after the warning and never put him back on the court.

“I didn’t feel like he was moving well,” Thibodeau said. “It didn’t make sense.”

The man famous for approaching every game as if it were his team’s last was the one who had to save Anunoby from himself.

This was the case for the Knicks this season, who lost Game 7 to the Pacers 130-109, ending their run in the playoffs with one win before the Eastern Conference Finals. New York gave and gave until it had nothing left.

“This group, we didn’t make excuses for anything,” Jalen Brunson said. “If things happened, we went ahead with what we had. And obviously we want everyone healthy. I think that’s the most important thing, but I think as a group, we had a next-man-up mentality. We really took that seriously.”

Anunoby was one of many.

Less than 48 hours after suffering an abdominal cramp, Josh Hart was roaming the court, setting up blocks on Aaron Nesmith and trying to grab rebounds.

Minutes after suffering a broken hand in the third quarter, Brunson was trying to get back into the game. He played for 14 seconds, realized his grip wasn’t right, then walked out again, heading to the locker room only to learn that an errant hit on Pacers point guard Tyrese Haliburton had not only broken his ambitions, but also broken a bone.

The Knicks could have fielded a playoff team with only their injured players.

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And they didn’t have Julius Randle, who dislocated his shoulder last January and hasn’t played since. And they didn’t have Mitchell Robinson, who came back from ankle surgery, re-injured his ankle, came back from that injury and then re-injured it again earlier in the Pacers series, requiring another surgery. Bojan Bogdanović was also unavailable for Game 7 after undergoing foot surgery during the first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers.

New York wrapped up a superlative season, its first 50-win campaign in 11 years, and its rise to the No. 2-ranked team without any of its Opening Day starters on the field. Hurt by the Pacers’ historic offensive performance, His shooting performance is 67.1 percent Game 7 was the best of an NBA playoff game, topped only by the physical pain that accompanied that run.

The Knicks won despite injuries all season. As the slope steepened, they pedaled and biked — until the wheels came off.

“This team is special,” Brunson said. “In a way I can’t really explain.”

The Knicks, once a failing franchise, never boasted the competitive culture that had become their defining character trait. A sense of “what if” has permeated the top and bottom of the organization with every tweak, twist, twist or pull that has led to the collapse of their season.

The Knicks went 12-2 in 14 games immediately following their midseason trade for Anunoby. Injuries to both Randle and Anunoby derailed the race. Randle never returned.

January Knicks will be an inside theme heading into the holiday season. This group looked like a contender when it was at full strength. But there is no guarantee that the same crew will return in 2024-2025.

The first question of the summer concerns the coach who revamped the culture. Thibodeau is now entering the final season of his contract. The two sides will enter into extension negotiations this summer. The athleteShams Charania of the Post reported last week that the Knicks “desperately want to lock him up” long-term and that the new deal could reach eight figures per year. Coaches don’t get discounts anymore, not after Monty Williams reset the market with a six-year, $78 million contract last summer with the Detroit Pistons.

“That’s something my agent will take care of,” Thibodeau said. “The Knicks have been great to me. So that’s where I want to be.”

Whether the extension goes through or not, the Knicks have questions about the roster to ponder.

Anunoby is a free agent, and while New York is the favorite to re-sign him, the details remain in question. Will he return for $35 million annually? Or could the average annual value be closer to $40 million? Or maybe more than that? There aren’t many more versatile defenders who can start at point guard through the positions. Only a few people who fit this description can also offer 15 to 18 points.

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Isaiah Hartenstein is also a free agent. His return is less certain – even if he insists he wants to stay in New York.

Because of the salary cap quirk, the Knicks can’t offer Hartenstein more than $16.1 million in starting salary, and $1.8 million of that money must be in bonuses. But coming off his best season ever, the team could give him more than that.

The Knicks will push to re-sign Hartenstein, a dynamic defensive back who doubles as Brunson’s most trusted enforcer, but you never know how someone will react when they’re offered a life-changing sum of money.

There’s another element that will shape the team’s season as well: the never-ending chase for a second star.

The Knicks are already using their first in Bronson. But he needs a partner, another deputy, to take the shot when the defenders swarm. If Randle had never gotten hurt, if a healthy roster had pushed this group to the conference finals and given the Boston Celtics a fight, or even topped them, this conversation might not have existed.

Sadly, in this world, the Knicks will be going after that unknown star using only a January heater, scattered clues and assumptions to decide their future.

League sources say the organization is still targeting next summer as the right time to trade the next big name The athlete. Randle could become a free agent in 2025 and would be due a raise at that time, as could Brunson, who is eligible for an extension this summer but could make more money by waiting until 2025 free agency to sign a new contract.

A year from now, the Knicks will become more expensive. Financially, and under the current collective bargaining agreement, this summer is a good time to trade stars.

New York has a lot of draft picks. It has all of its players in the first round moving forward, and has the Dallas Mavericks’ pick in this summer’s draft and three protected future players who belong to other teams. It has tradable contracts. The encouraging part of this season wasn’t just the Knicks winning; They won while their front office prepared them for 2025 and beyond as well as anyone else could have.

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It’s not clear who that star will be. Even the Knicks don’t know. They rely on one universal truth: In the NBA, there’s always someone unexpected available.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Paul George on a trade-and-option, the Miami Heat’s implosion, Donovan Mitchell back, the Phoenix Suns retooling — whatever happens, the Knicks plan to insert themselves into the conversation. Of course, the circumstances today were no longer the same as they were when they sought out Mitchell just a few months ago.

At the time, the Knicks were 37 wins and searching for a superstar. If the fit isn’t clear with Bronson, they’ll find out later. The goal was to bring talent in the door.

This is not the case today.

The Knicks have talent. Bronson is an obvious star. He, Hart, Hartenstein, Robinson, Anunoby, Miles McBride, Donte DiVincenzo and even Randle are all better players than ever. Their culture seeps into all their actions. They want to put another high-level talent next to Brunson and perhaps add Randle as well. But they also found success in a certain type of personality, and in their search for the next big name, they shouldn’t forget that.

It’s no coincidence that the Knicks are known for trying too hard. Thibodeau demands it, but as the players will tell you, that’s the way they operate, no matter who leads their locker room. After the missteps with Cam Reddish and Evan Fournier, the front office realized that if Thibodeau was their head coach, they had to stock him with players with Thibodeau’s mentality.

This doesn’t change in Chasing a Star either.

The Knicks will be looking for the next great player, but they also hope not to disrupt the culture that has helped most of their roster over their career years and encouraged players to keep swinging, even if they can’t feel their arms.

“I think (the future) is very bright,” Hart said. “I think there’s hope in what we’re building, and I think that’s the biggest thing. … I think we’ve built a foundation for a franchise that’s going to fight, a franchise that’s moving in the right direction. It’s hard to end it this way, but we’re going in the right direction. I think we’re giving this city And Nick’s fans have something to hope for.

(Jalen Brunson photo: Elsa/Getty Images)