Knicks fans are glued to their televisions today, but they aren’t watching the NBA. They are watching Duke.
The pipe dream of every New York basketball fan is to win the draft lottery and select Zion Williamson of Duke, the subject of a huge feature article in the Sunday edition of the New York Times.
If the ping-pong balls work in Jim Dolan’s favor, it will have a huge impact on the caliber of player(s) that will consider the Knicks in free agency, when the ‘Bockers will have more than $75 million in salary cap space.
Former ESPN colleague Bill Simmons believes that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant will be the free agent duo that ends up wearing orange and blue, but the Knicks front office is pretty enamored of Dennis Smith Jr., who came over in the Kristaps Porzingis deal, so Kyrie may not be the best fit — although his media-bashing diatribes would be more than welcome at the anti-free speech mecca atop Penn Station.
So let’s assume the best — the gets get Zion — and take it from there:
With Williamson playing small forward, the Knicks would need a de facto 4 … and Durant is the best fit there. They’d also need another premiere scorer, and that is where Kemba Walker comes in.
Walker has an expiring $12 million contract for a Charlotte Hornets team currently sitting in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. Walker grew up in The Bronx and graduated from Rice High School in 2008. He is currently 13th in the NBA in scoring at 25.2 ppg, and although he is a point guard, he could be used off the ball in an offense being run by Smith or Emmanuel Mudiay. (Or the Knicks could trade one or both of those players if Walker’s camp demanded that he be the starting point guard.)
So if Walker is the point guard, Zion is the small forward and Durant plays the 4, who is the shooting guard? That player might need to be a defensive specialist, because when you have too many scorers and just one basketball, problems can arise (see this season’s Philadelphia 76ers). Andrew Roberson of the Oklahoma City Thunder would be the perfect player, but he is under contract for another season and would have to be acquired via a trade.
The Knicks could give that role to Alonzo Trier, who has had a strong rookie season. Or they could pick someone off the scrap heap after all of the major free agents have done their new deals.
Then there is the question of who plays center. Rookie Mitchell Robinson has proven himself to be a viable NBA center, but the Knicks are not going to compete for a championship with him starting at the 5.
The guy who might make the most sense is DeMarcus Cousins, who is on a one-year minimum contract with the defending champion Golden State Warriors and can probably be acquired for less than the max.
Whoever Scott Perry and Steve Mills decide to keep from the current roster could fill out the bench, and voila … you have a championship contender that will have fans cheering Jim Dolan rather than imploring him to sell the team.
Of course, all of this assumes that the Knicks win the lottery and take Zion No. 1 overall.
Given their luck, they will probably drop to No. 5. But the point of this column is to give the Knicks fan base some optimism before April Fool’s Day rolls around (and the Knicks are back in action against the equally pitiful Chicago Bulls). The Garden will be loaded with tourists, and they will not get their money’s worth … except they won’t realize it, because tourists never do.
But the saving grace for long-suffering Knicks fans is that this will be one of the last chances top see the worst team in the NBA before they have a chance to become one of the best teams in the NBA.
Yes, the ping-pong balls have to be friendly … and if that happens, the suffering will end.