Despite falling well short in their first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, most viewed the New York Knicks‘ 2020-2021 season as a complete success.
Their regular season campaign laid the foundation for the team’s future and took them back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-2013 season.
Julius Randle was named both Most Improved Player and an All-NBA recipient. RJ Barrett took strides after an up-and-down rookie season. And head coach Tom Thibodeau reaffirmed his place as one of the great defensive minds in the NBA.
But the task ahead now, well, it’s just that; to look to the future, not dwell on their surprise successes.
Every offseason the New York Knicks have been clowned for their seemingly futile hopes of landing a star.
Yet this summer feels like the first one where it’s no pipe dream, but an outcome within the realm of possibility.
Many fans would argue that it’s Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard.
The six-time All-Star has been vocally frustrated with the team’s lack of progress in this year’s playoffs, inciting the speculation that he could demand a trade.
But for more reasons than there are to believe he could be on his way out, the New York Knicks don’t stand a chance in the pending Damian Lillard sweepstakes.
Among the reasons why, you can start with the inevitable sky-high asking price.
New York Would Have to Offer the Farm
As soon as the Portland Trail Blazers were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Jamal Murray-less Denver Nuggets, multiple teams reportedly made calls on Damian Lillard.
Among them, was the New York Knicks, primed and ready on disgruntled star watch.
Regardless, trust that those conversations went nowhere fast. And not just with the Knicks, but any and all teams with a registered interest in the All-Star point guard.
For the Trail Blazers to trade Lillard, it would take a superstar caliber trade return. Look at what teams got in exchange for the likes of Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and Paul George.
Put the New York’s assets through that lens and what you come out with is what most fans would call “the farm.”
The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov said as much in one of his latest pieces:
Those are a lot of teams who could make a play for Lillard, and the more that get involved, the more the Knicks would likely have to give up. Would this be amenable as a Lillard deal: Barrett, Obi Toppin, Kevin Knox, the two firsts in 2021, the Knicks’ 2023 first, their 2025 first and pick swaps in 2024 and 2026?
That would all but strip the entire cupboard in New York, albeit teaming up Damian Lillard with Julius Randle.
But, and ignore how crazy this sounds, does this package really move the needle for Portland?
For the sake of conjecture, say Neil Olshey and company are ready to embark on a rebuild and accept the offer.
What’s to be made of the new-look New York Knicks?
Damian Lillard Doesn’t Make Them a Title Contender
Say the New York Knicks pull off the aforementioned deal, and land their long-awaited star power.
What are they left with?
At best, before any continued wheeling and dealing, two inarguable starters on a good basketball team in Damian Lillard and Julius Randle. But aside from that, it’s a young and largely inexperienced roster.
So not only are you dampening the Knicks’ outlook, but you’re making Lillard’s life harder on top of that.
It’s unlikely that situation inspires confidence in the Trail Blazers’ guard.
And Portland, well, you can trust that if nothing else, they’re going to do right by Lillard. His number zero is a guarantee to be retired one day, whether he spends time elsewhere in between or not.
The sad truth to any Knicks and Lillard trade conjecture is this: what it would cost for the team to pull off a trade for the All-Star guard, is simultaneously what it would take to better the team thereafter, in forming a contender.
Whether it’s years’ worth of first-round picks or multiple members of the team’s young core, this team hasn’t yet pent up the capital nor the momentum to push 90 percent of their chips in the middle.
Right now, at this moment, it’s just not in the cards for the New York Knicks.
At least, not Damian Lillard.
And barring any unforeseen development, it may never be.