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NBA Sunday: Knicks Facing Inevitable Rebuild

It’s been almost two months since the New York Knicks selected Frank Ntilikina with the eighth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but it doesn’t seem as though much more is known about the 19-year-old Frenchman today than was known on the night of June 22.

With the Knicks deciding to pass on Dennis Smith, Jr. and Malik Monk—both of whom had been entertained by the Knicks—Ntilikina will be linked to the two. If Smith turns out to be the second-coming of Russell Westbrook and if Monk ends up being anywhere near as productive as Dwyane Wade, the point guard will have big shoes to fill.

For now, though, he joins a Knicks team full of youngsters. At least for now, armed with all of their future first round draft picks, the franchise appears to be embracing rebuilding.

Frankly, it’s about time.

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Traditionally, the Knicks have always been a team that’s been about splash over substance. Now that his tenure has ended, it’s fair to say that Phil Jackson’s hiring fit that description. Ditto for Derrick Rose. The signing of Amar’e Stoudemire, the acquisition of Stephon Marbury and a host of other splashy moves that the Knicks have made over the years have all had one thing in common: they were more successful at earning headlines than wins.

With Ntilikina and newly hired general manager Scott Perry, though, there seems to be a noticeable changing of the guard.

Ntilikina will join a core featuring Tim Hardaway, Jr., Willy Hernangomez and Kristaps Porzingis. Of the group, Hardaway, at 25 years old, is the senior. Like Porzingis, Ntilikina didn’t enter the league with hype, fanfare or high expectations. The hope from the front office is simply that Ntilikina can be an effective all-around point guard who can impact the game on both ends of the floor and help create easy scoring opportunities for Hardaway and Porzingis. As of this moment, there’s no guarantee that he will be the starting point guard for the club when the season opens, though he’s made it no secret that he wishes to be.

In hiring Perry to succeed Phil Jackson, the Knicks took a seemingly similar turn as it relates to their front office. The truth about Perry is that his hiring lacks the splash of Jackson, but in substance, he is exactly the type of person Steve Mills needs at the helm. Perry has an excellent reputation around the NBA and, as one agent told Basketball Insiders, would never have a problem getting an audience with any NBA player or his agent.

Although he served as a member of Rob Hennigan’s failed Orlando Magic front office, Perry’s fingerprints are all over brilliants draft picks and personnel decisions that panned out. Most noticeably, he served under Joe Dumars during the period where the franchise won the 2004 NBA Finals and hit the jackpot on a few draft picks including Mehmet Okur, Tayshaun Prince, Amir Johnson and Arron Afflalo. In short, Perry has been around the league for a long time and knows a thing or two about building intelligently in the NBA.

If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting. With the drafting of Ntilikina and the hiring of Perry, the Knicks have departed from their norm and, perhaps, will fully embrace the idea of a methodical rebuild.

That is, of course, depending on what ultimately transpires with both Kyrie Irving and Carmelo Anthony. To this point, the Knicks haven’t been reported as being any closer to trading Anthony than they were last month. And although Irving has reportedly listed the Knicks as one of the teams he would prefer to land with as his career as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers apparently draws to a close, it’s difficult to imagine the Knicks walking away with Irving unless Anthony agrees to waive his no-trade clause to head to Cleveland—something he hasn’t given any indication to being open to.

So, in short, it appears that there aren’t any shortcuts for the Knicks. With the team toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference, it’s difficult to imagine any impact free agent signing with the Knicks next summer and it’s similarly difficult imagining them competing for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Whether the Cavaliers trade Irving or not, they will join the Boston Celtics as being the top two teams in the conference. The Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards will round out the top four, while the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami HEAT remain credible teams who seem to be ascending. The Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets are teams that also seem to be further along than the Knicks, as well. In other words, few (if any) would consider the Knicks likely to finish in the top eight of the Eastern Conference this year.

The drafting of Ntilikina and hiring of Perry combine with the decision to move on from Anthony and the growth of the conference to create a confluence of events that yield only one logical conclusion for the Knicks: embracing the slow rebuilding process.

If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting. Considering that the Knicks have won just one playoff series since 2001, the change may not be such a bad thing.

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The Knicks will enter the 2017-18 season with about $100 million in payroll. Of that, about $44 million will be paid to combination of Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah. Anthony is entering the penultimate season on his current contract, though. Noah, on the other hand, has three years remaining on his current deal. While the dollars to be paid out to Noah can likely be considered a sunk cost, his deal, in and of itself, wouldn’t necessarily hamper the Knicks’ ability to manufacture cap space. Obviously, that determination will be based on what transpires with the likes of Courtney Lee, Kyle O’Quinn, Lance Thomas and Mindaugas Kuzminskas.

One year ago, with the acquisition of Derrick Rose and the signings of Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee, the Knicks were thought by some to have an opportunity to make noise in the Eastern Conference. Rose would eventually go as far as designating the Knicks as one of the NBA’s “super teams.” Obviously, that’s laughable in hindsight.

One year later, things couldn’t be more different. With new leadership and a new edict to embrace youth and end Anthony’s era as the team’s franchise player, the Knicks appear to be heading toward a slow, meticulous rebuild.

Based on the returns over the past 15 years or so, it should be a welcomed change.

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