In Gotham City, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Scott Layden, Donnie Walsh, Phil Jackson, whoever—the front office of the New York Knicks seems to always stumble over its own feet.
Imagine competing in a 100 meter dash. You stumble out the blocks but eventually hit your stride. You accelerate and pull away from the field only to trip and fall with 10 meters remaining in the race.
That’s the Knicks.
The beautiful thing about America, the land of the free, is that we’re free to think what we want and say how we feel. Fortunately, we’re also free to change our minds.
In light of that, I’ll be the first to admit that when the Knicks decided to trade the light-footed Willy Hernangomez for two second round picks, I defended the move.
Sure, Hernangomez showed some flashes, but he became unhappy with his role in New York and I, personally, was of the opinion that he and Kristaps Porzingis rebound the ball too poorly and, physically, are too weak to be the front court that the Knicks need to bring them back to respectability.
The odds of Hernangomez playing his perceived value up to the point where the Knicks could fetch a first round pick in return for him were slim to none, even with Porzingis having gone down for the remainder of the season.
Two second round picks, based on the player that Hernangomez is and what his ceiling as a Knick likely would have been, seemed fair. It seemed especially fair when you consider that general manager Scott Perry’s fingerprints have been on quite a few home run draft picks over the years.
Truth be told, there’s also something to be said for doing right by a player. If a player has grown unhappy with his role or if his relationship has soured with his coach, shipping him out, often, is a sign of goodwill that other agents and players might recognize. At the very least, being on the right side of karma won’t do anyone any bad.
That type of reasoning was the rational behind defending the trade of Hernangomez, because in all fairness, one can’t argue that the Knicks got better by trading the gifted 23-year-old Spaniard that made that NBA’s All-Rookie First Team last season.
Those that opposed the trade of Hernangomez would have likely relied on one argument for keeping him: as a team that’s rebuilding, the Knicks should be focused on accumulating assets.
If nothing else, Hernangomez was at least that, especially considering the fact that he is scheduled to earn just over $3 million combined for the next two seasons.
In the end, the trade was truly a push. There were valid arguments to be made on both sides, and odds are, Hernangomez won’t be the difference in the Knicks trading for a superstar player (or not) or winning a championship…
Then, the Knicks traded for Emmanuel Mudiay…
Heading into the 2015 NBA Draft, Mudiay was one of the more talked about players. He had a compelling personal story and was thought to be tough enough to make it in a city like New York.
During the predraft process and in Toronto during the NBA’s 2016 All-Star Weekend, Mudiay and I had conversations about New York City. To this point, though, it’s safe to say that his career hasn’t lived up to expectations.
For now, though, that’s okay. As a basketball culture, we have simply gotten too used to the “right here, right now” mindset. Players like LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and Donovan Mitchell—rookies who enter the league and set it on fire—have always been the exception to the rule. Especially for foreign-born players, the adjustment to the NBA normally takes a few years.
So the Knicks seemingly did a wise thing by flipping Doug McDermott (a player who didn’t fit long-term) for one who’s potential may still be untapped. The only problem with the move for Mudiay is the fact that it can easily be taken as a sign that the Knicks aren’t sold on the fact that Ntilikina is indeed the point guard of the future.
Perhaps Ntilikina will be converted to shooting guard, or maybe Mudiay will be content as being a backup point guard, sure, but are we just supposed to ignore the fact that Perry wasn’t the one who drafted the Ntilikina? Are we sure Mudiay isn’t his replacement?
Agreed, it still a bit early to know the answers to these questions, and frankly, the Knicks haven’t even come close to the point where they need to have these things figured out, but trading for Mudiay simply exacerbated an already dire situation—the Knicks have too many bodies for too few minutes.
And for those that would simply look at the Mudiay acquisition as the Knicks using their brains and acquiring an asset that could help them later on down the road, the obvious question would be why the mindset of being in asset acquisition mode didn’t occur to the front office before shipping out Hernangomez.
As it relates to the Knicks, trading away Hernangomez and dealing for Mudiay, taken alone, either deal would be easy enough to rationalize.
Unfortunately, when taken together, the two seem fairly inconsistent with each other.
All too often, the Knicks find themselves with a new vision coming from a new leader who has a new plan. Meanwhile, the only constants in Gotham City have been discord, futility and lots of losing.
Scott Perry was brought in to change all of that, and he certainly brings an heir of respectability and prudence the level of which hasn’t been seen since Donnie Walsh, but unless Hernangomez ends up being overhyped and Mudiay ends up being an All-Star, the first two major moves of Perry’s tenure, at least from here, sure leave room to question whether the front office truly has a plan or not.
And if they don’t, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time.
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