The Brooklyn Nets pulled off the unimaginable and the New York Knicks made you put “The Sound of Silence” on repeat. Stars have finally come to New York, but not to the destination so many thought was a slam dunk only a few weeks ago.
The signings of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving transform perception of the Brooklyn Nets from a franchise with no fans to a title contender. The Nets will be without Durant for this upcoming season because of an Achilles tear he suffered during the NBA Finals, but will still trot out a squad capable of being a top-4 team in the wide-open Eastern Conference this year.
The New Zealand native and Nets general manager, Sean Marks, has taken a team with no assets or draft picks three years ago and created an infrastructure and culture to compete with any team in the NBA. His work must be applauded and he is already the front-runner for executive of the year.
Marks absorbed unwanted overpaid veterans into open cap space like Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll, Andrew Nicholson and Timofey Mozgov in order to replenish the draft stock that was depleted by Billy King’s infamous Boston Celtics trade that saw four first round picks exported or swapped. Those picks and young players obtained turned out to be D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.
Russell is now with the Warriors in a sign-and-trade deal for Durant, but LeVert and Allen look to be the foundation that Marks wants to surround his new stars with.
Along with Irving and Durant, Marks signed center DeAndre Jordan for four years at $40 million, and small forward Garrett Temple for two years, $10 million. Irving and Durant took less than the max contract in order for the Nets to sign Jordan, who has declined in recent years after leaving the Los Angeles Clippers. Temple is an under-the-radar signing who can be a 3-and-D wing; a more than adequate replacement for Jared Dudley, who just signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Without Durant, the Nets will have a probable starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Taurean Prince and DeAndre Jordan next season with Rodions Kurucs, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie and Garrett Temple providing quality depth off the bench. A drastic upgrade from the 2016-2017 Nets that featured an opening-day lineup of Jeremy Lin, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Trevor Booker and Brook Lopez.
The ceiling of this team will be determined by how healthy Durant is for the 2020-21 season or if Marks makes a move for a disgruntled star like Bradley Beal.
Knicks fans were disappointed after missing out on any of the A-list stars in this year’s free agency. Reports starting coming out that the Knicks were not prepared to give Durant the max, a nonstarter for the two-time Finals MVP.
They rebounded by overpaying for veteran players such as shooting guard Wayne Ellington, power forward/center Julius Randle, center Taj Gibson, shooting guard Reggie Bullock, point guard Elfrid Payton and power forward Bobby Portis. The Knicks were smart to keep the contract length at two years for almost all of their signings.
Their most notable signing, Randle, who averaged a career-high 21.4 points per game last season on a bad New Orleans team, received a three year, $63 million deal. However, the third year is a team option that gives the Knicks flexibility depending on Randle’s production.
With no notable star free agents in next year’s class, the Knicks have set themselves up to have ample cap space two years from now when Bradley Beal and Giannis Antetokounmpo are on the market.
The Knicks have to put their focus on their current young core right now instead of star-chasing for players that have shown no inclination to want to play at the Mecca of basketball. Develop the players in the building, similar to what the Nets have done the last three years.
Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr., R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson all have the potential to
become quality assets. Time will tell if the influx of veterans will take away playing time from them or nurture them into something Knicks fans can finally be joyous about.