Begley's Mailbag: When will Knicks be good again?

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Obi Toppin Julius Randle RJ Barrett Immanuel Quickley with NYC skyline in back treated art 2022
Obi Toppin Julius Randle RJ Barrett Immanuel Quickley with NYC skyline in back treated art 2022

SNY's Ian Begley will be responding to and breaking down answers to Knicks questions from readers. Here's the latest...

Will the Knicks ever be good again? @rational_yankee (Rational Yankees Fan)

Tough question. If I If I could accurately predict the Knicks' future, I would have bet the under heavy on the Knicks back in September. (Just kidding).

Given all of the factors at play, I think this Knicks regime can build a perennial playoff team. But who knows?

NBA organizations are complex. Dozens of employees – the owner, front office members, scouts, coaching staff - have thoughts on how a team should play, who should play. and how the roster should be built.

And then, of course, you have the players. Yes, they are elite athletes. But they’re also human beings.

Things going on off the court can impact their performance on the floor.

Playing in the NBA is a high-stakes game.

At certain points over the course of a career, players can lose or gain millions of dollars based on how they play in a particular season.

So there are dozens of factors behind a team’s success or failure in a given season.

Need an example? Look no further than the Knicks over the past two seasons.

In 2020-21, New York thrived under Tom Thibodeau, Julius Randle and, eventually, Derrick Rose. Everything seemed to go right for that club. This year, as you know, things went sideways.

Jan 26, 2022; Miami, Florida, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) controls the ball around Miami Heat guard Gabe Vincent (2) during the first half at FTX Arena.
Jan 26, 2022; Miami, Florida, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) controls the ball around Miami Heat guard Gabe Vincent (2) during the first half at FTX Arena.

Whether it was injuries to key players, Randle‘s shooting/play, a lack of cohesion, or the burden of expectations, New York didn’t have it this season.

Again, there are probably dozens of reasons for New York’s struggles.

Doc Rivers named one of them when the Philadelphia 76ers came to town in late February. At the time, the Knicks were 25-35. Rivers was asked about the club’s struggles in comparison to New York’s success in 2020-21.

"When you make changes, you make changes," Rivers said. "And sometimes that goes well for you and sometimes it doesn’t. Chemistry is a very fickle thing as we all know. When you have it, you want it. Sometimes you don’t even know why you have it but you know you want to try to protect it. And when you lose it, you don’t know why you’re losing it sometimes."

The Knicks improved in the second half of the season to finish with 37 wins.

The 37-win total matches the 2013-14 club. At the end of that season, Mike Woodson lost his job.

The Knicks lost at least 50 games in each of the next five seasons.*

Will the club take a similar plunge over the next five years?

I’d be surprised if that happened.

This Knicks team has a talented young core, a surplus of draft picks, and veterans on flexible contracts.

They have the tools to improve the roster.

And I’d assume they would be motivated to bounce back with a strong season in 2022-23 after this year’s regression.

Mar 9, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley (5) grabs the ball away from Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber (42) during the first half at American Airlines Center.
Mar 9, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley (5) grabs the ball away from Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber (42) during the first half at American Airlines Center.

Another 37-win season next year probably wouldn’t sit well with owner James Dolan (nor should it).

So it seems logical to assume that the Knicks will make a significant move this offseason. It would be surprising if team president Leon Rose and his group brought back the same group and bet on its internal development.

One other factor here?

As previously noted, Dolan told Rose that he had freedom to make a decision on Thibodeau’s status sometime before the All-Star break. It was made clear then that finances wouldn’t be a factor. Thibodeau has at least one guaranteed season left on his five-year contract.

At the time, New York was 25-34 and reeling. Rose, obviously, decided to stick with Thibodeau. New York finished the season with a solid record and strong performances from some of its young players.

So there’s reason to believe that the Knicks can turn things around quickly.

But if the Knicks come back with the same roster next season and struggle, it will reflect poorly on Rose and his group. Dolan had already given Rose the freedom to make significant changes. Tacit in that agreement is an expectation that things need to improve.

That’s why I’d expect the Knicks to make a significant move this summer. If that move leads to wins, New York will fulfill Rational Yankee Fan’s wish to be "good" again. And Rose & Co. will be rightfully celebrated for building a winner. If this offseason doesn’t lead to a strong 2022-23 season, the Knicks may "do the Knicks thing" again and make changes at the top.

*Fun Mike Woodson fact: since 2011-12, the Knicks are 151-125 when Woodson is on the bench and 201-383 when he is not.