Knicks takeaways, including all players being vaccinated, expectations for 2021-22 season

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Tom Thibodeau treated image, yelling in grey Knicks pullover
Tom Thibodeau treated image, yelling in grey Knicks pullover

Knicks president Leon Rose, GM Scott Perry and head coach Tom Thibodeau met with a group of reporters at the team training facility on Friday.

Here are a few takeaways from their 40-minute session with the media:

ALL KNICKS ARE VACCINATED

Perry said all Knick players, coaches and team personnel have gotten a COVID-19 vaccination. This is significant for the club; according to a local ordinance, all Knicks and Nets players need to be vaccinated to play home games and practice within city limits. Players who aren’t vaccinated will be prohibited from playing in games.

“I think it’s a credit to our players in particular that they took this thing very seriously and took the responsibility to get that done,” Perry said. Thibodeau and Rose also credited Dr. Lisa Callahan, Chief Medical Officer at Madison Square Garden, Knicks head athletic trainer emeritus Roger Hinds and head athletic trainer Anthony Goenaga for the work they’ve done to prepare and update the club over the course of the pandemic.

“This is something that we've been on top of really the entire year. (We’re) just proud of our players for really stepping up and doing their part in this,” Perry added. “We're an organization that will obviously follow laws and mandates from the leagues and state government, but a lot of this was internally driven.”

NO BOLD PREDICTIONS

Rose didn’t offer any specific expectations when talking about the 2021-22 Knicks.

“We want to continue to develop our players, we want to build on what we did last year and we want to get better every day,” he said.

“Our focus is on the day to day. I’m not going to make predictions or speculate (about how the club will do during the season)."

Rose said the club prioritized continuity and flexibility in the 2021 offseason. They believe the continuity (re-signing Derrick Rose, Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks and Taj Gibson) will help on the floor this season; they think the flexibility (tradable contracts; 15 draft picks in the next four years) will help in the future.

Before taking over the Knicks, Rose was a longtime player agent at CAA. He had dozens of clients on the Knicks over the years (Rick Brunson, Carmelo Anthony, JR Smith, Andrea Bargnani among them). Given his experience with the Knicks and the NBA, Rose is surely well-aware of the drama and dysfunction that’s surrounded New York for the better part of the previous two decades.

Rose, speaking to the media for the second time as team president, was asked on Friday if his regime would avoid the ‘quick fix’ moves that have doomed some past Knick front offices.

“I’m not gonna comment on what’s gone on before, but with our group here and Wes (William Wesley, executive VP) and (executive VP) Brock (Aller) and (assistant GM) Frank (Zanin), we’re going to take it one day at a time,” Rose said. “We’re gonna be aggressive as far as knowing what’s going on and as far as being on top of things and looking at opportunities (to improve the roster). But at the same time, we’re gonna be prudent and disciplined in decisions that we make.”

Rose later added: “Our goal is to build something here that other players are going to look at and say, ‘ I want to be a part of that.’ And we’re doing that step by step.”

Internally, the Knicks have long felt confident about their ability to trade for a star if the right one becomes available. Of course, there was no reason for Rose to say that out loud on Friday. But, based on how things currently stand in the league, a trade seems to be New York’s most likely path to a star.

When a reporter brought up the idea of trading for a star on Friday, Thibodeau made it clear that New York’s focus is on players currently on the roster.

But he agreed with the idea that last year’s success may make the Knicks more attractive to players outside the organization.

“I think getting started as a team last year, getting credibility by the degree of how hard and how together we are, it makes it appealing for other people to look at us,” he said.

“But we have to win. And I think it starts with our own players, then we look at the draft, then we look at free agency. And then we’ll look at trades, and you’re always thinking ,'How can we get better?' And you think about it all the time. And Leon and his staff – Scott and Wes, and you think about it all the time. But you focus on the guys that we have first. We’re excited about our young players. We think Mitch (Robinson) has a huge upside. RJ (Barrett) has a huge upside. And I don’t know where our young guys are in Miles (McBride) and Quentin (Grimes), but I love both of them.”

BULLISH ON BARRETT, OBI, QUICKLEY

Speaking of Barrett, Thibodeau was asked on Friday about Barrett’s fit alongside Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.

Here’s what he said: “I think you guys have watched his growth. His ability to go off the dribble and get into the lane, his size, and also the way he improved his 3-point shooting last year, he made a major step. He’s made a huge commitment this summer. We think he’ll continue to get better; people tend to forget, he’s 21 years old. He averaged 18 points per game on a playoff team. He’s hungry, he’s driven. He’s smart, he's competitive. Those are all the characteristics we’re looking for…. That’s why he’ll continue to get better.”

Thibodeau also credited Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley for their offseason work. He said both players were at the team practice facility regularly in the offseason.

“I think (Toppin) took maybe two days off and he was back in the gym. And you all saw him in summer league and he played really well; and he's been in the gym every day (following Summer League),” Thibodeau said.

“We have gym rats ... I think (Toppin is) in a completely different place right now. I think he learned a lot last year,” Thibodeau added. “And then our depth is huge for us, so we want him to continue to grow, continue to get better, learn from each experience. And I think he's done that, so we're very pleased.

“He and Quick have been phenomenal. Right from the end of last season all the way through the summer, it helped set the tone for the young guys that were drafted. They came in and we had a bunch of other guys here as well, so it was a very productive summer. But what Obi and Quick did was fantastic. So, I thought both guys have grown a lot this summer.”