When he requested a trade from the Pelicans, Anthony Davis was reportedly equally interested in the Lakers and Knicks.
Los Angeles obviously traded for him. There was only minimal chatter about Davis to New York.
Why weren’t the Knicks – run by president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry – more interested in Davis?
Unlike other major stars recently, Davis had expressed interest in playing for the Knicks. But Mills and Perry told people they were turned off by the Pelicans’ high asking price of multiple first-round picks plus multiple young players, even though the Knicks had that type of package thanks to their Porzingis trade. They said it would have undercut their long-range plan of building through the draft and developing picks into stars.
It’s reasonable the Knicks didn’t trade for Davis. Los Angeles gave up a ton for him. Beating that offer would’ve really depleted New York beyond Davis.
Davis can become an unrestricted free agent next summer. How good would the Knicks have been this season with him? Enough to guarantee he wouldn’t leave in the offseason? The Lakers had the advantage of already having LeBron James. They could be more confident Davis would enjoy his season in Los Angeles before free agency.
Plus, the Knicks seemingly had a chance to sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Why give up assets for a star when you can just sign a star directly?
But I’m struck by the ever-shifting plans in New York.
Steve Mills took over the Knicks in 2017 by stating a commitment to rebuilding around young players. He listed the cornerstones: Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez.
Yet, the Knicks have already traded three of those four players. Only Ntilikina remains, and it’s wasn’t clear New York would exercise his fourth-year option until doing so last month. He’s not entrenched.
The Knicks dealt Porzingis and Hardaway to clear cap space. Last March, Knicks owner James Dolan boasted about his team’s likelihood of landing big free agents. Everyone assumed he meant Durant and Irving.
Then, somewhere during the Davis trade saga, Perry and Mills were apparently back onto the young-player-development track?
To be fair, circumstances change, and plans should be flexible. Teams shouldn’t stick with a doomed plan just because it was the plan. Adjusting on the fly, when necessary, is important.
But so is identifying and implementing plans that will work. Some circumstance changes are foreseeable.
It’s also convenient that Mills and Perry are supporting the plan that will take the longest to execute. That’ll keep them in their prestigious jobs longer. The Knicks stink on the court, but Mills and Perry can sell that as the cost of prioritizing young players and getting another high draft pick. The executives don’t want to be judged on their won-loss record. They want to shift focus to a more-difficult-to-nail down, long-term vision. That might not work, but it’s worth a shot.
It definitely wouldn’t have worked if they traded for Davis, who would’ve significantly raised expectations for a team that would’ve still had a hard time meeting them.