By: Jalon Dixon, Columnist
With reports coming out that the New York Knicks are highly interested in trading for All-Star Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Chris Paul (CP3) and bringing in former Minnesota Timberwolves Head Coach Tom Thibodeau to coach the team, the future of Knicks basketball continues to look bleak.
As a franchise that has not won a championship since 1973 and has not reached the playoffs since 2013, members of the national media see these moves as nothing more than just another ploy to regain relevance and instead remain moribund.
On April 30, it was SportsNet New York NBA reporter Ian Begley who first shined some light on the Knicks’ “elaborate” plan.
“Members of the Knicks organization believe Chris Paul would provide strong leadership for their young players and help jump-start the winning culture, per @IanBegley” tweeted NBA Central.
34-year-old Paul was in the midst of returning to top-of-the-league status, averaging 17.7 points, 6.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds to punch his ticket to his first All-Star game in four seasons.
Proving that on an individual level, Paul is still is a top point guard in the league (when not being overshadowed by the scoring onslaught that is Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden), Paul also had a significant impact on team success.
Alongside young building blocks like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, center Steven Adams and others, Paul was able to help propel this young rebuilding team to fifth in the Western Conference with a record of 40-24 before COVID-19 abruptly brought the season to a halt.
Despite all signs pointing to Paul being just what New York needs to put the Knicks back on the map, bringing in Paul does come with some potholes. The biggest being a $44 million pothole. According to Sportrac, Paul is owed just over $41 million next season alone, and then has a player option in 2021 where Paul will be earning $44 million before entering free agency in 2022. Not only is this a rough cap hit for any team, but it also puts the team on a short-window timeline that calls for Paul to come in and immediately act as somewhat of a franchise savior.
On ESPN’s First Take, analyst Max Kellerman expressed his belief that although bringing in Paul would not be a terrible idea, it really is nothing less than a short-term fix to buy the franchise more time.
“Would this help the culture of the Knicks,” Kellerman rhetorically asked. “Yep Stephen A., he could help establish something where the franchise becomes more attractive two and three years from now so they can bring people in to start building a team two and three years from then that could compete. So Knicks fans should understand, in the best-case scenario what this move does is say ‘we have a five-year rebuilding plan.’ A five-year rebuilding plan for a miserable, pathetic franchise run by the worst owner arguably in sports that hasn’t won a championship since 1973.”
Harsh words, but the point still stands that picking up Paul seems to be more of a high risk, low reward kind of a deal. Between the significant cap hit that comes with trading for Paul and the amount of long-term assets that would have to be given up to acquire him, the only way this would benefit the Knicks in the immediate future is that a CP3 jersey in the blue and orange would definitely sell off the shelves in a heartbeat.
Then there are the reports that with Knicks Interim Coach Mike Miller leading the team to a measly 21-45 record on the season, Tom Thibodeau is on their list of potential candidates to take over as the new head coach. ESPN analyst Mike Wilbon said that people close to him say that Thibodeau to the Knicks is practically a done deal already.
“The Knicks: That’s the job he’s always wanted,” Wilbon said. “The Knicks! He’s not going to go coach Westbrook and Harden. The New York Knicks! If that job is offered to him, that’s where he’s going plain and simple from everything I hear.”
NBA analyst Brian Windhorst told ESPN’s The Jump that he believes that Thibodeau is not the kind of “culture changing” coach that New York fans are looking for:
“The issue is if you’re going to go with Tom Thibodeau as coach, you’re going to have to retrofit your entire roster to get Tom Thibodeau style players out there,” Windhorst said. “He’s not the type of guy that can come in and coach, you know, 12 guys that you give him, and we learned that in Minnesota when he couldn’t get guys like Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins to play the style he needed so much so that he had to go out and trade for Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson and do stuff like that. If you commit to Thibs, it’s a huge commitment across your whole roster.”
Thibodeau would be the Knicks’ 14th coach in the last 20 years, and the history of owner James Dolan giving his coaches a short leash is extensive. Even with promising young building blocks in shooting guard RJ Barrett, forward Julius Randle and center Mitchell Robinson, the roster still has glaring holes that Thibodeau may not be able to overcome. Not to mention that even with former President of Basketball Operations, Steve Mills being fired back in February, General Manager Scott Perry still remains while Leon Rose was named the new President of Basketball Operations.
As a franchise with no track record of acquiring consistent talent in the draft and free agency, the combination of Mills and Thibodeau seems to be nothing less than a duo meant to fail in the Big Apple.
New York basketball has spent all of the last three decades looking for that franchise player or coach that could bring them back to the promised land. Although Chris Paul and Tom Thibodeau may be the kinds of big names they are looking for, the timeline that comes with bringing in these two only spells for another two or three years of underachieving basketball by the Knicks.
The Knicks’ front office may be in search of a player or coach that could provide the kind of “culture shock” that the team needs, but the real shock would be if they could actually find a way to attract their first real “big” free agent since Amar’e Stoudemire. That would really shock the culture.