Brunson’s brilliance has Knicks on verge of return to glory days – if their impatience bring them undone yet again
Madison Square Garden is always raucous when the Knicks are playing.
During the glory years or the many seasons where the Knicks have stunk to high heaven, there has always been noise around this franchise.
Bing bongs aside, the past few years have been relatively quiet as New York’s execs have done something wildly unusual with the team – they’ve played the long game.
No rushing out to sign fading stars past their prime or packaging tons of draft picks for a panic trade.
Even with their No.3 pick RJ Barrett from the 2019 draft, they gave him every chance to live up to the expectations of a player taken so high over several seasons.
Only recently did they pull the plug on a trade and unlike their previous deal that same year on a high draft pick who wasn’t working out when they got rid of a disgruntled Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks got real value in return.
But now the noise is building. From the basketballing Mecca in midtown Manhattan throughout the globe as Knicks fans start to believe their perennially underwhelming franchise can make a deep playoff run.
The addition of OG Anunoby in the Barrett trade with Toronto could not have turned out better.
They have gone 15-2 since his arrival at the turn of the new year and with the versatile wing giving their already strong defence extra venom while settling into a complementary offensive role behind star duo Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle.
The Knicks leapfrogged Philadelphia into third spot in the Eastern Conference standings during the week with their ninth straight win although both teams have copped injury blows with Randle (dislocated shoulder) and 76ers MVP Joel Embiid (knee) set to be sidelined for at least a few weeks.
New York have already been able to absorb the body blow of starting centre Mitchell Robinson being out long term with an ankle problem and with Anunoby on board, backed by a scrappy support crew featuring Josh Hart, Donte DiVincenzo and Isaiah Hartenstein, coach Tom Thibodeau will demand maximum effort and expect minimal drop-off during Randle’s absence.
With the trade deadline looming at the end of next week, the Knicks of old would scout around for a fast deal with short-term impact but little regard for the future consequences.
If they had waited just a few more months way back in 2011 when Carmelo Anthony was in his prime at Denver and keen to get to the Big Apple, his time at the Knicks would have been so much better.
Instead of regular first and second-round exits, they could have been a genuine challenger to LeBron James’ Miami teams if they had waited until Anthony became a free agent instead of jumping the gun with a mid-season trade.
That deal gave up Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, a 2014 first-round pick and the swap rights in 2016. Those players could have been helpful teammates for Melo or valuable assets to bring in other players who suited his skill set.
This time around, Donovan Mitchell appears to be the biggest name who could be up for grabs in the off-season.
He was supposed to be heading to New York a couple of years ago but in a very non-Knicks manoeuvre, they said no to Utah’s exorbitant asking price and Cleveland gave up plenty to get him.
Mitchell is balling out at the Cavs but refuses to commit long term, opening up the possibility of a deal being done to finally get to New York this off-season unless Cleveland go deep in the East playoffs.
The rise of Brunson to All-Star status, on a bargain four-year $104m deal which was criticised when he was signed from Dallas as being too much, raises questions over whether New York need another small guard who likes to have the ball in his hands.
But it would work. Mitchell can play off the ball to allow Brunson to be the primary playmaker and even if the Knicks have to give up Randle with draft picks to make the deal work, they should pull the trigger.
Mitchell plus Brunson with Anunoby would give them the nucleus of a team that could challenge for the title with a few quality bigs in the frontcourt.
But for the time being, the lure of third spot and avoiding a potential first or second-round encounter with the Boston behemoth is the Knicks’ primary focus.
Brunson is in the middle of a red-hot streak – he poured in 40 to lead the undermanned Knicks past the Pacers on Thursday with MVP chants ringing out around MSG.
Yahoo Sports unveiled a stat that Brunson’s 28.9 points and 7.7 assists per game on a superb .616 true shooting in January is the kind of output that has only been done over the course of a season by seven players in NBA history who were rather good when it came to putting the ball in the basket: Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Trae Young, Luka Dončić, Damian Lillard and James Harden.
If he continues to produce that kind of output, perhaps the Knicks won’t even need another bona fide superstar like Mitchell because they already have one of their own.
And he is one of New York’s own. He’s royalty now in the Big Apple. He grew up hanging around Knicks locker rooms when his dad Rick (who also had a stellar season in the NBL during a short stint with Adelaide in the mid 1990s) was on the roster.
Not since the Patrick Ewing teams of the 1990s has New York had a team they can truly call their own.
This one is bringing all the Knicks fans out of the woodwork and the NBA is a better place when this storied franchise is rocking.
A lot needs to happen before they can break their championship drought which has now passed 50 years but at least Knicks fans have hope, which has been in short supply for a long time.