Monday night in Brooklyn signaled the start of a make or break stretch of the New York Knicks’ season. They played well but found themselves struggling in their next game in Memphis on Wednesday. The rebuilding club has a chance to contend for the seventh or eighth seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, this would result in the Knicks first playoff berth since Mike Woodson coached the squad back in 2012-13.
Going into play on Friday night, the Knicks sit three and three and a half games out of the seventh and eighth seeds. The win in Brooklyn got the club off to a nice start but the loss in Memphis is definitely concerning. They were more or less blown out by the lowly Grizzlies, finding themselves down by 15 points at the end of the third quarter. The Knicks were able to cut the lead to six in the fourth, but their late run was not enough.
These next five road games will be a test to see if the 2017-18 Knicks are a contender or a pretender in the Eastern Conference. The team has struggled all year when they have been away from Madison Square Garden, posting a record of 5-16 away from home. A continued losing stretch will most likely push the Knickerbockers out of playoff contention. The trade deadline is on February 8 and it is coming fast, it will be January 30 by the time the team gets to see their home locker room again at the end of this trip.
Coming off a stretch where the club has lost 11 out of their last 14 games, these following road games will be a challenge but not an impossibility. The Knicks will find themselves paying a visit to Utah, Los Angeles, Golden State, Denver, and Phoenix. Golden State and Denver are the only two of these next teams that have a record over .500. A win in Oakland might be a lot to ask for but the Knicks were able to take care of business with Denver when the two clubs met in New York back in October.
A solid road trip will keep the Knicks in contention; if the club flops, we could see a sell-off of several pieces at the trade deadline. It could be a busy few weeks for the New York Knicks.
In good news, Tim Hardaway Jr. will continue to get healthier. The Knicks will have a little more firepower in their starting lineup once he starts playing without a minutes restriction. His effect on the club has already been seen in glimpses during the past few games, the Knicks have been playing at a much faster pace. This should translate into more wins going forward. The ability to have a secondary scoring option will lessen the focus of opposing defenses on Kristaps Porzingas, this could bring back a little of the magic that we saw from the unicorn earlier in the season.
In bad news, management and coaching seem to be ready to trade off important pieces of the 2017-18 squad. Jeff Hornacek made comments after their win in Brooklyn that hinted that they will probably be sellers at the February 8 trade deadline.
“We talked about it at the beginning of the season with our guys — ‘Look at what your goals are,’” Hornacek said, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. “We’re trying to get the best out of them and improve all year long. If playoffs come about, then fine. I think when you start — and that’s what happened to us — we got a couple of games over .500 there, and all of a sudden everyone’s starting talking about, ‘We got a chance. If we just win, we’ll make the playoffs.’”
He then goes on to discuss that they are just trying to improve every game. In their eyes, this season is about their young players and improving them for years to come.
The Knicks have some very tradeable veterans that will fit well on playoff teams down the stretch. 32-year-old Courtney Lee is having a career year, he is averaging 13.4 ppg, a 45.7% field goal percentage, and a 42.9% three-point percentage. Michael Beasley was signed for the veteran minimum and is averaging 12.4 ppg in only 19.2 mpg. We then get to the logjam of Knicks’ big men. They have Enes Kanter, who is having a solid year but could opt out of his deal during the summer, Joakim Noah, who can still defend but is owed $38 million over the next two years, and bench warmer, Willy Hernangomez as well as Kanter’s backup Kyle O’Quinn. O’Quinn is most likely to get dealt as he is expected to opt out of his contract at the end of the year. It has been reported that it is very unlikely that the Knicks will pay him this summer. Hernangomez is the most interesting of the four. He has become the forgotten man on the Knicks’ bench and many teams have seemed to be interested in the young center. He showed many flashes during last season and has fallen away from interest as Enes Kanter has taken hold of the Knicks starting role at center.
This is a noble ideal but would the Knicks be making the right decision? The team has shown good chemistry this year, should they be given an opportunity to see if a healthy Haradway Jr. can propel them to the playoffs? Management also has to decide if they can get fair value for their veterans. Yes, they are a rebuilding club but is it worth trading away the remainder of this season for second round picks?
Keeping the team together could be beneficial for the Knicks in the long run. New York City used to be seen as a marquee destination for free agents, maybe a few competitive years will rebuild this reputation as well. Ridding themselves of the Phil Jackson stench with a few competitive years could be another route to rebuilding.
The New York Knicks could pick a direction for their near future in the upcoming days, it could all come down to a good/bad performance in the remaining games of their road trip. The playoffs could be within reach but the Knicks need to prove that they can win games on the road.