When the 2018-19 NBA season officially came to an end, New York Knicks owner James Dolan had expressed strong confidence that they could finally build a roster that can legitimately contend for the NBA championship. Aside from having precious trade assets, the Knicks entered the 2019 NBA offseason with enough salary cap space for two max free agents. Unfortunately, the first week of the 2019 NBA free agency period concluded with the Knicks’ top targets — Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — deciding to team up on the other team situated in New York, the Brooklyn Nets.
While most big names made a quick decision as soon as this year’s free agency period started, Kawhi Leonard took some time to think where he would want to play next. According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, the Knicks were given the opportunity to make their free-agent pitch to Leonard, but they decided to cancel the meeting with belief that they had no chance of acquiring the reigning Finals MVP.
During that time, the Knicks’ roster didn’t look appealing for free-agent superstars since it mostly features young players who need more time to become reliable contributors on the floor. However, things would have been different if they decided to hear what Kawhi Leonard’s free-agency demands. An Oklahoma City Thunder source who spoke to New York Daily News revealed that the Knicks had enough trade assets to acquire Paul George, whom Leonard recruited on his way to the Los Angeles Clippers.
“A couple days after the Knicks began telling reporters they canceled their meeting with Leonard, the Clippers traded with the Thunder for Paul George. According to reports, that deal turned the Clippers into the frontrunner for Leonard, who wanted a star running mate. According to an OKC source, the Knicks had enough assets to match and even exceed the Clippers’ offer (which was a colossal haul that included Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and four unprotected first-round picks and one protected first-rounder).”
When Doc Rivers drove down to San Diego last week to hang with Kawhi, two things stood out. “His understanding of accepting roles. The second is how many times he said, 'You know, you can coach me.’” https://t.co/VdPRnskXsC
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 25, 2019
After years of failing to get far in the playoffs, the Clippers have succeeded in transforming themselves into a legitimate title contender with the successful acquisition of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George this offseason. Having two of the best two-way players on their roster, the Clippers are currently one of the top favorites to bring home the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the 2019-20 NBA season. However, had the Knicks taken a different path during free agency, there’s a chance they could have been the ones rejoicing right now, instead of the Clippers.
After failing to acquire their top targets, the Knicks decided to use their salary cap space to sign the likes of Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, Reggie Bullock, Bobby Portis, Elfrid Payton, Marcus Morris, and Wayne Ellington. Though their current roster is better compared to their previous squad, it still remains a big question mark if the Knicks can end their playoff drought next season.