Before the Knicks take the Staples Center court on Friday to face off against the Lakers, let’s flashback to last season for a moment.
The Lakers began the year with a lot of change to their team makeup. Two rookies — PG Lonzo Ball and F Kyle Kuzma — joined Brandon Ingram as the young core of the team, while Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were also fresh faces to round out the starting five for LA. They were led by Luke Walton, who was in his second year with the team after coming over from the Warriors.
As many expected, there wasn’t much success as the rebuilding project spearheaded by Magic Johnson continued to roll along. Now, there were spurts where the Lakers would beat opponents like the Rockets, Celtics, and Sixers. But most of the time, they tallied their games in the loss column.
Overall, the team finished 35-47 on the year, or 11th in the Western Conference. It wasn’t a shock, though, and instead of fretting over the season’s disappoints, the Lakers and their fans were eyeing who they could snatch up in free agency.
Sounds familiar, right? That’s because the Knicks are following the same blueprint this year that the Lakers did last season.
The comparison is uncanny: New York brought in new head coach David Fizdale to lead their own rebuild. They selected two rookies — F Kevin Knox and C Mitchell Robinson — that highlight their young group to build around Kristaps Porzingis. And with Porzingis out for most, if not all, of the season, GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills signed players like Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh to fill in the gaps to add depth.
The Knicks also knew heading into the season that the playoffs were a pipe dream. They are currently 9-29, sitting 14th in the Eastern Conference. But development of their young group was the main priority entering the season, as they look their own offseason success to hopefully flip their franchise back on its head.
The Lakers did so months ago when they landed the biggest free-agent splash of the summer — SF LeBron James. James signed a four-year, $153 million deal to stay in LA through the 2021-22 season, and they weren’t done. Players like Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, and Rajon Rondo followed James, and the team went from a project to playoff contender immediately.
So far, it seems to be coming to fruition with the Lakers owning the eighth seed at 21-17 through the first 38 games of the year. There is still work to do, as James continues to develop his own chemistry with the youngsters around him. Unfortunately, the All-Star won’t be able to show the Knicks what he can do with his new team, with a groin strain still keeping him sidelined.
But Knicks’ brass and fans can take a look at this Lakers team tonight, and realize how much of an impact a big-name free agent can make. Loaded with cap room, New York is primed to be very aggressive in landing someone like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, or Klay Thompson this offseason. Oh, and if their tank continues on the right path, they should be set up with at least a top five draft pick.
That puts them in an even better position than the Lakers, who had the 25th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
So, just imagine it: The Knicks jog onto the Madison Square Garden floor in October with Durant, rookie Zion Williamson or R.J. Barrett, a (hopefully) healthy Kristaps Porzingis, Knox, and Frank Ntilikina or Allonzo Trier at the point. On paper, that’s a winning starting five.
This is all hypothetical, but it’s a dream that could turn into reality if the Knicks make the right moves. The Lakers already made it happen, and in turn, their franchise is in prime position to be a playoff contender for years to come.
The Knicks can be in the exact same position as the Lakers next season — if not better.