Photo: Nathaniel Butler/NBAE
The Atlanta Hawks displayed their arrogance from tipoff in Game 1 all the way to 44 seconds remaining of Game 5 when Trae Young hit a three-pointer in a game that was about to be over. To add insult to injury, he took a bow for finishing off the Knicks season on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks couldn’t do anything about what Young did there. After Clint Capela mocked them for their manhood and their play on a Zoom call Tuesday afternoon, they didn’t do anything about it as they rolled over to the Hawks in a 103-89 loss.
The Hawks won in five games, and quite frankly, in four of the five games, they outclassed the Knicks in talent and coaching. It certainly felt like a gentleman’s sweep because, in reality, this should have been a sweep.
Shame on me for thinking the Knicks would show pride and go out kicking and screaming. The gall of me to think they would actually win Game 5 and go to Atlanta for a Game 6 showdown. The Knicks’ performance in this series takes everything out of this overachieving season.
Look, the Knicks built a foundation and infrastructure this season. Making the playoffs is a bonus. But this playoff series exposed the Knicks’ flaws. They don’t have a superstar on that roster. They don’t have legitimate shooters. They only had one guy that performed in this series, and that was 32-year-old Derrick Rose, who may not even be back next season. Reality set in starting in Game 1.
The Knicks can put on nice regular season performances. They can win their usual 50 games all season. They can entertain us during the dark winter months. They will be a national TV draw starting next year. They will be a talking point on sports radio and ESPN.
But it’s not going to matter if they go one and out every year. They would be laughed at, and understandably so. The locals will stop taking them seriously.
The Knicks need to make a major move this offseason or else it will be business as usual next season where they amaze in the regular season and turn soft in the postseason. There would be no reason to be excited about next season whatsoever.
This means signing Kawhi Leonard. Before they can get him, they need to get a star player that will convince him to join the Knicks. He is not going to the Knicks by himself to be the savior. They need to acquire a star. This means going all-in to get Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal. Maybe even get both.
Lillard and Beal could consider moving on after their respective teams failed to build around them. Beal offered a no-comment when asked about his future with the Washington Wizards after the Philadelphia 76ers eliminated them in a 129-112 loss Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center. It didn’t seem like an endorsement for sure. As for Lillard, we will see how he feels if the Denver Nuggets eliminate the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round.
Lillard would be intriguing. He is a gamer. He showed that by hitting 12 3-pointers and scoring 55 points in willing the Blazers to double overtime just to see his team fall short in a 147-140 loss to the Nuggets. Knicks fans are pining for him from reading reactions on Twitter after that excellent performance.
Being that he is 30 years old, he may be tired of being the guy carrying the load while the Blazers do nothing to build around him. His talent is being wasted. It’s one thing for him to be loyal to the organization that drafted him in his 20s, but it’s another thing to see him go on while he is still in his prime. He has to know it’s unrealistic to think he can get a star to come to join him in Portland.
Lillard can get a star to join him in playing for the Knicks if he expresses interest in playing for them. Everyone knows how great he is. This could pique Leonard’s interest. We all know Leonard is not a New York guy, but he could be convinced to come if Lillard is there.
The Knicks do have pieces to get Lillard. No one is untouchable on this roster. If it means giving up Obi Toppin, RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and draft picks for him, Knicks president of basketball operations Leon Rose should make this deal and not look back. He has a responsibility to make the Knicks better.
Get Lillard, and I could see Leonard leaving the Los Angeles Clippers if they lose to the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. Remember the Clippers star is a free agent, and with the Clippers being in cap hell and not having draft picks for awhile, he could bail and move on. This is where the Knicks come to play here.
This series and Wednesday night showed this team has ways to go to even win a playoff round, let alone a championship. The 48-year championship drought should bring a sense of urgency to this organization.
This roster isn’t going to cut it. The best it did was win one playoff game. It’s not good enough to win a series. This franchise needs a star who can break down the defense and create his own shot. They need a guy that they can rely on crunch time. Sorry, but no one on this roster can do this.
It isn’t just the playoffs that had me convinced. It was regular-season games against the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and other elite teams that made me say this roster is flawed.
Rose, Thibodeau and William Wesley know this, too.
They were hired to make the roster better, and they must do their job this summer so that we don’t have to experience the first-round exit next year.