If the Knicks don’t make a blockbuster trade this season, they’ll go as far as their 30-year-old point guards’ knees will allow.
Despite the fact that Evan Fournier was their most expensive free-agent signing, team president Leon Rose’s decision to sign Kemba Walker and re-sign Derrick Rose will determine whether the Knicks improve on their 41-31 season in 2020-21.
During the Knicks’ 48-year championship drought, point-guard play has been their death knell. Everything will be determined by Walker’s health and productivity, as well as a resurgent Rose.
Durability was a critical high point during last season’s turnaround campaign, which ended a seven-year playoff drought. The only time Rose was absent was when she contracted COVID-19. After the early-February trade, he was fit and fantastic.
However, the Knicks now have two point guards with a long history of knee problems, and all eyes will be on them when training camp begins Monday in Tarrytown, with the first practice scheduled for Tuesday. (Last season, Fournier was limited to 42 games as well.)
“I think health is a big question for every team, and it’s important [Walker] feels good,” coach Tom Thibodeau said in his first comments on the surprise signing on Friday. “[Kemba’s] been in. He’s doing a lot of work. And you got to trust him. He understands what he has to do to be ready for a season.”
The Knicks swooped in and signed Walker, a Bronx native, to a two-year, $18 million deal after Oklahoma City agreed to a buyout on the $74 million remaining on his contract early in free agency.
Due to an arthritic left knee, Walker only played 43 games for the Celtics. Brad Stevens, who was recently promoted to president of basketball operations, couldn’t have done a better job of trading Walker to the Thunder.
It wasn’t Plan A for the Knicks, but it was Plan B. As in the Bronx Plan.
“We have a great medical staff that’s working with Kemba, and we’re just looking forward to seeing him on the court,’’ Leon Rose said Friday, breaking a 14-month silence.
Julius Randle and Derrick Rose proved they couldn’t do it alone during Atlanta’s 4-1 playoff thrashing as former starting point guard Elfrid Payton, now in Phoenix, fell off the grid.
Walker’s on-court All-Star abilities were not mentioned by Leon Rose or Thibodeau, possibly due to the uncertainty surrounding his health.
The Knicks, like last season’s team, should have enough backcourt depth to compensate for the possibility of Walker missing significant time or opting out of back-to-backs once more.
It’s one of the reasons the Knicks wanted Immanuel Quickley to spend all of summer league at point guard. In addition, rookie PG Miles McBride has already proven to be a Thibodeau- type defender in Las Vegas.