Lowe: The moment that transformed the New York Knicks into contenders



Lowe: The moment that transformed the New York Knicks into contenders Tim Heitman/Getty Images

The New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks didn't deal directly with one another on what emerged as a wild 2024 trade deadline, but their actions still seemed somehow connected -- and have since January 2019, when Dallas traded two first-round picks (among other things) to New York to pair Kristaps Porzingis with their budding superstar rookie Luka Doncic.

The Mavericks had bottomed out the year before and moved up in the draft for Doncic. It was immediately clear Doncic would become an All-NBA-level star -- the hardest thing to find, the dream centerpiece for a rebuild.

With Porzingis gone the next season, New York plummeted to 17-65. They landed at No. 3 in the lottery, dashing their dreams of finding their own tentpole young star -- Zion Williamson or Ja MorantNew York selected the workmanlike RJ Barrett at No. 3. When they re-signed Barrett to an extension in August 2022, the Knicks and their fans rejoiced with some knowing wryness: It was the first time New York had extended and kept one of its own first-round picks since Charlie Ward -- drafted in 1994. The Knicks hailed the Barrett extension as a sign of new stability even while winking at their chaotic, chase-every-shiny-object past. (Barrett was preceded by two major whiffs in the top-10 -- Kevin Knox II and Frank Ntilkina. The Knicks did not start this project from a position of strength or major lottery luck.)

New York grew proud of its young core of first-round picks -- Barrett and the group that followed: Immanuel QuickleyObi ToppinQuentin Grimes. All four are gone now, and it is a tribute to how skillfully the Knicks have proceeded along this build-up that it doesn't feel at all wasteful -- as if the Knicks have mortgaged their future in flipping away all their home-grown first-round picks.

And the single biggest reason for that is Jalen Brunson -- the (now) All-Star point guard New York swiped from Dallas in free agency in the summer of 2022.

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