The Knicks need a point guard.
I’m trying to count off how many different offseasons I’ve uttered those words dating back to when we traded Walt Frazier to the Cavaliers for Jim Cleamons in the summer of 1977 (and yes, Clyde was nearing the end of the line, but was Cleamons really the best we could do for crying out loud??). Already I digress.
The Knicks gloriously acquired a disgruntled Earl Monroe from the Baltimore Bullets in November of 1971 for Mike Riordan, Dave Stallworth, eleven pairs of size 14 Converse All-Stars, and two nearly-new Spalding basketballs. The acquisition of The Pearl brought us two additional finals appearances, one of which stands as the last NBA title won in the long and storied history of the New York Knickerbockers.
Since that magical moment when Monroe brought his talents to New York City, my Knicks have swung and missed on so many backcourt solutions it makes my head spin. In fact, other than signing Alan Houston as a free agent in the summer of 1996, it is hard to remember another successful backcourt deal the Knicks have made in the 50 (FIFTY!) years that have flown by since the Earl Monroe trade.
Sure there were the back to back drafts in the late-80’s that scored us Mark Jackson and Rod Strickland, helping to launch the reincarnation that resulted in the near-misses of the Riley Years. But think about it — what deal for a guard — point, shooting, combo — has worked out for the Knicks since Earl the Pearl joined forces in the Knicks backcourt with Clyde a couple of generations ago?
(SportsAttic aside– when the Monroe deal happened, I remember my biggest concern being who would get to wear number 10 for the Knicks — Monroe had worn 10 for the Bullets and of course Clyde was number 10 in New York. Huge relief to six-year-old me when Monroe accepted number 15 as a Knick.)
The Knicks extended run of futility when it comes to acquiring backcourt talent hasn’t been for lack of trying. Off the top of my head, I come up with countless past-their-prime names from years gone by. To wit, hope sprang eternal when first Rolando Blackmon, and then Derek Harper got stints in New York on the back nine of outstanding runs in Dallas. Turned out Blackmon was barely a shell of his Mavericks self once he donned the orange and blue, and Harper was a useful piece, but always a step slow against elite opposition once the Knicks would reach the playoffs.
Others, such as Rory Sparrow and Chris Childs were heralded as diamonds in the rough, imported to the Big Apple after brief runs of success elsewhere. We were sold similar storylines with Chris Duhon and Howard Eisley years later. Somehow the lightning that had been caught in a bottle at prior stops never materialized under the high expectations and bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
Doc Rivers, Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis, Mo Cheeks, Baron Davis and Chauncey Billups all got a turn way past their heroic primes, and none even managed to approach Derrick Rose-circa-2021 kind of success after landing in New York.
Really want to go deep? How about Paul Westphal? Remember Jarrett Jack? Yep, both were Knicks — you can look it up. Jamal Crawford sure could fill it up, providing the Knicks instant offense on any given night, as he did for nearly every NBA team at one time for another, but he hardly qualifies as a successful acquisition in the Monroe (or even Houston) category.
Do we have enough space to delve into the Stephon Marbury debacle? I still recall having to pull off the Long Island Expressway so I could scream at the top of my lungs when I heard that horrific deal announced on WFAN radio one cold January morning back in 2004 (and don’t forget we got Anfernee Hardaway as part of that franchise-fracturing trade–somewhere Isiah Thomas is grinning right now and has no idea why). All Starbury cost us was five players and two first-round picks. Oy vey…
But hey, we got Penny, too.
Like many Knicks fans, I may be something of a glutton for punishment, but I dredge up these horror stories of Knicks Trades and Signings Past merely as a cautionary tale with the 2021 NBA Draft fast approaching. The Knicks appear poised to make a deal (as they have for the past half century), and while I remain steadfastly supportive of any and all efforts that could somehow make Damian Lillard a Knick for 2021-22 and beyond, I’m worried about what the Lillard consolation prize could be.
We’re hearing Collin Sexton’s name bandied about all of a sudden. Should the Knicks end up with Sexton, here’s hoping from my keyboard to God’s ears that the young guard becomes the next Earl the Pearl, lacing up other-worldly heroics nightly at Madison Square Garden and becoming a key piece that one day nets us our long-awaited NBA title.
However, I think we may want to pump the brakes just a touch here. Collin Sexton happens to be the point guard (combo guard?) the Cavaliers are passing on. The Cavs (who’s front office will never be confused with the Red Auerbach Celtics) prefer Darius Garland, who they took with the fifth pick in the draft a year after they drafted Sexton at number 8 (one spot ahead of the Knicks, who continued their mastery of the NBA’s lottery system by taking Kevin Knox at number 9). Hmmm…methinks that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement from Sexton’s current employer.
Sexton can score, as evidenced by his three year averages of 16.7, 20.8 and 24.3 points per game for terrible Cleveland teams. But can he win? Lead? Never mind that he’s looking for an enormous, new contract after the coming season, either. Again, hmmm…
Sexton did average 4.4 assists per game over 35 minutes per last season. Hardly Frazier-esque numbers, but he really was more of a score-first guard, whether point, shooting, or combo, so 300 assists isn’t that bad. Right? RIGHT??
So now the Knicks are considering giving up coveted assets, be it picks we’ve accumulated, or young talent (I hate the idea of Obi Toppin being a part of a deal for Sexton, but we must presume he would be), to bring Cleveland’s (CLEVELAND’S!!) second choice on board as our 1A star beside Julius Randle’s 1. And we are now to hope/expect that a Randle/Sexton duo allows the Knicks to take that next, more difficult, step forward toward legitimate title contention?
Sorry, but I’m just not feeling it. And I can’t help but wonder how Coach Thibs feels about Collin Sexton being the showcase piece we add during this critical offseason? Does the kid know how to play defense? Will he make those around him better? Can he handle New York? We can’t afford another mistake that ends up being buried at the end of the bench next to so many others.
Please Leon Rose — keep the emphasis on pulling out all the stops for Dame. That’s a move a New York Knicks title can be built upon. We can’t revert back to the bargain-basement bin. For fifty years that recipe has tortured Knicks fans.
Go get Damian Lillard.