After another underwhelming offseason for New York Knicks, the future looks bleak after striking out on elite free agents: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The pair of superstars decided to sign with the second most popular team in the city, the Brooklyn Nets.
Although it appears to be nearly impossible to bounce back from two decades of losing, the Knicks could attempt to follow the Clippers blueprint for transitioning from the laughingstock of the NBA to the favorites to win the title in the upcoming NBA season.
On April 19, 2014, the NBA issued a lifetime ban to Donald Sterling after tapes were released of Sterling making racist remarks. The Clippers, a franchise who has failed to ever advance past the second round, immediately became the joke of the league. However, no more than four months later, Steve Ballmer purchased the franchise and became the man solely responsible for turning around the Clippers.
In September 2014, the Clippers added Lawrence Frank as an assistant coach under Doc Rivers, however, he would move to the front office after being promoted to the Vice President of Basketball Operations in 2016. Frank has made numerous transactions that built the Clippers into an attractive team for free agents, which led to the acquisition of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
What makes Ballmer such a great owner is his ability to delegate responsibilities and hire talented front office executives to manage basketball operations. In addition to Frank, Ballmer added former Oklahoma City front office executive, Michael Winger, to become the general manager, as well as, Trent Reddon as the assistant general manager. The Clippers also hired former Sports Illustrated writer, Lee Jenkins, as the executive director of research and identity.
With a revamped front office and talented head coach in Rivers, the Clippers emerged from the depths of the bottom of the league and made bold decisions to move on from their superstar duo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Paul opted-in to his contract with the Clippers and requested a trade to the Rockets in exchange for seven players and a first-round pick. Most notably, the Clippers received three veteran members of their current team: Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, and Montrez Harrell.
Just six months after signing a five-year $173 million deal to stay with the Clippers, Blake Griffin was traded to Detroit in exchange for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovich, a first-round, and a second-round pick. The trade allowed the Clippers to move from a perennial playoff team that could not advance past the second round into a team that just missed the playoffs. The Clippers then traded their number 12 pick from Detroit to Charlotte in order to select Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at number 11 overall. The Clippers also selected Jerome Robinson with the number 13 pick in the 2018 NBA draft.
Just days before the trade deadline, the Clippers traded their top scorer, Tobias Harris, to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for the 76ers first-round pick in 2020, a highly coveted Miami Heat unprotected first-round pick in 2021, and Landry Shamet. The trade paved the way for the Clippers to enter free agency with enough cap space for two max-contract free agents.
Through the quick rebuild, the Clippers were able to offer Kawhi Leonard his preferred situation: playing for the Clippers alongside Paul George.
On July 6, the Clippers traded arguably the largest trade package ever assembled for a superstar player by trading Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danillo Gallinari, five first-round picks and two pick swaps for Paul George. With the completion of the Paul George trade, the Clippers officially won the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes and now enter the upcoming NBA season as the favorites to win their first championship in franchise history.
Of course, the Clippers' situation is much different from the current situation with Knicks and James Dolan as the owner. However, what the Knicks can learn is the Clippers' ability to make such a dramatic turnaround in respectability by hiring the very best in the industry and making transactions with the bigger picture in mind.
It is unlikely that Dolan would choose to sell the Knicks, the most valuable franchise in the NBA according to Forbes 2019 team values. However, the advantage that the Knicks have, that the Clippers have never had, is the value in the brand of the team.
The Knicks are a historic franchise with one of the largest fan bases in the NBA and play under the bright lights of the historic Madison Square Garden arena. The Knicks will always be an attractive team for free agents due to the market size and the fan base. However, players will remain hesitant to sign with the Knicks as long as their front office continues to be the laughing stock of the NBA.
It is up to James Dolan to finally deliver the city of New York the team that they deserve. But first, the organization must prioritize creating and maintaining a winning culture before they can make a similar transition, as the Clippers.
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