The Knicks entered the summer with major aspirations and a blank checkbook, coming out the other side without their franchise-altering superstar but a deep roster of legitimate NBA talent. Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Marcus Morris, Elfrid Payton, Reggie Bullock and Wayne Ellington signed via free agency, while R.J. Barrett and Ignas Brazdeikis were picked up in the draft, joining a young core of Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr. and others.
This crop of developing players showed their worth over the past few weeks at Las Vegas Summer League, and are key to New York's continued rebuild. However, the dearth of more established contributors will make getting everybody their due minutes difficult.
These veterans were signed to build up their own and the organization's reputation through their play and to potentially be moved on their flexible deals. Here's how the Knicks may be able to accomplish that while still allowing their inexperienced pieces enough burn to grow.
To look at a model where a team has successfully pulled this off, look no further than across the East River. The Brooklyn Nets completed the coup New York hoped to this summer, after a three-year rebuild in which they established a culture of winning and improvement among younger and older players. Injuries played a factor, with Jeremy Lin slotted to start and playing just 37 games over two seasons. They also traded Bojan Bogdanovic midway through the 2016-17 season, opening up minutes for Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Throughout the rebuild, they ran a deep rotation, often switching it up every so often while getting the majority of players between 15 and 25 minutes of action a night.
Head coach David Fizdale wasn't afraid to be experimental with lineups and rotations last season, so New York following suit and trying different guys out at different points of the season is a strong possibility.
That minutes range works with either end of this roster. Randle is the only player good enough to command over 30 minutes a game, and neophytes like Robinson, Knox and Barrett will likely go through the early career motions of foul trouble and fatigue that can naturally limit their minutes, The Knicks are also short Reggie Bullock to begin the season, and could trade a Morris or Ellington to a contender wanting an extra weapon around the trade deadline.
For now, here's a picture of what the rotation could look like to begin the season:
1: Dennis Smith Jr. 28 | Elfrid Payton 15 | Frank Ntilikina 10
2: RJ Barrett 28 | Allonzo Trier 18 | Damyean Dotson 12
3: Kevin Knox 23 | Marcus Morris 13 | Ignas Brazdeikis 10
4: Julius Randle 36 | Marcus Morris 12 | Ignas Brazdeikis 3
5: Mitchell Robinson 28 | Bobby Portis 20
This is subject to change with how all these names perform. Something to note is Gibson and Ellington get no minutes in this scenario. It's nearly impossible to construct this roster in a way that gets everybody a couple of stretches a game. Guys will have to be DNP'd and some would prefer it be an unproven second-round pick like Brazdeikis or an underwhelming project in Ntilikina. This problem will likely alleviate itself come the trade deadline, at which point someone like Morris or Ellington could be flipped for a pick, and a number of players will likely, but hopefully not, be dealing with injuries.
Another issue is getting Brazdeikis the right amount of time at the four, and getting Knox any at all. Morris can spend time at the three, though he's best at the power forward spot. This is all flexible and dependent on how players fare, with the spare minutes at the four given to Brazdeikis because Knox still hasn't shown tremendous first step speed, though was impressive against smaller wings in Vegas.
This Knicks front office has preached culture building and doing so will require keeping everyone on the roster content.
New York has a bunch of savages in that box, first second year players itching for their opportunity to shine, as well as NBA journeymen looking to sell themselves on the biggest stage in basketball. Getting each of them their due will not only define this season, but those to follow as New York attempts to establish that culture.