Knicks fans should know better than to put the cart in front of the horse, but with their team's summer plans revolving around Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, it's worth looking at how they plan to surround the two with players that can aid them in a championship hunt.
The two alone won't make New York a leading contender in today's arms race among the league's best. Philadelphia and Golden State are four All-Stars deep, while the Knicks will likely have just five players on their roster come July 1.
Here's who they should try to retain and pursue once that time comes given Durant and Irving decide to sign on.
In all likelihood, the remaining Knicks on the books will be Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, Mitchell Robinson and Damyean Dotson. Tack on Durant and Irving and we get a clearer picture of what the Knicks are going to need this summer: starting bigs, and some solid veterans on the wings and bench.
Irving, Smith Jr. and Ntilikina should be able to hold down the point guard spot, with the back-to-back draft picks of 2017 likely helping most with their passing. As impressive as Robinson has been he's not ready to start for a winner quite yet -- ditto for Knox. Dotson may be the most ready to fill a spot next to these mega-stars as a capable 3-and-D swingman.
Based off these assumptions, including Durant and Irving each getting a max contract and the Knicks getting a top-five pick, New York will be left with roughly $12 million of cap space and a $4.5 million mid-level exception to boot.
Who of their expiring contracts should the Knicks look to re-sign? Luke Kornet should be signable with a cheap price tage, and his spacing could make New York's offense deadly. Signing him to swap bench minutes with Robinson would be the ideal situation, as both continue developing.
Allonzo Trier has been a great spark this season, but as a ball-dominant scorer at the one spot, there wouldn't be much room for him if everything goes the Knicks' way. Same goes for Emmanuel Mudiay, especially at the price he'll come at.
That leaves DeAndre Jordan and Noah Vonleh, which would make for a terrific frontcourt and snug fit with Durant and Irving. Jordan is close buds with Durant, and may be willing to take less to play with him for a contender. This is crucial given New York's lack of room. His defense and rebounding will help secure the paint, and Vonleh can help in both those regards while spreading the floor on the opposite end.
Vonleh has developed into a Draymond-lite, appropriate for a combo of Durant and a flamethrowing point guard who enjoys working off pick-and-rolls. Vonleh could come at a relatively cheap price, making him a key target.
Outside of current and former Knicks, there are a variety of free agents New York will pursue. Robin Lopez and Marcin Gortat would both serve as capable, seasoned centers who would focus on the grimy work - screening, boxing out, etc. If the Knicks can't afford either, a return for Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler could work for a season or two.
For the four spot, an expensive option would be Thaddeus Young, who's been a strong contributor with the Indiana Pacers and can spread the floor without giving up size. Cheaper options would be JaMychal Green and Markieff Morris, since both are coming off recent injuries.
Green is grit-and-grind to its core, but can step out behind the arc as well. Morris would be the option for a more offensive-minded approach. Another rung down the ladder is someone like Marvin Williams or Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
On the wings front, there is a bevy of choices. How about a return for Iman Shumpert, currently having one of the best seasons of his career? He's shooting the lights out and is the same terrific defender, only years smarter with winning experience. Bojan Bogdanovic is a deadly shooter and went toe-to-toe with LeBron James last Spring. Garrett Temple has long been a steady defensive presence and consistent shooter.
None of these guys are going to need the ball much, which is by design when you're playing with Durant and Irving, but can make plays off the dribble and pass the ball well. Strike out on them, and an Alec Burks or Omri Casspi would come with less of a price tag.
There are also some players that should be available for the minimum, which will come in handy if the Knicks blow their spend on some of the better names posted. Vince Carter has not been shy about swapping jerseys and is showing some life this season. Anthony Tolliver peaked a bit too soon as a stretch four, but can still ball. Thabo Sefolosha and Trevor Ariza are both serviceable wings with plenty of Playoffs minutes under their belt.
For the Knicks and their fans, the big hump in the road is acquiring the stars they've so desperately lacked. As jubilous as that moment may be, there will still be work ahead if New York's ultimate goal is to be met. A two-man team won't do the trick, but a two-headed monster with the right supporting cast could.