GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Free agency was only a few hours old when the New York Knicks acknowledged their fans’ disappointment.
Three months later, the Knicks have changed their tune.
Not only was free agency a success, they say, but fans are going to forget about who the Knicks didn’t get because they’re going to love who they did.
“These are guys that our fans are going to like, the toughness that they bring every day when they come to the court to play for the Knicks,” team President Steve Mills said Monday.
The Knicks signed seven new players in free agency, adding Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Marcus Morris, Elfrid Payton, Wayne Ellington and Reggie Bullock. But by that time, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving had already committed to Brooklyn Nets in the early hours of free agency, and Mills released a statement that night saying he understood that fans could be disappointed but that the team remained confident in its plans.
And though the Knicks had enough money to afford two top free agents, Mills said the team they ended up assembling was exactly the type of roster the front office targeted all along.
“So we’re excited about the group of guys that we have,” Mills said. “Obviously based on the timeline and how we signed those guys it was clear they were on our radar and they were part of what we thought the future of the Knicks could be and what it should look like.”
It’s certainly good enough, combined with No. 3 draft pick RJ Barrett, to improve on what was an NBA-low 17 wins last season. The physicality in the frontcourt and the shooting just about everywhere should exceed anything the 2018-19 Knicks could offer.
“I can tell you this: First and foremost, it’s not going to be like last year,” said Morris, who said the Knicks have a lot of “dogs” on the roster who won’t back down from competition.
The Knicks seem content to view themselves as a hard-working group of underdogs who together can overcome a lack of individual talent.
“The fact that none of them has been heralded as superstars, they understand that they’re going to need each other to win games,” coach David Fizdale said.
OWNER ON BOARD
Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan predicted the Knicks were going to have a successful summer during a radio interview last season, which seemed to hint that the Knicks believed they would get some of the top talent that was available. But Mills said Dolan was aware of what the Knicks were planning and satisfied with the results.
“Jim knew we were going to have a successful free agency period and we feel like we did that,” Mills said. “He was on board with what we were doing.”
GETTING THE POINT
The Knicks’ most interesting roster situation in training camp could be at point guard, where Payton will compete with former lottery picks Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina. Smith came from Dallas last season in the trade for Kristaps Porzingis, and Ntilikina hopes to jump-start what’s been a largely disappointing Knicks career after playing well for France when it beat the U.S. at the Basketball World Cup.
“I think it’s going to be a great battle,” Fizdale said. “I think they’re all going to push each other. I think they’re going to compete their butts off.”
The Knicks said Bullock is making progress from a cervical disk herniation and will be re-evaluated in early November. They added that swingman Damyean Dotson likely won’t play in the preseason because of a right shoulder injury but could be ready for the start of the season.
Barrett was the Knicks’ highest draft pick since taking Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing with the No. 1 selection in 1985, but he won’t walk right into a starting spot. Fizdale said the swingman from Duke will be treated like Kevin Knox, last season’s first-round pick who had to earn his minutes.
“It’ll be the same but probably tougher on RJ because I think, again, this team is more talented,” Fizdale said. “I think we have more guys that he has to fight with to get those minutes, but I think the kid is up for it.”
EXPECTATION OF EFFORT
The Knicks won’t make any predictions for this season, beyond that their effort will be there whether or not the wins are.
“We’re a deep team so we’re not going to do ourselves any justice by going out there and half going, not playing as hard as we can,” Randle said.