by Paul West
With the trade deadline approaching, there’s actually talk of the New York Knicks making another team-building acquisition: the Charlotte Hornets‘ Kemba Walker, for whom the Knicks are reportedly trying to work out a deal. This would be their first major trade since the ill-fated deal which panic-dumped promising talent to acquire Carmelo Anthony in early 2011. And lest I be accused of 20/20 hindsight: I railed against the trade from the very beginning. The high-scoring, defensively challenged, Mike D’Antoni-coached Knicks were a move away from contention, and jettisoned a ton of talent (especially if you factor in also letting David Lee and Jamal Crawford go) in relatively short order; in Melo, they got a ball stopper (admittedly, also a seemingly good guy off the court, who’s active in various communities) who had to be browbeaten into expending energy on anything but trying to score. Eventually–and after much controversy–the Knicks traded Melo to the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he can be an elite third option with the Thunder (or he and Russell Westbrook can squabble over the ball). Meanwhile, the Knicks have newfound depth: Enes Kanter is a scoring big man who dominates the boards on offense; Doug McDermott is 6’8″ with athleticism and shooting range; they also have a resurgent Michael Beasley, whose talent, athleticism, and ambidextrous finishing ability are now buttressed by an increased basketball IQ.
All of this is to say that the Knicks are back where they started: high scoring, defensively challenged (though not as much so as in 2011, hard to put away, and unfortunately, somewhat easy to come back on. And with all due respect to Jarret Jack–a crafty, streaky, below-the-rim ball-distributor reminiscent of Raymond Felton–and promising rookie Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks lack a developed, high level floor general to grease the wheels for Kanter, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and All-Star Kristaps Porzingis.
Kemba Walker is an elite point guard, and moreover, he’s capable scorer and playmaker. His presence would both remove pressure from, and facilitate, the other competent scorers on the Knicks’ roster. It would also bounce Courtney Lee to the second unit, which is not insignificant in its own right: Lee is a high-energy shooting guard who doesn’t dominate in any one area but can provide scoring, playmaking, steals, and rebounds; and with Jack and Ntilikina as floor leaders and with glass-crashing, midrange-shooting energizer Kyle O’Quinn in the paint, the Knicks would have a dangerous second unit.
Walker is also a New York City native, born in the Bronx, and had an outstanding three-year tenure at UConn, where he was the Big East Tournament MVP and the Most Outstanding Player of the 2011 March Madness Tournament, in which the Huskies won a national title. This means he’s not just well suited to play at Madison Square Garden; he’s already shined there on a national stage.
Granted, there are other needs to address–mainly, their lack of a true rim defender–but if the Knicks added Kemba walker to a starting lineup with Kanter, Porzingis, Hardaway, and Beasley, they would become a legitimate Eastern Conference threat.