The irony is that it was another iconic Milwaukee Buck that, until now, was an endless 45-year quest for the greener grass of someone else’s backyard. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had logged into Wisconsin for six long years and he’d had it. He wanted to go home, and he had two houses in mind:
New York, where he was born, where he grew up in the Dyckman Street projects, where he first rose to fame at the Power Memorial Academy in Manhattan.
And Los Angeles, where he had become the greatest basketball player of all time at UCLA, with three national titles, three Final Four Most Outstanding Player awards and a three-year record of 88-2.
Kareem preferred New York, and the Knicks tried to win over the Bucks with money. “They tried to bully us with money,” said Bucks GM Wayne Embry, and the Bucks would not be bullied, opting to ship their star west in front of a bunch of players and trekkers.
Thus began the Knicks’ endless quest for the perfect piece, the five-star acquisition. Over the years, this has sometimes taken the form of ill-fated and unrequited affection (George McGinniss, Kevin McHale, LeBron James, Kevin Durant) and sometimes resulted in a consumption that was not so attractive afterwards (Spencer Haywood, Bob McAdoo, Marvin Webster , Stephon Marbury, Carmelo Anthony). Once every 45 years, a celestial spark arrived organically – and even that was 35 years ago, when Patrick Ewing came through the draft. And so began a new futile task for the Knicks, in search of a real wingman.
Search. Always looking. Now forty-five years. And still searching.
On Tuesday, they found out that, as for the Bucks’ contemporary response to Kareem, there won’t even be a window to create momentum for the chase. Giannis Antetokounmpo chose to stay in the Cream City and agreed to a five-year super-max contract worth $ 228.2 million. So much for all the nice speculations that would help us have a long winter here.
“The system was set up to help the team that drafted the player to keep him,” said Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau not long after Antetokounmpo announced his deal on Twitter. “That is a big advantage. It’s hard to get someone to leave. “
Thibodeau was once team president in Minneapolis, and he once coached the league’s best player, the in-his-prime Derrick Rose in Chicago. He knows very well that it takes stars to win big in the NBA.
“It’s crucial,” he said. “That must be a priority if an organization is to look for opportunities.”
Where’s the Knicks?
Looking for the right path. Free agency suddenly seems less attractive, with Antetokounmpo off the table. Next summer, some intriguing pieces – Victor Oladipo, Jrue Holiday – promise just one real franchise cornerstone – Kawhi Leonard, if he opts out, and he didn’t seem very inclined to watch the Knicks last time.
The Knicks could be trying to identify a trade, and they have enough design assets to throw in a deal, although the question is how much the actual players on the roster can help attract any kind of interest from high level.
That leaves player development behind, and that’s what the Knicks need to place their hopes on now. There are three players on the roster who, if things go well, if potential becomes production and shows promise results, may turn up: Mitchell Robinson, RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin.
None of those Troika are data. Robinson, despite all of his obvious benefits, still struggles to stay on the ground and is still best described as ‘raw’ as he enters year 3. Barrett looks like he’s taken some excellent steps forward, he looks stronger, he looks more confident, he won’t be until June 21. And Toppin is in the first few meters of a 10K race; as he progresses as a pro at the pace he did as a student … well, it’s a dream worthy for Knicks fans.
“If you look at it, each team goes through many different paths to get stars,” said Thibodeau. “Sometimes it is the development phase. You have to be very aggressive in looking for those opportunities. They don’t just happen by accident. Sometimes you have to let them happen. “
The example that Thibodeau often cites is Jimmy Butler, who barely played as a rookie in Chicago in 2012 and traded poorly the following year, but was an All-Star by year 4 and has now become a top-10 player in the league. a fundamental player for an NBA finalist in Miami. Thibodeau saw this development from close by in Chicago, saw the fruits of that work (however brief) in Minnesota.
Apply that learning curve to one of those three Knicks and they’ll have something; apply to two (or three) of them? Then you might have something organic, something real and something that can finally end a 45-year search for the perfect piece. It may not be the easiest way. But it can still be the best.