After strong season with Brunson, Knicks must weigh more time or more talent

·3-min read

NEW YORK (AP) — Jalen Brunson passed the time awaiting internet setup at his home after arriving in New York last summer by tackling a Lego project.

The Millennium Falcon from “Star Wars” totaled more than 7,000 pieces, which takes time and patience to build.

So does a championship-contending NBA team.

The Knicks are still trying, now 50 years after last winning a title, but Brunson may have the process moving in the right direction after his superb first season with the team.

“New York has been amazing and the fans have been amazing. It’s been a really great experience for myself and my family and I’m already excited about next year,” Brunson said. “It’s going to be fun.”

So was this season, by recent Knicks standards. They won a playoff series for the first time in 10 years before falling to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Getting Brunson last year was the first step.

Figuring out if they have enough to seriously contend around him is the next one.

The roster is young, with Julius Randle the oldest core player at just 28 years old. It's possible that more time together is all the Knicks need.

Randle was an All-Star again but then struggled in the postseason again, as he did two years ago when the Knicks fell to Atlanta in the first round. The Knicks may feel they need a stronger piece alongside Brunson, but it's hard to find many players like Randle who can give a team at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and 4.0 assists a game. (In fact, the only other players to do it this season have all been MVPs: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid.)

“Julius is still young. He’s just going into his prime right now, so we’re looking forward to what’s coming next,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said.

The Knicks have opted to build cautiously under president Leon Rose, walking away from a chance to trade for Donovan Mitchell last summer when Utah's asking price became too high.

They have assets to make a run at the next All-Star to hit the trade market, with 11 first-round picks over the next seven years.

The Knicks' hard-working style perhaps hid the need for another bona fide star during the regular season, when they won 47 games. But in the postseason, teams can't survive the cold spells that Randle and RJ Barrett endured.

They almost overcame those anyway because of Brunson, who scored 41 points in Game 6 while everyone around him struggled in the Knicks' 96-92 loss.

Brunson had never even been a regular starter in Dallas until last season, but he has the look of a player who could be an All-Star or All-NBA player soon — or should have been one this season.

“He’s one of the best players in the league,” Thibodeau said. “I think he shows that every night that he goes out there.”

The Knicks probably need at least one more player like him to be a real threat to win their first championship since 1973.

Contending for titles was the expectation back then. Just making the playoffs has been too much to ask for most of the 2000s, so a second-round appearance has to be considered a success for the Knicks.

Yet it also felt like a missed opportunity. After finishing fifth in the East in the regular season, they surprisingly had home-court advantage after beating Cleveland when the No. 8-seeded Heat upset top-seeded Milwaukee, and had defeated Miami three times during the regular season.

But with Randle sidelined with a sprained ankle, the Knicks dropped Game 1 and couldn't get a win in South Florida after he returned.

With perhaps only a little tinkering, they might be better prepared next time.

“We wanted more, expected more,” Randle said, “but we’ll be back.”


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