Knicks in woeful shape, but 2019 could still be bright in New York

Tim Hardaway Jr (R) guards Bradley Beal (L) in London

While the Knicks are set for a fifth straight season with at least 50 losses, 2019 could still be a good year for the franchise.

LONDON — The annual NBA game in London seemingly came a year too soon for the Knicks.

Despite taking a 19-point lead against the Wizards at the O2 Arena on Thursday, the Knicks dropped their 18th in the last 20 in dramatic fashion.

A goaltending violation was called on Allonzo Trier on a Thomas Bryant shot in the final second and it proved decisive as the Wizards completed a brilliant 101-100 victory.

With a young roster largely made up of underachieving lottery picks — eight of them, to be precise, three of which they selected themselves — and some who missed out entirely in the draft, the 10-34 Knicks appear destined for a fifth straight season with at least 50 losses. They have not made the playoffs since 2013.

However, while this season should already be written off, it could still prove to be a huge year in New York. A star-studded free agency period is coming in the offseason, with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard the stand-out names who may be available.

The Knicks will be in a position to spend money, and their financial situation may improve even further before then if they can offload some of their higher earners. Enes Kanter, who sat out the game against the Wizards due to fears for his safety amid tensions with Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is reported to be on the trade block, albeit he is already an expiring contract.

It is widely believed Durant — who would be required to opt out of the one-year player option with the Warriors — is their top target, though he did his best to evade such suggestions when the Knicks were beaten by the reigning champions in Oakland on Jan. 9.

“I have no clue where that stuff comes from, I just focus on playing ball every single day,” said the 2014 MVP.

“I can’t control what people say about me or what they say about my future or what I should do, but I just come to work every single day and life will figure itself out from here.”

However, the Knicks will need Kristaps Porzingis, yet to play this season after an anterior cruciate ligament injury, to sign a deal after they opted against taking up the option to extend his rookie contract. To really make strides next season, the All-Star would need to be tied down to a deal that does not compromise their potential ability to bring in Durant.

This shoddy season might also enable them to land Duke sensation Zion Williamson.

The 18-year-old looks perfect to play in the NBA and could be a franchise-leading star in the future. He is undoubtedly a talent worth tanking for.

Yet Kanter, Mario Hezonja, Emmanuel Mudiay and Noah Vonleh are among the players set to be out of contract and they will not be happy to be on a team vying for the worst record in the NBA. Such individuals will be keen to prove their worth over the coming months in order to secure a place in the league next season — either with the Knicks or elsewhere. Mudiay did just that with a team-high 25 points against the Wizards, albeit in a losing cause.

But the Knicks’ own roster shows rebuilding from the lottery is not always a certainty for success, and cautionary tales can be seen with the Magic and Suns, while the Kings finally appear to have hit the right track and could earn a playoff spot after 12 barren years.

Of course, the chances of Durant and Williamson playing alongside Porzingis at Madison Square Garden next season appear slim at best. However, the possibility of 2019 being a turning point for one of the NBA’s most famous franchises remains a real possibility.

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