Knicks Face Decisions As Trade Deadline Looms

Before every Knicks fan from Queensbridge to Kingsbridge and City Island to Staten Island wants to act like an Eagles fan because a playoff spot might be slipping away, consider this:

If you had been told prior to the start of the season that the Knicks would be 23-31 and four games out of a playoff spot, you would have said, ‘Where do I sign?’

The Knicks, if you believed all the preseason prognosticators, were going to have a wretched season. The only saving grace was a shot at the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Instead, we’ve seen some pretty exciting ball at The World’s Most Famous Arena. We’ve seen the acquisition of Enes Kanter, who posted his fifth straight double-double in Sunday’s 99-96 home loss to the Atlanta Hawks, exceed expectations.

[Watch Knicks-Bucks Tuesday on MSG & MSG GO]

We’ve seen Kristaps Porzingis lead the league in blocked shots and make his first NBA All-Star Game.

We’ve seen Tim Hardaway Jr., despite his recent shooting slump – show me an NBA player that hasn’t gone through a shooting slump and I’ll show you a Unicorn, not named Porzingis – play some superior ball on both ends of the court.

[Robbins: Hardaway Jr. Emerges as a Vocal Leader]

We’ve seen Trey Burke open eyes with some outstanding play and seen rookie Frank Ntilikina show he’s not afraid of anyone – LeBron James included.

We’ve seen Courtney Lee and Kyle O’Quinn have the best seasons of their careers.

So let’s pause to consider where the Knicks are compared to where many thought they would be. Not bad.

And not good enough. The loss to the Hawks was like being woken from a deep sleep by a fire alarm.

Blaming the defeat on the refs for the bizarre call that nullified a Hardaway Jr. dunk and gave Kent Bazemore a third free throw didn’t cost the Knicks the game. They still held a two-point lead and they should never have been in that position to begin with.

Playing at home the Knicks should have come out with tenacity and bounced an Atlanta team that entered the game with a league-worst 15-37 record, including a horrific 4-21 rough record.

The Knicks should never have allowed themselves to be in a position against such a woeful opponent to be emotionally derailed by a call (it was the correct call according to the NBA rulebook).

This loss, more than any of the disheartening road losses, is the wake-up call. Knicks’ management needs to decide what is in the franchise’s best interest as Thursday’s NBA trade deadline approaches.

President Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry, two savvy basketball minds, have maintained since Day One of their regime that they’re committed to building a franchise that has sustained success.

They said they would do by developing young talent acquired through the draft and free agency. In other words, they have a 20-20 vision for the future of the Knicks.

So now is the time to decide if moving some players for the right return makes sense. Draft picks and any salary cap relief would be welcome.

Here’s what makes this a tough call. Mills and Perry also said it’s important for the team to get a taste of the playoffs. In recent days, Kanter and Porzingis have expressed a desire to keep the team intact and make a playoff push.

Kristaps Porzingis talks about how the Knicks can reach the playoffs and the success they've had against the Nets.

There is no easy answer. Certainly, no answer dominated by emotion should be trusted.

Yes, it would be thrilling to see a packed Garden for a playoff series and KP would consider that when he contemplates his long-term future with the team.

But facts are facts. The 76ers own the final playoff spot in the East with a .500 record. The Knicks would have to go 18-10 in their final 28 to get to .500. It’s a lot to ask of a team that has gone 6-17 since its high water mark of 17-14 in late December.

Those that equate trading players for picks or expiring contracts are getting a short view. The Knicks are looking for sustained success. That vision shouldn’t be distorted by one season.

[Watch Knicks-Bucks Tuesday on MSG & MSG GO]