Nearly three years ago, when the Knicks hired Donnie Walsh to clean up the mess Isiah Thomas had left, they essentially made a pact with their fans: Bear with us for just two more years, and come July 1, 2010 — when last summer's stacked free agent class hit the open market — we'll be relevant again. And so we waited for July 2010, Walsh delivered Amar'e Stoudemire, and though LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, the Knicks did indeed become relevant again. Not title contenders, but certainly relevant, and with some flexibility and room for growth. But all that waiting — for a day in July, no less? That was no fun.
And now that Jim Dolan, or Walsh, or whoever pulled the trigger on this trade has just about gutted the roster, it feels like we're being asked to wait yet again. Because suddenly the Knicks have very few commitments beyond the 2011–12 season, after which Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Dwight Howard can become free agents. They're not part of this trade, officially. But it would seem that they're a huge part of it.
Granted, the team we'll watch in the meantime is a lot stronger than those early D'Antoni-era squads — Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are better than anything D'Antoni had on his roster prior to this season — but it could be another sixteen months until this team's transformation is something close to complete. And so we'll wait for that now.
Anthony's presence alongside Stoudemire should make New York just that much more appealing to one of those free agents, any one of whom would fill a giant hole in this team's roster. Though by that point, Anthony will have just two years left on the extension he'll sign as part of this trade. (And right now, it's also anybody's guess who the Knicks GM will be a year from this summer.) If the goal of a front office is to assemble a championship team by any means necessary, then perhaps the Knicks are doing everything exactly right, adding major pieces one at a time, even if each takes a year or two to snap into place. And hey, at least they got to keep Landry Fields.
The process of building a title contender, it now seems, will consist largely of the Knicks hand-picking a Big Three of their own, no matter how long it takes. (And we suppose a rebuilding process is supposed to take awhile, even though the possibility of adding LeBron and some All-Star sidekick last summer allowed us to dream it could happen pretty quickly.) Eventually, the prize the Knicks will chase won't be a free agent (or in Anthony's case, a free-agent-to-be) but a championship trophy. But we're not there yet. (And we may never get there.) In the meantime, we must wait, again. The Chris Paul Watch begins now, whether we like it or not.