“I feel like I’m good here and people want me here, so I’m happy about the situation,” Ntilikina said a few hours after New York traded for Mudiay on Thursday. “I can’t wait to keep working on my game, taking time and being patient and be the best player I can be.”
Yes, Mudiay probably will take some minutes away from Ntilikina. And if Ntilikina was setting the league on fire every night, maybe the Knicks decide against trading for another young point guard.
But the deal New York made on Thursday was less an indictment of Ntilikina and more a product of where they are.
With Kristaps Porzingis out for at least the next 10 months due to an ACL tear, the Knicks are a loooong way from being competitive.
Even if Porzingis somehow returns before the end of the calendar year, New York should (and likely will) slow its rebuild. The focus should be on the 2018 and 2019 drafts and acquiring low-risk/high-reward players such as Mudiay in the interim.
So at face value, it seems odd for the Knicks to trade for another young point guard, but the Mudiay deal was more about asset acquisition than fit.
In the best-case scenario, Mudiay repairs the holes in his game and reaches the potential that many saw in him prior to the 2015 NBA draft. In the worst-case scenario, Mudiay fails to develop and New York decides to move on at the end of next season. Mudiay was acquired for one of the Knicks’ two 2018 second-round picks and Doug McDermott, a player who the organization didn’t view as part of its future. So this was a move the Knicks can afford to take a chance on.
They likely will be looking for more young, reasonably attainable players like Mudiay with Porzingis sidelined.
Before the Porzingis injury, management planned to continue to push for the playoffs. That plan, obviously, was thrown out the window when Porzingis went down.
In the wake of the injury, the Knicks were no longer trying to make a futile run at the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. They turned their focus on the 2018 draft and on determining which young players should be a part of their future. In other words, they were no longer trying to do two things at once.
This isn't to say that the Knicks' road ahead is an easy one. There are other lingering issues, such as figuring out a solution to the Joakim Noah problem. (As of earlier this week, Noah remained opposed to engaging in buyout talks with New York.) They also need to determine if head coach Jeff Hornacek, who has one year left on his contract, is the right person to lead the team going forward.
But, in a big-picture sense, things became clearer for New York over the last four days: There will be no quick fixes and no false saviors. Just like Porzingis’ rehab, the rehabilitation of the Knicks’ roster will be a long, arduous task.