New York, where he was born, where he grew up in the Dyckman Street projects, where he first rose to prominence at Manhattan’s Power Memorial Academy.
And Los Angeles, where he had become the greatest college basketball player of all time at UCLA, with three national titles, three Final Four Most Outstanding Player Awards and a three-year record of 88-2.
Kareem preferred New York, and the Knicks tried to topple the Bucks with dollars. “They tried to intimidate us with money,” Bucks general manager Wayne Embry said, and the Bucks would not be bullied and chose to ship their star out west for a herd of players and draft picks.
So began the Knicks’ never-ending quest for the perfect piece, the Five Star Acquisition. Over the years this has sometimes taken the form of unhappy and unrequited affection (George McGinniss, Kevin McHale, LeBron James, Kevin Durant) and at times resulted in consumption that was not as appealing after the fact (Spencer Haywood , Bob McAdoo, Marvin Webster, Stephon Marbury, Carmelo Anthony). Once every 45 years, a heavenly spark happened organically – and even that was 35 years ago, when Patrick Ewing came via the project. And so began a new fruitless task for the Knicks, the search for a suitable winger.
Research. Still looking. Forty-five years now. And still looking.
On Tuesday, they learned that, when it comes to the Bucks’ contemporary response to Kareem, there won’t even be a window to build momentum for the pursuit. Giannis Antetokounmpo chose to stay in the city of cream, accepting a five-year super-max contract worth $ 228.2 million. So much for all the fun speculation that was going to get us through a long winter here.
“The system is in place to help the team that drafted the player keep him,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said shortly after Antetokounmpo announced his agreement on Twitter. “It’s a big advantage. It is difficult to convince someone to leave.
Thibodeau was team president once, in Minneapolis, and he once coached the best player in the league, the best player in the league, Derrick Rose, in Chicago. He knows well that it takes stars to win big in the NBA.
“It’s essential,” he says. “It has to be a priority, for an organization to look for opportunities.”
Where does that leave the Knicks?
Looking for the right path. Free agency suddenly looks less appealing, with Antetokounmpo off the table. Next summer promises some intriguing plays – Victor Oladipo, Jrue Holiday – but only one true cornerstone of the franchise – Kawhi Leonard, if he steps down, and he didn’t seem very inclined to watch the Knicks’ path last time around. .
The Knicks could try to identify a trade, and they have a lot of draft assets to throw in a deal, though it’s questionable how well the actual players on the roster could help attract any kind of. high level interest.
That leaves player development, which is something the Knicks should be hoping for right now. There are three players on the roster who, if things turn out well, if the potential becomes production and promises results, could eventually emerge: Mitchell Robinson, RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin.
None of this troika is given. Robinson, for all of his obvious advantages, still struggles to stay on the floor and is always best described as “raw” as he enters third grade. Barrett looks like he has taken some great steps forward, he looks stronger, he looks more confident and he won’t be 21 until June. And Toppin is in the first few yards of a 10k race; if he’s progressing as a pro at the rate he did as a college kid… well, that’s a worthy dream for Knicks fans.
“When you look at it, each team takes a lot of different paths to get stars,” Thibodeau. “Sometimes it’s the development phase. You have to be very aggressive in finding these opportunities. They don’t just happen by accident. Sometimes you have to realize them. ”
The example Thibodeau often cites is Jimmy Butler, who barely played as a rookie in Chicago in 2012 and struggled badly the following year, but in 4th grade was an All-Star and has now become a player. of the league’s top 10, a founding player. for an NBA finalist in Miami. Thibodeau saw this development up close in Chicago, saw the fruits of this work (even briefly) in Minnesota.
Apply this learning curve to any of these three Knicks and they’ll have something; apply it to two (or three) of them? Then maybe you’ve got something organic, something real, and something that can finally end a 45-year quest for the perfect piece. It might not be the easiest way. But it could still be the best.