How do you follow a season in which many considered your team to have overachieved?
It's a question that faces a number of NBA teams, none more prevalent than the New York Knicks, who put an end to an eight-year postseason drought by finishing with a 41-31 record to earn the East's No. 4 seed in the 2020-21 season.
Only this overachievement was soon met with disappointment, as New York's playoff run ended at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks in just five games in the first round.
As a custom, our NBA.com Staff examined what's next for the Knicks following their elimination, but specific to the New York, the question burned even more given the high expectations that are levied upon successful sports franchises in New York City.
This offseason, the Knicks have made moves to build upon the successes from last season, and it begins with Julius Randle.
With averages of 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists over 71 games last season, Randle became the first Knick to earn an All-Star selection since 2018, the first since 2013 to earn All-NBA honours and the first in franchise history to win the league's Most Improved Player award.
Initially set to enter free agency in 2022, the Knicks made a long-term commitment to Randle, signing the 26-year-old to a four-year contract extension that will keep him with the franchise through the 2025-26 season and emphasizes his importance to the direction of the franchise.
It's no secret that Randle experienced his fair share of struggles in the postseason, as the Hawks made life difficult for him to where he struggled to create for himself or others. While playoff debuts are typically far from a walk in the park, Randle's struggles were also a product of just how much New York relied on him for its offence to be successful.
With that in mind, the franchise doubled down in its commitment to Randle with a series of offseason moves.
After making a handful of transactions on draft night, the Knicks ended with a return that earned a B- from NBA.com Draft Expert Kyle Irving , who felt that the addition of No. 25 overall pick Quentin Grimes addressed a need for shooting, while No. 36 overall pick Miles McBride was a guard who graded out as a first-rounder.
As free agency began, New York didn't have to look far for a number of key signings. The decision to re-sign Alec Burks, Taj Gibson, Nerlens Noel and Derrick Rose keep last year's core rotation intact, ensuring that the franchise would be running things back at the very least.
Each of the four veterans mentioned above had big moments in the postseason, but the disappointing end to the playoff run meant that simply running it back wouldn't be enough. The Knicks needed more, and with an abundance of cap space, they could make it happen.
With seven of NBA.com's top 10 ranked free agents electing to stay put , New York swiftly looked elsewhere, reaching an agreement with Evan Fournier, a deal that I listed as one of the most impactful of this free agency period .
#NewYorkForever- Evan Fournier (@EvanFourmizz) August 3, 2021
The presumed starter to replace free-agent loss Reggie Bullock, Fournier is the type of player who can diversify the Knicks' offence. It took him a while to find his footing as a member of the Boston Celtics, but Fournier will enter Knicks camp riding the momentum of an impressive showing at the Tokyo Olympics to lead his native France to a silver medal.
In adding a wing capable of creating offence, the load is lessened for Randle, a move that will truly show its value once the postseason comes along. Fournier is a career 14.3 points per game scorer and, over 42 games last season, shot 41.3 percent from deep on nearly seven attempts per game.
That's the makings of an offensive boost.
With one-half of the starting backcourt upgraded, the years-long question surrounding New York's starting point guard job still loomed. That is, until reports surfaced that the Knicks would be bringing Kemba Walker home upon his clearing waivers with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Walker, 31, has had troublesome knee issues over the past few seasons, which have impacted his productivity and efficiency. Still, the fact still remains that he is a four-time All-Star who could have a positive impact on this team should he shake some of his injury woes.
In two seasons with the Celtics, Walker averaged 19.9 points and 4.8 assists while appearing in 99 of a possible 144 regular-season games. The Bronx, NY native now gets to suit up nightly at Madison Square Garden, the place where he became a college basketball legend.
Should Walker slide into the starting point guard role, Rose can lead New York's second unit, a role he thrived in throughout the 2020-21 regular season, aiding with the development of the team's young talent, which is the final - and arguably biggest - piece of the puzzle.
Last season, I wrote about New York's youth movement that is headlined by 21-year-old RJ Barrett, a player who, in his second season, made great strides towards becoming a star in this league. Barrett, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, could one day take the reins as the franchise player, but with a team of established veterans around him, there's no pressure for him to perform ahead of schedule.
MORE: The best of Barrett's sophomore campaign
The expectation for New York's young talent should be to simply advance and improve year over year, which should bode well for 2021 All-Rookie selection Immanuel Quickley, while last year's No. 8 overall pick, Obi Toppin, has some ground to make up.
The Knicks' backcourt is more crowded than it was before, but it isn't necessarily a bad thing for Quickley, who can reprise his role as a second-unit sparkplug, all while learning from Rose to eventually become that type of player for this team. Like Quickley, Toppin has to find minutes in a crowded frontcourt, but he's shown flashes in the 2021 playoffs and summer league that remind us why he was a highly-touted prospect following his illustrious career at Dayton.
OBI GOIN' UP pic.twitter.com/JYDxIkQlkG- NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) August 8, 2021
Last, but not least, is Mitchell Robinson, the rim-protecting center that is oft-forgotten in Knicks discussions after missing 41 regular-season games and the entirety of the playoffs due to injury. After Barrett, Robinson could be the most promising young player in New York, as the 23-year-old had established himself as a full-time starter prior to going down with injury.
Robinson's injury made way for Noel's emergence, but, similar to the backcourt situation, a number of teams would love to have the problem of having too many rim-protecting bigs and not enough minutes.
The offseason is far from over, but the Knicks' activity suggests that they weren't satisfied with just ending the postseason drought, they have plans to continue to build around the duo of Barrett and Randle in hopes of staying among the top teams in the Eastern Conference for years to come.
In having depth at every position - both young and veterans - New York is on a path to ensure both the short- and long-term pictures are taken care of.
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