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Injuries might be a blessing in disguise for the Knicks. Is the Julius Randle era over in New York?

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The New York Knicks saw their season come to a bitter end in Game 7 in the second round of the 2024 NBA Playoffs, losing on their home floor to the Indiana Pacers behind a historic shooting display. Indiana connected on 67.1% of its shots to set a playoff record, hitting 54.2% of its triples in the 130-109 win. The Knicks had chances to get back in the game and did cut the deficit to single digits in the second half but ultimately the story of the season continued for New York.

Injuries are part of the game, but the Knicks saw key injuries happen at inopportune times. Julius Randle, who was averaging 24 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, went down with a shoulder injury and never returned. OG Anunoby suffered an elbow issue in the regular season before returning for the playoffs. He had a hamstring injury at the end of Game 2 in the Indiana series and did try to give it a go in Game 7, hitting the opening two shots in his best Willis Reed impression. However, that was all he would do in five minutes of action. Bojan Bogdanovic, a trade deadline add who was seen as the experienced veteran to help the Knicks in key moments, was shelved with foot and wrist issues. Mitchell Robinson, who was thought to be done for the year, did return only to suffer a stress injury in the playoffs.

Jalen Brunson suffered a fractured hand at the end of Game 7. He should be back for the start of the 2024-25 season. Josh Hart, who logged complete games at times for the Knicks, played through an abdominal strain in Game 7 after picking up the injury in Game 6. Donte DiVincenzo, who went for 39 points in Game 7, appeared to be battling back and ankle issues in that contest.

Despite these hits, the trio of Brunson, DiVincenzo and Hart pushed this group to the end of the second round. Isaiah Hartenstein became a key rotation piece and will have plenty of suitors this offseason, while Alec Burks and Miles McBride also emerged as rotation players. McBride really thrived late in the Pacers series and should be a key part of the rotation to open next season. The Knicks have done the hard part by finding a core group that plays well together and wants to play together. They likely have a plan to re-sign Anunoby, who was an in-season addition at the cost RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley. He propelled the Knicks to a new level defensively and was able to hit timely shots to relieve some pressure from Brunson on offense.

That leaves the question of Randle, who is on the books for next season with a player option for 2025-26. The power forward is scheduled to make $30.3 million next year but the Knicks might be ready to make a move now after a surprising playoff run. Brunson has shown he can carry a team, while Hart and DiVincenzo stepped up in the pressure moments. Anunoby’s injury might have ultimately been one straw too many for New York to handle but the team made a run without who many would view as the second-best player.

The Knicks were +5.8 in net rating with Randle, going 29-17 overall. They went 21-15 without him and had a net rating of +3.8, although that did coincide with a stretch where Anunoby was also out. Does that bump in net rating justify the contract, especially if the spread-out salary would allow for a deeper rotation where head coach Tom Thibodeau could rest his key players more in the regular season?

Randle’s trade market might not be as abundant as one would think. He did put up solid numbers and is in his prime at 29, but his three-point shooting is unlikely to return to acceptable levels and his defense isn’t great. He’s versatile enough to be a positive defender if he has the right players around him but he should be better than that at his price point. Would the Thunder, Rockets or Magic gut some of their rotation to bring him in?

New York has plenty of assets to make a trade for another “star” but it also has other free agents to deal with. Hartenstein, Burks and Precious Achiuwa will all hit the market. They proved to be competent enough to be brought back. Bogdanovic has a non-guaranteed deal but will likely take a pay cut if he feels the Knicks offer him a shot at a ring. Anunoby will need a new deal. Moving Randle might be a necessity, especially if the Knicks want to bring all these guys back and still make some moves.

The Knicks were actually -.2 in net rating in the first round against the 76ers, but made the key plays in key moments to take the series 4-2. They were +.8 through five games against the Pacers before the blowout in Game 6 and the loss in Game 7, finishing with a -4.5 net rating. Three of those first five games were played without Anunoby. There’s an argument to be made for the Knicks trying to find a deal for Randle to add depth while bringing back the key pieces from this playoff run. New York has two first-round picks this season and could potentially add two back-end rotation pieces.

Star hunting, something the Knicks have tried to do historically, has its own challenges. There aren’t many available and it’ll cost most of New York’s depth to make that happen. Extending Anunoby will cost enough, but adding another star would mean the Knicks would once again be banking on health with a thin rotation. Given Thibodeau’s history of not managing player workloads, that’s not exactly guaranteed.

New York’s best course of action is to bring back its own free agents while searching for a Randle deal. As good as the forward was, the Knicks showed they could win without him. Brunson is the face of the franchise and has proven himself in the playoffs, as have Hart and DiVincenzo. Anunoby is a champion. Randle has carved out a solid career for himself but he appears to be the odd man out in New York’s return to contender status.

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