30 Teams in 30 Days | 2023

30 teams in 30 days: Knicks aiming higher in East behind Jalen Brunson

After Jalen Brunson's arrival launched a run to the conference semifinals, New York enters 2023-24 with heightened expectations.

Julius Randle (left) turned in another All-NBA campaign and Jalen Brunson helped elevate the Knicks to 5th in the East.

Key addition

  • G Donte DiVincenzo (free agency) 

Key subtractions

  • G Derrick Rose, F Obi Toppin

Last season

The Knicks elevated themselves from mid to upper-level in the East and it was reason to celebrate for a franchise that was running in mud for more than a decade. A No. 5 seed and 47 wins was good enough and then the Knicks did one better by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round.

Much of this was due to Jalen Brunson, who arrived in free agency from the Dallas Mavericks and triggered the turnaround. Brunson was everything the Knicks lacked: A leader, playmaker and late-game savior. The club felt safe with the ball in his hands and more often than not, he confirmed that confidence, averaging 24 points and 6.2 assists per game.

Even better, he helped resuscitate Julius Randle, who faltered in 2021-22 and fell out of favor among the fans mainly because he handled the ball too much (and made mistakes with it). With Brunson on the ball, Randle turned to his strengths: finishing plays (instead of starting them) and sticking close to the basket (instead of launching ill-advised deep jumpers). Randle proved beastly again (25.1 ppg, 10 rpg) as he was among the league’s better power forwards, made the All-Star team and the All-NBA Third Team.

Check out these highlights from Julius Randle's All-NBA season in 2022-23.

As a bonus, the Knicks made a mid-season deal for Brunson’s college teammate Josh Hart and he fit in quickly and smoothly, and he signed a reported four-year, $81 million extension in the summer. The Knicks played better defense for coach Tom Thibodeau and finally, Knicks fans had reason to cheer. 

Summer summary

The Knicks are feeling good about the status quo, and also the potential for this team to rise even higher, so this was a rather quiet summer on the movement front. 

Well, they did admit a mistake: Toppin never become the centerpiece-type player that New York hoped when he was drafted in the lottery (No. 8 overall) a few years ago. Toppin’s improvement since his underwhelming rookie season proved marginal, with an 2022 AT&T Slam Dunk win marking the apex.

He was more athlete than basketball player, someone with tremendous hops and length, but not much pure basketball skill as in dribbling and shooting, along with court recognition. He plunged lower and lower in Thibodeau’s rotation, and when that happens, an exit is inevitable.

So Toppin was traded to the Indiana Pacers for a pair of second round picks, indicative of what the market was for him. It wasn’t as much a trade as it was an act of mercy by the Knicks, who gave him away.

Same, too, went for Rose, although the decision not to bring him back was done with a bit of emotion by Thibodeau because the two have a long history together. Yet Rose was taking up space on the bench at the expense of younger players and wasn’t part of the future. He eventually inked a deal with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Replacing him will be DiVincenzo, who had good stints as a backup in Milwaukee and Golden State. Even better, he reunites with his former Villanova teammates (and fellow guards) in Brunson and Hart. 

Otherwise, the summer was all about repping your country: Brunson played on Team USA, and Barrett with Canada. The Knicks had to feel good about having two starters on prominent teams in the FIBA World Cup as it reflects well on the organization — and where this team might be headed in 2023-24.

Up next: Brooklyn Nets | Previously: Orlando Magic

> 30 teams in 30 days: Complete schedule

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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