Knicks are turning from a laughing stock into a viable option for restless stars like Embiid or Doncic

Start spreading the news, NBA Free Agents will be leaving to be a part of it soon. You’ll want to play in a city that never sleeps as the franchise makes a brand new start: New York Knicks, New York.

This franchise has finally found the missing ingredient of respectability, and when the next marquee player is restless and looking for a team with championship skills, the Knicks will be at the top of the list, head of the bunch, king of the hill.

This small-town blues, created by a meddlesome owner, has melted away since 2020, when money-born billionaire Jim Dolan hired former agents Leon Rose and William Wesley, aka “Worldwide Wes,” to run the franchise direct, despite having no experience in the role after the failed Phil Jackson experiment.

The Knicks have restructured their image from incompetence to a professionally run franchise, and the team is rising from a nine-game winning streak to finish fifth in the Eastern Conference, 39-28.

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They are now in sight to overtake Cleveland, just a few games down the standings to secure home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 25: Jalen Brunson #11 of the New York Knicks celebrates after scoring a three point shot against the New Orleans Pelicans in the first half on February 25, 2023 in New York City. NOTICE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photograph, the user agrees to the terms of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Jalen Brunson with Julius Randle. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Only making the postseason looked doubtful at the start of the season after being missed outright last year following their surprise run to the second round in 2020-21.

Unlike two years ago, this Knicks resurgence has a solid foundation.

Not in the form of Julius Randle, though he’s regained the form that made him an All-NBA Second Team pick two years ago.

The arrival of Dallas point guard Jalen Brunson has given the Knicks what they’ve craved for decades — a playmaker who can organize the team on the ground and isn’t afraid to take on the big shots himself.

The 25-year-old became a rising star in Dallas last year, but the Mavericks didn’t spend the money to keep him and his father Rick – who had a season with Adelaide in the NBL in 1996 – on the coaching staff. The Knicks secured his signature in a suspiciously quick time as the free hand began.

When the four-year, $104 million deal was announced, there was an outcry from some Knicks fans and the usual outrage mongers in the media who questioned whether he was worth the investment.

He has responded with a jump from 16.3 points per game to 23.9, as well as other career highs in assists (6.2), steals (0.9) and three-point percent (41.1), despite his playing time only has risen by three minutes average.

Right now it looks like good value for money, and if the salary cap goes up in 2025, the final year of Brunson’s contract, which falls from $27 million to $24 million annually, will be the NBA’s steal when he gets his current path continues.

Brunson sat out the trip to Boston earlier this week with a foot injury and Immanuel Quickley went up 38 points as the Knicks upset the Celtics 131-129 in double overtime.

The nine-game bubble finally burst a few days later when the Knicks suffered a “planned loss” at home to Charlotte without Brunson.

With the Celtics and Milwaukee being the true contenders in the East, and Philadelphia likely the only other team that can contend for a spot in the NBA Finals, the Knicks’ best hope is their second-round appearance in three years.

But this time the future is so much brighter because they are a target now.

As one of the two biggest markets in the league, that should always have been the case, but time and time again in recent years, superstar free agents like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard wouldn’t even consider joining them, although they would have increased their profile exponentially.

Julius Randle #30 of the New York Knicks

Julius Randle. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Durant famously slammed the Knicks in 2019 when he explained why he joined little brother Brooklyn as Dolan’s years of mismanagement transformed the famed franchise into a tale of tragic comedy.

“Fans expect players to join the Knicks because of their brand, but players grew up watching the Knicks and they’re not cool anymore.”

Not only are the Knicks cool again, but after developing their draft picks like RJ Barrett, Quickley, Quentin Grimes, Mitchell Robinson, and to a lesser extent Obi Toppin, they have the cache to pull off a superstar trade.

They had an opportunity to lure Donovan Mitchell away from Danny Ainge’s teardown and rebuild in Utah last offseason but fell short of the asking price and Cleveland fell.

Mitchell was an All-Star starter and is having the best season of his career, but the Knicks can aim even higher.

The two big targets are Joel Embiid and Luka Doncic.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - APRIL 05: Joel Embiid #21 and James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers score at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in the fourth quarter against the Indiana Pacers on April 05, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTICE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photograph, the user agrees to the terms of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Joel Embid with James Harden. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Neither Superstar will be easy to land, but there is a path to NYC for both.

Embiid is The Process’s last remaining blue-chip asset in Philadelphia after Ben Simmons was sent home and the 76ers’ other lottery picks failed to live up to their promise.

James Harden, who was the upgrade the Sixers received when they dealt out Simmons, could be walking the offseason with reports of a possible return to Houston for the final years of his career.

The Sixers are an opportunity, but third best in the East, and if they flare up again in the playoffs, coach Doc Rivers will likely be canned, and aside from Tyrese Maxey, not much else is holding Embiid in the City of Brotherly Love if Harden is making his way forced another franchise.

Philly may be reluctant to trade with one of their oldest rivals within the Atlantic Division, but if the Knicks’ package is the best, 76ers GM Daryl Morey has made a career of following nontraditional ways of thinking.

Doncic’s Dallas tenure is the other MVP candidate being closely watched by Knicks fans.

The Slovenian maestro loves the limelight, and though he’s only just turned 24 and only in his fifth season, the Mavericks need to be bona fide title contenders fast or offer hope that a title is around the corner.

After investing several current and future assets in the Kyrie Irving trade, the Mavs (34-44) slipped to eighth in the Western Conference after Thursday’s loss to New Orleans.

Irving could run as a free agent in the offseason — a guy named LeBron James is apparently keen on reuniting with him at the Lakers — and even if he signs a new contract with Dallas, there’s little confidence in him The team is on course for a championship anytime soon (barring Boomer’s young gun Josh Green, of course).

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 13: Dallas Mavericks' Kyrie Irving #2 and teammate Luka Doncic #77 watch as the Mavericks play the Minnesota Timberwolves in the second half at the American Airlines Center on February 13, 2023 in Dallas, Texas . NOTICE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photograph, the user agrees to the terms of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

Another current star could be getting restless and suddenly popping up on the Knicks’ radar in the next year or so.

As great as he was and still is, the ship has sailed on Damian Lillard, who is the Knight in Shining Armor for New York. Unfortunately, his loyalty to Portland wasn’t reciprocated in the form of a high-profile support cast.

LIllard turns 33 in July, and with the Trail Blazers once again treading water in mid-table, his best hope of snagging a championship ring in the twilight of his career is becoming a second option with a young star, like Chris Paul did with Phoenix’s Devin Booker … and now getting Kevin Durant to join in the fun too.

For Knicks fans, who have been waiting for the team’s first title since 1973, it was always hope that killed them.

But now they have more than hope — a functioning franchise with a burgeoning team and a definite possibility of finally luring a superstar free agent to the Big Apple.

What could go wrong? Who is the owner again? Knicks are turning from a laughing stock into a viable option for restless stars like Embiid or Doncic

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