Charles Barkley wasn’t having any of New York City native Kenny Smith‘s idea that the Knicks were “a piece away” from contending for a title. Stirred by Smith’s assertion, Barkley started naming a few of the players who might make what Smith said true: “LeBron, Giannis, Kevin Durant.”
Barkley’s point is that players like those three make any team a contender — even this year’s Lakers, if Barkley is taken at his word.
But Barkley’s bigger point is that the Knicks aren’t really a player away — not any player who could conceivably become a Knick any time soon.
Giannis is a Bucks forward until the cows jump over the moon, which won’t happen until at least 2024. And Durant is already in New York, though playing on the other side of the East River. His move from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to Madison Square Garden isn’t happening. That 5.5 miles between arenas may as well be a moonshot.
The Knicks have rightly engendered optimism about their future, surging to sixth place in the Eastern Conference behind the play of point guard Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, RJ Barrett and a cast of tough contributors. They play with passion and they’re fun to watch and root for — the Garden is hopping again — but that’s as far as it goes, the way Barkley assesses it.
Are they a piece away from “being an elite team” as Smith says? While calling the Knicks a “good little solid team,” Barkley’s ultimate conclusion will sting his pal Spike Lee and the rest of the Garden faithful. “They’re not even close,” Barkley says.