Cam Reddish returned home to Atlanta and took a series of hugs and selfies before sitting down with his ankle and watching his new team beat his old team. He had wanted to leave the Hawks for a bigger role, and so the Knicks became a go-to destination, and everyone in New York seemed perfectly happy with that.
Knicks president Leon Rose traded Kevin Knox and a protected first-round pick through Charlotte for Reddish, who teamed with RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson in the ultimate heavyweight Coach K class in 2018-19. “I’m happy for him and it’s really cool to see my brother Duke back in the building,” Barrett said. No one was complaining about Rose’s ability to land another young and talented asset.
But that rather important fact was forgotten amid the endzone dances after the deal was done: Reddish was looking for a team that needed him more than the Hawks, and he thinks he found one in the Knicks. In other words, he sees weaknesses on their roster that he can exploit, openings he can fill, problems he can solve.
Shouldn’t the Knicks he joined be a little offended by this?
Shouldn’t they be motivated to show Reddish that they don’t need his services as much as he thinks?
Saturday night in Atlanta, the Knicks beat the Hawks 117-108 to win their third straight game, and eighth in the last 11, to go above .500 (22-21) for the first time since early December. Meanwhile, the struggling opponent that ended them last spring in the playoffs has fallen to 17-25. Barrett stayed red with 26 points, and Julius Randle finished with 24 points and nine assists, and the Knicks generally played like a team that didn’t need a guy who was the Hawks’ fourth-leading scorer.
That’s how they have to play through the second half of the season — like an inspired playoff contender who doesn’t need Reddish. If they want to show progress, Barrett and Randle and the others will play effectively enough to force coach Tom Thibodeau to keep the new Knick glued to the bench.
“We’re only going to do what’s best for the team, period,” Thibodeau said. “Whatever gives us the best chance of winning is what we have to do.”
Is Reddish giving Thibs his best shot at winning? Hey, it’s never a bad thing to get a talented 22-year-old perimeter shooter with a 7-foot-1 wingspan.
Unless you’re an older, more expensive teammate playing essentially the same position.
Evan Fournier, 29, was signed for four years and $78 million over the summer to give the Knicks a desperately needed offensive jolt. Saturday night, with Reddish sitting courtside in street clothes, Fournier made big plays in the fourth quarter and finished with 18 points. He was great some nights and terrible others. Overall, Fournier had no significant impact on net income. The Knicks have won 22 of their first 43 games with him this year after winning 21 of their first 43 games without him last year.
Reddish was the 10th pick of his draft (2019) and Fournier was the 20th pick of his (2012). They came together in a revealing middle streak in 2020, when Fournier was with the Magic and Reddish was with Atlanta. Reddish aggressively snatched the ball from Fournier’s hands, passed him into the open ground and scored while getting fouled by Nikola Vucevic. The takeaway was startling enough that the official NBA Twitter account posted the video with a bulging bicep emoji (for Reddish) and an embarrassed red face emoji (for Fournier).
They are now teammates and competitors at the same time. Reddish wants more than the 23.4 minutes he averaged this season for Atlanta. He won’t take considerable minutes from Barrett, who is already becoming a credible NBA star, and he won’t take considerable minutes from the team’s point guards. So that leaves an obvious target. Fournier’s inconsistency made him that target. His season has been everywhere.
If the Knicks are to get back to the playoffs and maybe win a series this time, Fournier must also elevate his own game and keep it up night after night after night. And that’s where young Mr. Reddish comes in, once he’s healthy enough to speak. Competition brings out the best (and worst) in people, and the same executive who signed Fournier for that $78 million just hired a potential replacement. If Fournier has more to give, now would be the time to give it.
The same goes for his teammates. Reddish was thrilled to be traded to New York because he thinks he can outplay a lot of starters and gain more playing time than he was getting in Atlanta. Progress for the Knicks would prove him wrong.