The New York Knicks mostly stood pat this summer following their most successful season in a decade. Meanwhile, after coming within one win of a second straight trip to the NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics made a series of splashy trades and signings.
Neither team will have to wait long for the first referendum on their respective approaches, as host New York will face the Celtics on Wednesday night in the season opener for both teams.
The Knicks finished fifth in the Eastern Conference last season at 47-35 and beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the eventual conference champion Miami Heat in a six-game semifinal series.
Getting past the Cavaliers gave New York its first postseason series victory since the spring of 2013. The Knicks employed six coaches while missing the playoffs in the subsequent seven seasons before Tom Thibodeau arrived and steered New York to a 41-31 record and a first-round exit in the spring of 2021.
New York made only one major move after missing the playoffs in 2021-22, signing Jalen Brunson, whose breakout season in the first year of his four-year deal steadied the Knicks while symbolizing their sum-is-better-than-the-parts approach — one that has them dubbed the professional version of the Villanova Wildcats.
Brunson, who averaged career highs of 24.0 points and 6.2 assists per game, was joined at last season’s trade deadline by Josh Hart, whom the Knicks acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers.
Donte DiVincenzo signed a four-year deal with New York on July 8. All three players were on Villanova’s national championship-winning team in 2016, while Brunson and DiVincenzo helped the Wildcats to another title in 2018.
But even after doubling down on their core, the Knicks understand an urgency exists in the Eastern Conference, where the Milwaukee Bucks added Damian Lillard and the Celtics acquired Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday.
“They were already good before the trade stuff,” Thibodeau said of the Bucks and Celtics. “It’s a great reminder that other teams in the East have gotten a lot better. … We have to come out ready to go.”
The Celtics (57-25 in 2022-23) made the playoffs for the ninth straight season, finishing second in the East behind the Bucks, and won two playoff rounds before losing to the Heat in seven games in the conference finals.
Boston began tinkering on June 23 with the trade of veteran leader Marcus Smart — a part of all nine of the Celtics’ recent playoff teams — in a three-way deal that brought Porzingis to Boston. The club then signed Porzingis to a two-year, $60 million extension.
Boston signed Jaylen Brown, who averaged 26.6 points per game last season, to a five-year extension worth up to an NBA-record $303.7 million on July 25 before acquiring Holiday, a member of the Bucks’ NBA championship team in 2021, from the Portland Trail Blazers earlier this month.
In exchange for Holiday, the Celtics sent Malcolm Brogdon, Robert Williams III and a pair of first-round picks to the Blazers.
But the expensive moves haven’t fazed the Celtics, who have fallen twice in the NBA Finals and five times in the Eastern Conference finals since their most recent title in the spring of 2008.
Another pricey extension may be on the horizon for Boston with star forward Jayson Tatum, who averaged 30.1 points per game last season and is entering the third year of a five-year deal.
“You’ve got to pay a good price for things, right?” Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens said. “That’s the way it goes. We’re trying to win a championship.”