Cam Reddish returned home to Atlanta, and to a series of hugs and selfies before he took a seat with his bum ankle and watched his new team beat his old team. He had wanted to leave the Hawks for a bigger role, and so the Knicks became a desired destination, and everyone in New York seemed perfectly happy with that.
Leon Rose, Knicks president, exchanged Kevin Knox and a protected first-round pick via Charlotte for Reddish, who had teamed with RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson in the ultimate heavyweight, one-and-done Coach K class in 2018-19. “I’m happy for him and it’s definitely cool to see my Duke brother back in the building,” Barrett said. Nobody was complaining about Rose’s ability to land another young and talented asset.
But forgotten amid the end-zone dances after the deal was done was this fairly significant fact: Reddish was searching for a team that needed him more than the Hawks did, and he thinks he has found one in the Knicks. In other words, he sees weaknesses on their roster that he can exploit, openings that he can fill, problems that he can solve.
Shouldn’t the Knicks he joined be a little offended by that?
Shouldn’t they be motivated to show Reddish that they don’t need his services quite as much as he thinks they do?
Saturday night in Atlanta, the Knicks beat the Hawks 117-108 to win their third straight game, and their eighth in the last 11, and move above .500 (22-21) for the first time since the start of December. Meanwhile, the unraveling opponent that terminated them last spring in the playoffs fell to 17-25. Barrett remained red hot with 26 points, and Julius Randle finished with 24 points and nine assists, and the Knicks generally played like a team that doesn’t need a guy who was the Hawks’ fourth-leading scorer.
That’s how they have to play across the second half of the season — like an inspired playoff contender that doesn’t need Reddish. If they want to show progress, Barrett and Randle and the rest will play effectively enough to compel coach Tom Thibodeau to keep the newest 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 to win, that’s what we have to do.”
Does Reddish give Thibs his best chance to win? Hey, it’s never a bad thing to acquire a talented 22-year-old perimeter shooter with a 7-foot-1 wingspan.
Unless you happen to be an older, more expensive teammate who essentially plays the same position.
Evan Fournier, 29, was signed for four years and $78 million over the summer to give the Knicks a desperately needed jolt on offense. Saturday night, with Reddish sitting courtside in street clothes, Fournier made some big plays in the fourth quarter and finished with 18 points. He has been great on some nights, and terrible on others. All in all, Fournier hasn’t made any meaningful impact on the bottom line. 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 in his draft (2019), and Fournier was the 20th pick in his (2012). They came together in one telling midcourt sequence in 2020, when Fournier was with the Magic and Reddish was with Atlanta. Reddish aggressively ripped the ball right out of Fournier’s hands, drove past him in the open floor and scored while getting fouled by Nikola Vucevic. The takeaway was startling enough for the NBA’s official Twitter account to post the video complete with a bulging bicep emoji (for Reddish) and a flushed-face embarrassed emoji (for Fournier).
They are teammates now, and competitors at the same time. Reddish wants more than the 23.4 minutes he was averaging this season for Atlanta. He won’t take considerable minutes away from Barrett, who’s already growing into a credible NBA star, and he won’t take considerable minutes away from the team’s point guards. So that leaves an obvious target. Fournier’s inconsistency has made him that target. His season has been all over the place.
If the Knicks are to return to the playoffs and maybe win a series this time, Fournier also has to elevate his own game and keep it there night after night after night. And that is where young Mr. Reddish comes in, once he’s healthy enough to take the floor. 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 excited about getting traded to New York because he thinks he can outplay a fair number of incumbents and earn more playing time than he was getting in Atlanta. Progress for the Knicks would be proving him wrong.