Stay or Go: Should the Knicks bring back Julius Randle?

The Knicks are entering arguably the most pivotal offseason of the Leon Rose era, fresh off back-to-back second-round defeats with the new CBA and its restrictive covenants looming. While the team should feel secure running it back with the same roster, they’ve been angling to make a star trade for years, and may feel this is their last big chance to do it.

Julius Randle could very well be a part of such a trade given his contract size and All-Star talent. At face value, shopping a perennial All-NBA player as you approach the cusp of contention seems odd, but if the Knicks feel the right move pushes them over the edge, everything’s on the table.

What would that move be, and should the Knicks even consider it?

Let’s begin with Randle, who put up 25.5 points, nine rebounds and five assists on 50 percent shooting from the field and 33 percent from three since early November. It was a bittersweet season that started rough, ramped into a magical fully healthy January that coincided with the OG Anunoby trade, and ultimately ended with a separated shoulder.

If there were any doubts left about Randle’s regular season production, this season should have extinguished it. Randle once again brought big numbers and winning basketball to the table, fine tuning his game yet again as he’s proven to constantly evolve like other greats.

Perhaps the most convincing stretch was after the Anunoby trade, when the Knicks steamrolled the league and Randle looked like an ideal blend of heliocentric creation and system cog. New York looked like certified contenders, with Randle being a key piece of that group.

After his and Anunoby’s injuries, the Knicks struggled to maintain a .500 pace for a little while until Anunoby returned. Even then, Randle’s absence was deeply felt, with the Knicks starving for offensive creation beyond Jalen Brunson.

Still, the group clicked and fought their way to a strong playoff run as the injuries mounted late. Fans were robbed of seeing Randle compete at that stage, in what’s likely to be a major factor in the front office’s decision-making.

To this point, Randle hasn’t performed close to his usual level in the postseason. The 2021 Hawks series was too much for him and he was hurt during the 2023 run, able to piece some strong games together but largely struggling.

Whether or not Randle can contribute at a championship level during a championship run is an open question, one Knicks management can’t sit around waiting to find out with the new CBA coming and an extension due Randle’s way. And so, this summer’s crossroads: trade him, or run it back?

There are three trade paths: trading Randle for parts, another similar All-Star, or packaging him for a superstar. The former two make little to no sense for this team.

Some corners of Knicks fandom may believe this team is better without Randle, but no statistical or objective analysis would back that up. His offensive output is matched by few, same with his build at the four spot, which allows him to positively impact the defense and glass when locked in.

Brunson can’t handle offense generation on his own, and though the Knicks successfully piecemealed it for a while, having a 25+ PPG guy that can get two feet in the paint and find open shooters when he pleases takes a huge burden off. There’s simply way more value to that than a pu pu platter of more plucky Nova-types.

They can trade Randle for someone in a similar tier that fits this team better, but the Knicks would be hard-pressed to find such a name. The primary things New York needed more of this postseason — offensive creation, size, and strength — Randle provides in spades.

Mikal Bridges is an interesting idea as another Villanova alum that’s best suited as a super-3-and-D supplementary guy, but he struggled creating this season and is arguably worse than Randle overall. Lauri Markkanen and Dejounte Murray bring their own unique looks — but at what cost?

We just witnessed New York go 14-2 in January with their current configuration. Expecting one of the above names to replace Randle and deliver better is optimistic, to say the least.

Finally, there’s trading for someone clearly above Randle’s level. If there’s a trade to make involving him that nets the Knicks someone like Devin Booker, LeBron James or Kevin Durant, they’d have to consider it.

Even then, bringing someone that’s a culture onto themselves into a locker room with an already-defined culture that’s proven successful is a risky gambit. Doing so at the expense of Randle may make any deal untenable.

Anything can happen come the offseason, but don’t be shocked if the Knicks end up standing pat, especially on Randle. The stars-first approach has taken some bumps and bruises in past years relative to organic teambuilding, with New York being a prime example.

If Mitchell Robinson gets traded, Randle will be the longest tenured Knick on the roster, the last remnant of the pre-Rose era of failure. He’s rocked the blue-and-orange through those struggles, his clash with Knicks fans in 2022, and every painstaking step taken to revive this once-destitute franchise.

Fans and management alike should want to see that continue.

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