In the two decades that passed between coach Jeff Van Gundy’s resignation in 2001 and the end of the 2020-2021 NBA season, no franchise spent more money, lost more games or won fewer playoff series than the lowly New York Knicks.

But now, the team is in the postseason for the third time in four years and the tide has finally shifted, with the organization winning a first-round series for just the fifth time in 25 years. This shift is about more than playoff success, though. Look closely: The past six years have slowly signaled a new era of Knicks basketball. Intentional or not, it has been one defined by steady progress; smart player and organizational development; identity; and culture — after decades of wild free agent spending and misses; coaching changes; and negative headlines — all potentially leading to a period of sustained winning for the first time since the turn of the century.

Here are the eight touchpoint moves and moments that have fueled the Knicks’ resurrection.

Jan. 30, 2019: The Knicks trade franchise cornerstone Kristaps Porzingis

It raised eyebrows when a team in the midst of a 17-win campaign moved on from its best young player, but that’s exactly what the Knicks did in trading their 23-year-old star.

The 7-foot-3 center, easily the most talented homegrown player the Knicks had rostered since Patrick Ewing, had torn an ACL the previous season and was due a massive raise of $31.6 million per year that offseason. As such, the organization dealt him to the Dallas Mavericks for a pair of first-round picks and Dennis Smith Jr., and unloaded a pair of players on bloated contracts, Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr., who were making $12 million and nearly $18 million per year, respectively. The move, made by then-general manager Scott Perry, allowed the Knicks to have up to $71 million in cap space that summer.

The New York Knicks drafted Kristaps Porzingis as a fourth pick in the 2015 draft and in 2019 was traded to the Dallas Mavericks — the catalyst for the Knicks to add essential assets for the future. Kristaps Porzingis Knicks

Porzingis could win a title as the third star in Boston this season. And Smith didn’t pan out for New York. Still, it was a positive reset for the Knicks, who not only cleared their books of bad deals but added some assets moving forward — unimaginable priorities for the organization for much of the prior two decades.

June 30, 2019: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — Knicks’ free agent targets — join Brooklyn

Success can come in many forms. This form … was luck. Many Knicks fans hoped that when the club traded Porzingis, it was because the team had intel that Durant, and possibly Irving, too, were coming to New York.

They did — to Brooklyn. Durant and Irving famously joined the up-and-coming Nets, and Durant jabbed at his New York counterpart, saying, “The cool thing right now is not the Knicks.”

The Knicks, largely panned in free agency that summer after whiffing on Durant, pivoted to land forward Julius Randle — a player who’d never been an All-Star but who had loads of upside.

In his five seasons with New York, Randle has averaged 23 points, 10 rebounds and nearly 5 assists, and has been named to the All-NBA team twice — incredible production and value for a player earning just under $30 million per season.

March 2, 2020: The Knicks hire former player agent Leon Rose as team president, and Rose eventually hires Tom Thibodeau as coach

Owner Jim Dolan took a different approach in hiring Rose to take over the Knicks’ basketball operations — a former player agent who’d never run an NBA team. Then, as Rose’s first acquisition of note, he hired the defense-minded Thibodeau, immediately giving the Knicks an identity.

The New York Knicks hired Tom Thibodeau as their head coach in 2020 and in his first season, he helped the organization to their first playoff appearance since 2012-13. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Coming into that first year, New York’s developing roster was pegged at a 22.5 over/under total but shocked the league with 41 victories and a playoff berth, the Knicks’ first since 2013. Thibodeau earned Coach of the Year honors in his first season at the helm.

May 2020: Rose revamps the front office and expands the organization’s player-development staff

The two elements that contributed most to the Knicks’ yearslong malaise were poor salary cap management and seemingly nonexistent player development. If and when young players showed promise, they often were shuttled out of town as soon to bring in the next big name. Consider this: The Knicks went a whopping 23 years — from 1999 with Charlie Ward to 2022 with RJ Barrett — without extending one of their first-round draft picks on a multiyear contract.

That carousel has slowed down considerably in recent years since the team overhauled its front office during the 2020 offseason.

Brock Aller, who’d developed a reputation for his salary-cap wizardry with the Cleveland Cavaliers, was brought in as the team’s vice president of strategy. Meanwhile, Walt Perrin, who served as the vice president of player personnel for 19 years with the Utah Jazz, and Frank Zanin, who came over from the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he’d served as the assistant GM of pro personnel, took over the Knicks’ college and pro scouting, respectively.

Later in summer 2020, the club brought in a pair of assistants in Kenny Payne (who’d worked alongside then-Kentucky coach John Calipari for years in helping develop a number of prospects) and Johnnie Bryant (who’d worked in player development under Quin Snyder in Utah) in hopes of generating more tangible growth from New York’s youngsters.

1 Related

Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride were all drafted between 2018 and 2022, and each of them were — or, in Robinson’s and McBride’s cases, are — meaningful contributors in New York’s slim rotation. “They’re easily top five in that department lately,” said one Western Conference executive of the Knicks’ recent player development.

“You create an identity of who you are and who you want to be, and then you sign to it, trade to it, draft to it and develop it,” one member of New York’s personnel group said, in explaining the club’s approach.

“You need all those parts for it to work, and the developmental part was huge for us.”

July 2022: The Knicks sign Jalen Brunson

Less than two years ago, there was ample criticism and debate about whether the Knicks had overpaid Brunson by signing him to a four-year, $104 million free agent deal.

Jalen Brunson has risen into a superstar for the New York Knicks, averaging 36 points per game through the first two games of the Eastern conference semifinals against the Indiana Pacers. Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Now, with Brunson on the cusp of superstardom, his contract is perhaps the best bargain in the league. In becoming the first player in NBA history with four consecutive games of 40 points and five assists in the playoffs, the 27-year-old Brunson has surpassed everyone’s wildest expectations. And the southpaw has forced everyone, including some within the organization, to rethink what might be possible for the Knicks in the near future — even with Randle out, and even without the Knicks using their collection of draft assets as part of a trade for another star.

Sept. 1, 2022: The Knicks fall short in trading for Donovan Mitchell

No, the Knicks haven’t cashed in their future picks for a top-15 star. But they considered it shortly after acquiring Brunson.

They tried, and failed, to get Mitchell from Utah, reportedly offering two unprotected first-round picks along with players such as Barrett and Quickley, among other offers. But Rose and the Knicks’ front office held firm and declined to meet Utah’s asking price — reportedly three firsts, plus Barrett and Grimes — prompting the Jazz to make a deal with the Cavaliers instead.

As subtle as it might seem, doing so, and losing out on a max-level star, signaled massive organizational growth. For years, the Knicks caved and gave up too much in high-level decisions like these.

The 2023-24 regular season is complete, and the postseason is underway. We have everything you need to follow along for another epic title chase.

Herring: A strength and a flaw for each teamPelton: OKC’s title window is wide openMacMahon: The art of the decel moveTinsley: Anthony Edwards’ superstar turnPaine: The first round’s top 20 players

There was the deal in 2011, in which New York sent its first-round draft pick (which later became Jamal Murray) and a third of its budding roster to Denver in exchange for Nuggets superstar Carmelo Anthony, who could have joined the Knicks as a free agent the following offseason. And then, in July 2013, the Knicks famously made a deal with Toronto, giving up a first-round pick (which eventually was used to trade for Kawhi Leonard), two second-round picks and Steve Novak, who’d led the NBA in 3-point percentage the year before. In return, New York got former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani, an injury-prone player whose 3-point shot had regressed so badly that the Raptors were reportedly considering waiving him that summer if they couldn’t find a taker.

This time, with Mitchell, the Knicks drew a line in the sand and had the discipline not to cross it.

April 26, 2023: New York eliminates Mitchell and the Cavaliers in five games in the opening round of the playoffs

Perhaps the best validation of the Knicks’ choice to pass on Mitchell was their first-round domination of the Cavs last season.

Despite Cleveland having home-court advantage in the series, New York bullied the Cavs — particularly on the offensive glass — highlighting the traits that have long been hallmarks of Thibodeau teams. The series victory marked the Knicks’ first in 10 years, dating back to the Anthony era.

December 30, 2023: The Knicks trade for defensive standout OG Anunoby

Go back to last season’s trade deadline, and you’ll see the scuttlebutt: A couple of teams, at least, were willing to hand the Raptors three first-round picks to land Anunoby.

OG Anunoby spent six full seasons with the Toronto Raptors before being traded to the Knicks at this season’s trade deadline. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Yet again, the Knicks were atypically patient, and they were able to snag him this season without surrendering a single pick. Instead, they developed their young prospects — in this case Quickley and Barrett — to land the star stopper. The acquisition moved the needle immediately for the Knicks. Their defense improved when he was on the court, from 115 points surrendered per 100 possessions without him (19th in the NBA) to just 100.9 points allowed per 100 with him (best in the NBA). But so did the Knicks’ offense, as a result of the spacing and versatility the free-agent-to-be has brought to New York. Anunoby registered as a positive plus/minus in all 23 of his regular-season appearances with the Knicks, and had by far the NBA’s best per-game plus/minus once the calendar flipped to 2024. Including the playoffs, New York has gone 26-5 with him in the lineup so far.