Stephen A. Smith Knicks Free Agent Hub Edit by Liam McGuire, Comeback Media.

After the Minnesota Timberwolves swept the Phoenix Suns, Stephen A. Smith claims Devin Booker is the latest NBA star who wants to be in New York.

That’s been a common trend over the years, as Smith has long linked stars to his beloved Knicks, but it never—not once—has worked out. Perhaps that’ll change now that the franchise has changed its trajectory for the better, but we still wanted to look at all those players that Smith has linked to the Knicks over the years, whether it was actual reporting, hypothetical trade scenarios, or purely wishful thinking.

LeBron James

Smith was vocal about his desire for James to join the Knicks earlier in the season. In fact, he’s gone all-in on recruiting LeBron to come to the Knicks now that the franchise is back on the upswing.

“If LeBron James wants to put himself in a position to win a championship, get traded to the New York Knicks,” Smith said in February. Centerstage, Madison Square Garden, the Mecca!” Smith said before listing a litany of reasons why the Knicks are playing so well right now.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

It’s implausible to Stephen A. Smith that a franchise centerpiece and NBA superstar would be content to play in a city like Milwaukee versus the bright lights of New York. Naturally, Smith once believed Antetokounmpo could be open to playing for the Knicks even though he signed a contract extension with the Bucks and publicly committed to the city and franchise.

“The New York Knicks — a respectable franchise these days — are moving on up,” Smith said last May. “It is New York. And Kendrick Perkins, before you just shove aside this notion, I ask a rhetorical question before handing it off to you. Would Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant be gone if they had decided to wear Knicks uniforms instead of Brooklyn? Because when you consider the brand that is the Knicks, and the money that comes with that, the success — what you’re able to benefit from.

“There’s no way that if you’re Giannis, you’re thinking about that. And if ain’t LA, then it’s New York. I don’t rule out the possibility of Giannis wanting to come to New York at all.”

Kevin Durant & Kyrie Irving

In 2019, Smith reported that it was a “foregone conclusion” that Durant and Irving would link up and form the NBA’s newest superteam with the Knicks.

“From everything that I’ve been hearing over the last few days, Kyrie Irving his heading to New York City,” Smith said via MassLive. “Kyrie Irving is heading to Madison Square Garden with Kevin Durant. People in his inner circle are trying to bring the Nets into the mix, but clearly New York is the destination, the likelihood is that it will be MSG.”

“It appears to be a foregone conclusion,” Smith said. “I don’t know whether that’s true or not. Neither Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving are talking about these things. But I am telling you what the belief is. They are destined to go to MSG.”

Of course, that didn’t happen as the pair instead teamed up in the borough of Brooklyn to play for the Nets, not the Knicks.

But that didn’t stop Smith from weighing in several years later on how Durant could have reshaped the Knicks’ mentality.

“Kevin Durant, had he gone to the New York Knicks, he would’ve owned that city,” said Smith. “Oh my God, with his greatness at Madison Square Garden…Now, JJ Redick, I know you know this. There’s Brooklyn, and then there’s New York. Brooklyn is a borough. New York, it’s New York. There’s no fanbase in Brooklyn that remotely compares to the New York Knicks. You understand?

“If that man went there, he could’ve single-handedly changed the culture of the Knicks into what it is now, if not even better than that. Because as great and phenomenal as Jalen Brunson is and as happy and proud as I am of him and what he has done, there’s only one Kevin Durant. Lord have mercy; what might have been.”

Despite his baggage, Smith also argued that the embattled Irving could have been the spark the Knicks desperately needed when it was time for Irving to leave the Nets. Instead of moving across town, Irving went to the Dallas Mavericks to be teammates with Luka Doncic.

“If I’m a Knicks fan, I don’t know if I can say no to Kyrie Irving,” he said. “I don’t know if I can do that. Look, man, desperate times call for desperate measures, and this brother is a superstar talent. He is box-office, OK? I’m sorry. Now, don’t get me wrong, let’s not get beside myself. Ain’t no way in hell I’m giving him more than one year at a time in terms of guaranteed dollars. I have held that position; I don’t care who it’s for. You don’t give Kyrie Irving a long-term guaranteed contract because you can’t trust him. You can’t trust him to show up to work.

“But once he’s at work, oh, I’ll take him over 90% of the league. It might be higher than that. He is that spectacular. And when you’re the Knicks, as morbid and pathetic as you’ve been for so many years…But if you’re the Knicks, the success has been pretty pathetic. And the specter of what your future looks like doesn’t look pretty great either. If I got a chance to get Kyrie Irving walking into the Garden, and I don’t have to guarantee more than one year at a time? Oh, I’m gonna take that chance.”

Dwight Howard

In 2012, Smith reported that the Orlando Magic inquired about acquiring Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire in a trade for Dwight Howard with the Knicks.

“I will preface my statement by telling you that [the Magic] have categorically denied this, but my sources tell me that they have inquired about Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire going to Orlando for Dwight Howard,” Smith said.

Howard was traded to the Lakers. Chandler stuck with the Knicks until the summer of 2014 when he was traded to the Mavericks, just a few months later Stoudemire joined him in Dallas after being released by New York.

Chris Paul

In 2011, Smith wrote a column for ESPN arguing that the Knicks needed more than Amare Stoudemire. Then, he mentioned Paul’s potential interest in playing for the Knicks.

Here’s that excerpt from his column:

The problem with that little tidbit of information is that some of those folks are hanging around. They are influencing/counseling/advising Anthony — and Chris Paul, who ultimately wants to land in New York and, like Melo, is represented by Creative Artists Agency. Both Melo and Paul are friends with LeBron, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

So if Walsh, along with the unprecedented three former GMs/executives on his payroll — Glen Grunwald (ex-Toronto), John Gabriel (Orlando) and newly hired player personnel director Mark Warkentien (Denver) — can’t manage to put their heads together and get Anthony to New York, that may mean they won’t get Paul, either.

Paul has played for six teams in his NBA career. The Knicks are not one of them.

Damian Lillard

In 2018, Smith said it was entirely possible that Lillard would become a Los Angeles Laker or a New York Knick.

“He’s only interested in New York or LA. One of the two. New York or LA, and by LA, I mean the Lakers, not the Clippers. That’s what Damian Lillard wants,” Smith said via SB Nation’s Blazers’ Edge. “His preference would be for the Portland Trail Blazers to find somebody, somebody big time, to join him and CJ McCollum in Portland. That’s Damian Lillard’s preference. But if they can’t improve the team and if they can’t find anybody, then he’s interested in going one of two places: my sources tell me it’s the Lakers or the Knicks.

Lillard remained in Portland until the summer of 2023 when he was finally traded to the Milwaukee Bucks after an offseason long drama that mainly focused on his reported desire to play for the Miami Heat, not the Knicks or Lakers.

Zion Williamson

While Smith has often taken aim at Williamson over the New Orleans Pelicans star’s weight, he argued last year that the Knicks should move on from Tom Thibodeau and hire Ty Lue away from the Los Angeles Clippers.

“If by some happenstance, Zion can be in New York and you didn’t have to give up (Julius) Randle to do it — because you can always go small and point Randle at the 5, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “If that would happen, Big Perk, are you ready for what I’m about to say? I believe this should be Tom Thibodeau’s last year in New York. I’m not saying he’s not a great coach…and you get Ty Lue from the Los Angeles Clippers.”

Donovan Mitchell

Donovan Mitchell had always been seen as a natural target for the Knicks given he’s a native New Yorker. But when it came time to leave Utah, Mitchell went to the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Smith hasn’t given up the dream, arguing last year that Mitchell was the star the Knicks desperately needed, a dynamic scorer capable of carrying the team.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Donovan Mitchell is a star,” Smith said. “I will never speak highly of Phil Jackson again because he passed up on that brother to draft Frank Ntilikina. Every shred of credibility Phil Jackson, even though he’s an 11-time champion, went out the window for me. I believe that Phil Jackson should be banned from the city limits of New York City after what he did with that pick. Donovan Mitchell is a star. I have shut up because I don’t want to do anything to get in the way of them getting that brother…

“New York needs a star. We need a star. I’m not talking about a Patrick Ewing-caliber star that needs somebody to throw you the ball 15 feet from the basket for a turnaround jump shot. I’m talking about the star ‘Melo was supposed to be, and to a lesser degree, he was. Donovan Mitchell is 25. There is no LeBron James in the Eastern Conference. There is no Kawhi Leonard in the Eastern Conference…Give me this dude I can give the ball to when it counts and say, ‘Deliver for me.’ Give me the dude that’s gonna give me a 25 a night, and I know it. Donovan Mitchell is the man the New York Knicks should’ve drafted… they need to go get him.”

Karl-Anthony Towns

Smith ended his MSG boycott six months ago after taking a public stand against ownership for years of inactivity and being able to sign or trade for a star player (much to his chagrin, obviously), but his frustration with the Knicks lingered. He highlighted their lack of a superstar since Patrick Ewing, suggesting their future relies on luck or a potential trade. Smith believes the Timberwolves can’t sustain a core of Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, implying Towns could become available.

“I’d love Karl-Anthony Towns in New York,” he said. “I’d love to see Jalen Brunson passing him the ball…If I can get my hands on Karl-Anthony Towns, yes, I’d be down for that. I’d definitely, definitely be down for that.”

Kawhi Leonard

And how could we forget four years ago when Smith said he’d forgive the Knicks and apologize if they signed Leonard?

“They will be forgiven by yours truly,” Smith said. “I will forgive the New York Knicks. I will apologize. I will applaud them. I will go out. I’ll have a drink. I’ll celebrate.”

Smith has a long and colorful history, stretching over a decade of publicly advocating for star players to land in New York. When you stack it all up throughout the years, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant – the list goes on. Smith has consistently championed bringing superstars to Madison Square Garden.

But it’s never worked out. And based on the current Knicks team, Smith might not need to rely on wishful thinking anymore. The Knicks finally seem to be an attractive destination for top NBA talent. Ironically, largely thanks to the one major free agent signing that did happen – Jalen Brunson.

Ironically, after years of reporting and politicking for star players to come to New York when the Knicks signed Brunson in 2022, Smith showed his displeasure in a debate with a baby version of himself that Brunson simply wasn’t good enough, saying, “JALEN BRUNSON ISN’T THE ANSWER!

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.