This has been a banner season for the NBA. Great story-lines abound: Who will make the playoffs in the West, who will win the MVP award, can Chris Paul lead the Hornets deep into the playoffs, the resurgence of the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, the Houston Rockets, and I could go on and on.
The sad thing is that one constant remains: The New York Knicks are still pathetic from top to bottom. While there are other bad teams in the league there are mitigating factors involved in their losing ways. The Knicks have the resources, loyal and enthusiastic fans, the lure of playing at the Garden, and endorsement opportunities. What they don’t have is an organization made up of good basketball minds with a vision for the future.
The problems start in the front office. James Dolan has made a series of decisions that have led New York down a path of destruction. The biggest mistake he made was bringing in Isiah Thomas to be the President. Thomas, following suit, was responsible for hiring Larry Brown to coach, which was a total disaster. When you bring in someone to run your operation you also bring in their vision for the team.
Thomas’ vision was not to rebuild, but to make trade after trade until he gathered together enough players with individual talent, and hope they mesh well. That is what Dolan bought. That philosophy has driven the team into the ground.
Thomas has always felt that the word "rebuild" was a bad word in New York, which is not true. The fans will show patience if they see progress and a good product. His strategy and mindset led to a series of moves that sabotaged their future. He brings in players with individual talent without any thought given to whether the chemistry will work (Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury in the same backcourt).
Marbury is a talented player, but hasn’t won anywhere he has been and is not the greatest floor leader, to say the least. The most success he has had was in Minnesota, and that was because he was with Kevin Garnett. Jamal Crawford is talented as well, but never saw a shot he didn’t like.
Eddy Curry has regressed after last year and has not been a factor. For a center, he doesn’t rebound or defend well. Zach Randolph is another player that is talented offensively but can’t defend.
Thomas has specialized in bringing in players that need the ball to be effective, are not defensive-minded and can’t make others around them better. Included in some of these deals, have been unprotected lottery picks that could have been used to change the face of the team.
First, a new General Manager and President need to be brought in with a fresh vision for the team going forward. Their mindset can’t be to go for the quick fix, but to build a team with a good foundation that can grow together and win over the fans with their style of play. They need a product that the people of New York can root for.
Second, they need a stud young player that can be the face of the franchise. It would help if they could get into the top 2 or 3 positions in the draft so they could have a shot at Derrick Rose. What the Knicks have lacked for a lot of years is a true top flight point guard to lead the team. Rose would fit that bill, and they could build around him.
Third, they need to bring in players that will lay it on the line defensively every night, like the Knicks of the past. The other players in the league never looked forward to playing those defensive-minded Knick teams in the Patrick Ewing era, but everyone looks forward to playing New York now because they know it won’t be a physical game.
Even if the new look Knicks don’t win right away and need to develop, the fans will get behind them. The Garden was packed when they were not winning years ago. They had a franchise player in the past, and their style of play appealed to the city they played in.
Fourth, they need a coach who can instill confidence in the players and put in systems and schemes that fit their skills. Jerry Sloan of the Utah Jazz is a good example. He was a hard-nosed player in his day, and the team that he coaches has been that way year in and year out. The players have changed but the intensity of his teams hasn’t. That is what the Knicks need.
New York needs a new GM in place before the next draft and they should have a fire sale. I would keep David Lee, Renaldo Balkman, and Wilson Chandler, but everyone else would be available. Loading up on draft picks with an eye toward developing them, and then mixing in a few veterans that fit down the line should be the goal.
It is not far fetched to think that 2 seasons from now New York could be one of the story lines in the NBA. The Knicks seem to be preparing for change already, with rumors of front office changes and salary dumps abounding. It is a minor miracle Isiah Thomas is still in charge. When David Stern says that he anticipates big changes in New York, you have to believe it will happen.