The Knicks could've drafted Rajon Rondo. They chose Renaldo Balkman instead.
If you were building a custom team on NBA 2K14, you could do a lot worse than that.
The New York Knicks did worse—every time. And they're still doing it.
The NBA is rife with stories of draft-day disasters and free-agent misfires, and no team—no matter how storied or well run—can claim complete immunity from the hell of hindsight.
It would be one thing if the Knicks' whiffs were relegated exclusively to the draft. But it doesn’t take too many letters in the Google search box ("players the k," to be specific) to see that bad decision-making has permeated the organization long before James Dolan came to town.
Indeed, the Knicks occupy a special place in the annals of bad basketball decision-making.
|Year||Who they took||Who they could've taken|
|1978||Micheal Ray Richardson||Larry Bird|
|1983||Darrell Walker||Clyde Drexler|
|1986||Kenny Walker||Mark Price|
|1999||Frederic Weis||Ron Artest|
|2002||Frank Williams||Carlos Boozer|
|2003||Michael Sweetney||David West|
|2006||Renaldo Balkman||Rajon Rondo|
|2009||Jordan Hill||Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague|
|2010||Andy Rautins, Landry Fields||Lance Stephenson|
From Micheal Ray Richardson over Larry Legend to parting with not one, not two, but three draft picks for Andrea Bargnani, the denizens of Madison Square Garden have managed to cobble a uniquely bizarre alternate universe—one where the championship banners of ’70 and ’73 serve as opening salvos of a decades-long dynasty, rather than dusty heirlooms of a long-lost glory.
To cover it all would require a doctoral dissertation. But even isolating the last few years, it’s clear that the Knicks’ biggest obstacle to sustained success isn't the Miami Heat or the Indiana Pacers; it’s the New York Knicks.
Setting the STATus quo
Let’s start with Amar’e Stoudemire. After New York failed to land LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010, the Knicks—with money to spend and a fanbase clamoring for a contender—decided to roll the dice on a $100 million consolation prize.
For a little while, the move looked like it might pay some surprising dividends: In Raymond Felton, Landry Fields, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and STAT, the Knicks had put together a team tailor-made for Mike D’Antoni’s helter-skelter offense—a team that was both fun and good, if not a full-fledged worldbeater.
But it wasn’t long before the success-starved front office set its sights on what it believed would be the true game-changing move: landing disgruntled Denver Nuggets superstar Carmelo Anthony.
On February 22, 2011, the Knicks got their wish, sending Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov, Chandler and Gallinari to the Nuggets in exchange for Anthony and Chauncey Billups.
The Knicks may have been two-thirds of the way to their own Big Three, but the resulting dearth of depth has haunted them ever since—the price exacted by then-Denver general manager Masai Ujiri, who zeroed in on James Dolan’s desperation like a hawk on a field mouse.
The real kicker: Melo could've simply joined the Knicks when he became a free agent the following summer. Instead, Melo played the trade-deadline field, waxed noncommittal and eventually forced James Dolan’s itchy trigger finger. The end had been achieved, even if the means and motivations remain questionable.
The following fall, the Knicks added Tyson Chandler to their All-Star frontcourt. The signing may have reinforced New York's lackluster interior defense, but it also further hamstrung the team's already tight finances.
The reason: In order to make room for Chandler, the team was forced to jettison Chauncey Billups by way of the amnesty provision, a tool provided in the new collective bargaining agreement allowing a team to waive a player without their salary counting towards the cap.
Think the Knicks wish they had that now?
While the resulting core has enjoyed its fair share of demon-exorcising success, such moments have come at the expense of a raw reality: an utter lack of roster flexibility.
Forced to rummage through the NBA bargain bin, the Knicks entered the lockout shortened 2011-12 campaign with a heavy dose of fanfare—even if they were a contender’s fragile facsimile.
But the team struggled, the injuries mounted, and by late January of 2012, Dolan’s Big Three appeared destined for the doldrums.
Ditching a gift horse
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a basketball miracle: Linsanity. Over the course of a few short weeks, an unknown Harvard castoff—cut just months before by the Golden State Warriors—would take the Knicks, and the world, by storm.
Looking back, it’s not hyperbolic to say that Jeremy Lin saved the Knicks’ season; at 8-15 and in danger of falling out of the playoff picture entirely, the team had turned to Lin out of little more than sheer, injury-borne desperation.
The gamble paid off, and while the hobbled Knicks would bow out to the Miami Heat in the first round, it seemed certain that the team—after years of squandered drafts and superstar outsourcing—had finally caught homemade lighting in a bottle.
That’s when the Knicks went full Knicks. After instructing Lin to “set the market” for his services the following summer, Dolan—livid over the former’s last-minute deal restructuring with the Houston Rockets—officially pulled the plug on Linsanity.
The move wasn’t without its share of justifications, of course: For all his brilliant moments, Lin was by no means a proven product, which the Knicks viewed as a prerequisite for the kind of money he was commanding.
And yet, the idea that James Dolan—he of the Forbes Top 400 and the most lucrative vertical operation in professional sports—had suddenly become a paragon of financial responsibility was patently ridiculous. Jaded feelings, team chemistry, "too much too soon": The Knicks had plenty of reasons for not re-signing Lin. But money most certainly wasn’t one of them.
No direction home
For a time, it looked as though Raymond Felton, whom the Knicks brought back shortly after jettisoning Lin, would make the Knicks faithful forget about all the bygone magic. Eighteen months on, that case is getting harder to make.
Even when the Knicks were able to mine depth at the fringes—as they did when they signed Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas prior the 2012-13 season—the team’s mercenary mentality blinded them to the possibility of parlaying on-court leadership and experience into something tangible within the organization.
Instead, Kidd and Wallace accepted coaching gigs with other teams, while Camby and Thomas rode quietly into the sunset. Six months later, the struggling Knicks have taken to sounding a curious refrain: The team misses last year’s veteran leadership.
If that’s the case, why didn’t the Knicks keep them around, either as end-of-bench options or assistants?
But the Knicks couldn't be bothered with such things. They were busy orchestrating their next big move: landing Andrea Bargnani. The price? Three draft picks, Marcus Camby and Steve Novak, whose bloated contract had—surprise—suddenly become a burden for New York.
Which brings us to today. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 800 words on the questionable hindsight-laden moves the Knicks have made just in the last 30 months. And that doesn’t even include the sagas behind the three general managers and two coaches.
Bad aim, worse shot
In trying to describe New York’s organizational approach, the clay-shooting stage of the old Duck Hunt video game provides a handy metaphor. Growing up, my friend Steve would come over for the occasional friendly shootout. Steve had impeccable aim—it felt like he never missed—and he beat me like a gong every time.
Why? I was focused on shooting down the one disc in front of me—firing and firing until it finally shattered. That's how I thought the game was played.
Steve was different: Not only did he know where the first disc was—even if it took him two or three shots to bring it down—he knew exactly where every subsequent disc was.
The Knicks are like me: the kid that concentrates only on the one disc out front—because it's there, and that's what I want—again and again until all the others have fallen unscathed, their own small mountain of missed opportunities.
Steve was the San Antonio Spurs.
Franchise philosophy begins at the top, and to that extent, it’s difficult to envision the Knicks abandoning their quick-fix ethos any time soon. They know their track record as well as anyone—have watched the unblemished clay pile up for years.
But when bad decisions and cynical motives are perpetually rewarded—when even a fanbase’s rage isn’t enough to keep them from their seats—it’s safe to ask the question: Do they even care?