The New York Knicks aren't going to have a successful 2013-14 season.
That much is clear after a 15-26 start to the campaign has left the team reeling, in a constant state of turmoil and sitting all the way down at No. 10 in the weak Eastern Conference. Even if Carmelo Anthony and Co. somehow rebound into the playoffs, they'll be nothing more than sacrificial fodder for one of the competitive teams fighting for a berth in the NBA Finals.
"I don’t really know how to deal with situations like this. I’m learning," 'Melo told Frank Isola of the New York Daily News. "This is the first time for me."
It's obvious that rebuilding is now necessary, and Knicks fans have to hope that the future holds better things than the present.
But there's one massive flaw with that plan, and it's actually the same massive flaw that has prevented New York from truly becoming a title-contending squad since, oh, around 1999.
The flaw's name is James Dolan.
So long as he's in charge of this beleaguered—but ultravaluable!—franchise, it's impossible to have confidence in a rebuilding plan. Especially one as fraught with peril as the current road out of the futility plaguing Madison Square Garden.
To complete a successful rebuild, the Knicks have to convince 'Melo to re-sign with the downtrodden organization, even though he's going to receive compelling pitches from teams like the Los Angeles Lakers.
Then they have to figure out how to navigate a sea of excessive contracts and lost draft picks, somehow staying competitive and managing to add to the current lineup. That's not an easy task for Masai Ujiri, Pat Riley, R.C. Buford or any of the other great executives in today's NBA, and it's borderline impossible for this New York front office.
#Knicks front office re-signed JR, cave to Melo, traded 1st for Bargnani, brought back Felton. But let’s trust them to rebuild team. LOL.— Ethan Norof (@Mr_Norof) January 21, 2014
B/R's Ethan Norof started going over the laundry list of mistakes that the organization has made in recent months, but that still doesn't cover the extent of the problems. How could you possibly hit them all in 140 characters?
How about letting Chris Smith onto an NBA roster, presumably so that J.R. Smith would be appeased and happier as he clanged shot after shot off the rim? How about handing Amar'e Stoudemire a monstrous contract?
What about firing general manager Glen Grunwald after he built a team that won a playoff series for the first time in New York history since 2000? Better yet, how about replacing him with Steve Mills?
As Isola writes, that hiring was a bit of a head-scratching move:
Mills, 53, who was reassigned by the Knicks in 2008 before leaving the franchise a year later, was in line to become head of the players’ union and was never mentioned as a candidate to run any other NBA team. He was, however, a loyal company man who after his breakup with the Knicks refused to criticize the team or Dolan. The fact that Dolan can count on Mills to fall in line worked in Mills’ favor.
That Ratner signed off on the deal is somewhat remarkable since he held Mills accountable for hiring both Isiah Thomas and Anucha Browne Sanders, who successfully sued the Garden for sexual harassment.
Yes, this is the team that's being counted on to right the ship in New York.
Anyone feeling confident?
According to ShamSports.com, the Knicks already have $90.8 million committed for the 2014-15 campaign. We can safely assume that Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani will be enjoying the optional money they get to make, but even if Anthony does choose to use his early termination option and becomes an unrestricted free agent, the Knicks will still be on the books for $67.4 million.
They'll still be well over the projected salary cap, which means they can only re-sign their own free agents or look to use the various types of exceptions afforded to them by the CBA. So much for luring in another marquee player.
The outlook doesn't get much better when you look at draft picks.
New York has first-round picks in 2015 and 2017, so good luck trying to find a star in the second round. Well, that's actually even tougher than you might think, as the team won't have any second-round selections until at least 2016, assuming the Sacramento Kings don't suddenly rise up to the top of the Western Conference.
If the Knicks can't manage to re-sign 'Melo, they're looking at a disastrous campaign in 2014-15 before the books clear heading into the 2015 offseason. Even then, what's the allure of playing for this team?
Mills—assuming he's still in place—will be counting on the historical appeal of Madison Square Garden and New York City during his pitch to any free agent.
After all, he won't be able to talk about a winning tradition; he'll have to make them overlook the lack of success the front office has endured when making personnel decisions and he'll have to convince them that Dolan isn't going to mess things up if they start trending in the right direction.
See why everything is about Anthony?
There are two possibilities here:
- New York lets 'Melo walk (or he spurns them), and the rebuild goes absolutely nowhere for years.
- Anthony re-signs, the team is mediocre for a year and then promising pieces are added during the 2015 offseason.
The second is clearly the better option, but it revolves around, you know, actually re-signing Anthony.
"The general feeling among NBA players and coaches is that Anthony will walk, even if it means leaving $30 million on the table," reports Isola. "LeBron James took less money to secure a championship future in Miami, and Anthony has already been quoted this season as saying that James was 'smart' to make such a move."
There's a lot of time before Anthony actually has to make a decision, though, and he'd be foolish to have his mind made up before we even get through the All-Star break. What if Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway become potential superstars, wins start flowing in and the entire narrative of the season changes?
It seems far-fetched, but it's not that far outside the realm of possibilities. This roster isn't too fundamentally different than last year's 54-win squad, after all.
However, just pause and think about the way all of this is framed. We're already talking about how Anthony might not want to leave, not how he might not want to stay. That in itself is quite telling when discussing the volume-shooting forward's state of mind.
Of course, there's actually a third option.
What will happen with 'Melo?
The Knicks could bite the bullet, trading 'Melo for draft picks and promising players before the Feb. 20 deadline with the intention of jump-starting the rebuilding process. It would be a similar move to what the Denver Nuggets did with Anthony a few years back, taking a lesser package because the superstar had essentially forced their hand.
But there's one major problem.
Does anyone trust the front office enough to get a decent return? We're just back to square one.
The Knicks have more than most rebuilding teams could ask for: historical appeal, an owner willing to spend plenty of money, access to an immediate superstar and plenty of financial flexibility in two seasons. But until the front office inspires some confidence, rebuilding is inevitably going to be viewed as a rather fruitless endeavor.