Who runs the New York Knicks?
Think about it for a second.
Does every basketball decision end with owner James Dolan? Or are the Knicks run by the agency (CAA) that represents Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, head coach Mike Woodson and multiple members of the front office? After former general manager Glen Grunwald was fired during training camp, does new GM Steve Mills really have any influence at all?
What's the chain of command in New York? Are the few capable basketball minds involved heavily in the decision-making process, or is everything bogged down by politics and an impatient owner?
These are questions for which there are no clear-cut answers, but that's an issue that isn't unique to the Knicks. Other teams, usually the similarly mediocre ones, have fuzzy basketball hierarchies as well.
It's far from an ideal situation. CAA's influence spreads throughout the Knicks' organization every year. Their top priorities will always be making money and taking care of their own clients. Then it spreads to taking care of their clients' people, like their little brothers. Eventually, jobs won't be won or held based on merit anymore. When that happens to this extent, winning can't possibly be the top priority anymore.
If it seems like there's no real structure in New York, it's because there isn't. Some members of the organization truly want to win. Others just want to get paid. Most just want the power.
Without a unified goal, the Knicks lack the ability to change direction.
The thought of trading Carmelo Anthony, who can walk for nothing next year, can't even be entertained. Either he stays or he leaves.
Rebuilding is not an option because there is no patience for such a thing. Future assets like draft picks have no value, even as the rest of the league hoards them like gold. The Knicks are always one piece away, regardless of the roster and how delusional that line of thinking is.
That lack of organizational cohesiveness or awareness often leaves gaping holes unfilled. After establishing a style predicated on the pick-and-roll and lots of three-point shooting during a very successful season last year, the Knicks traded a future first-round pick for a forward who neither rolls nor shoots threes (or defends and rebounds), and instead lives off the most inefficient shot in the game.
Andrea Bargnani is not the disease, of course, but rather just a symptom.
So long as Dolan keeps placing misguided faith in his ability to judge basketball talent, that sort of thing will keep happening. So long as coaches like Mike Woodson are "made men" within the organization, identities will continue to get lost and players will receive playing time instead of earning it. Just look at what Woodson told Al Iannazzone of Newsday:
"The small lineup, we know that that works," Woodson said before the game. "Hey, I don't know if I'll even go back, go away from it at this time."
The Knicks had a great season last year playing small, with Anthony at the 4 and two point guards in the lineup, and here's Woodson finally figuring it out again halfway through a terrible season only because injuries completely forced his hand.
The questions with the Knicks when things get bad isn't whether they can fix it, but rather if they even realize what they need to fix.
While it was certainly expected that the Knicks would struggle defensively when Tyson Chandler went down, the offense suffered mightily as well. Without the threat of a legitimate roll man diving to the rim, defenders stayed home on shooters, and all penetration was lost.
But a solution was never found. There was no creativity shown by the coaching staff or management to find players who could run a pick-and-roll effectively. Instead, Beno Udrih and Bargnani just played pick-and-pop all day long.
Having Chandler back will certainly help. Talent is what matters most in the NBA.
But with that in mind, evaluating, identifying and maximizing that talent sure does play a critical role. How successful are the Knicks at that?
The results are telling. Under Dolan, the Knicks have had one appearance beyond the first round of the playoffs in the last 14 years.
And remember, the deck is stacked in Dolan's favor. He has nearly unlimited financial resources and a giant market. The Knicks should be able to attract the very best in every single field, from scouts to management to coaches and players.
But as we've seen, that isn't the case. Most of those potential advantages are wasted, and the ones that aren't simply keep the franchise mediocre instead of a complete disaster.
On the flip side of that, can you imagine what the Indiana Pacers could do with that payroll and with that market? What the San Antonio Spurs could be if they could dip into the luxury tax by millions and millions of dollars?
But instead, thanks to a crippling blend of ignorance and incompetence on multiple levels, the Knicks have remained average. It's hard to say that won't continue.
Sure, maybe the cap space in 2015 will bring in enough talent to compensate for everything, or maybe there's someone within the organization who will somehow earn enough power to save Dolan from himself. Maybe the Knicks will rattle off 10 straight wins and allow the real problems to stay buried. Who knows?
The only thing we do know? The Knicks' process is broken.
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