Ladies, gentlemen and space beings, the 2013-14 New York Knicks.
That's the joke.
There is no need for explanations or elaborate setups to precede quips and one-liners. The Knicks, by themselves, are a joke. A sad, hopeless and exceedingly lewd punchline that doesn't incite comedic relief.
Now 19 games under .500, the team with the NBA's second-highest payroll is approaching new lows. The Knicks aren't just losing, they've quit. They've surrendered their dwindling playoff hopes and resigned to playing like a lavish tank job. They've checked out on head coach Mike Woodson.
They've quit on each other.
That much was clear during and after Tuesday night's letdown against the struggling Detroit Pistons. Building a 14-point first-quarter lead did little to incite resolution or intention. The Knicks bent to Detroit in the second quarter, before folding altogether during the second half.
Save for a few scattered finger-pointing displays, there was hardly any verbal evidence to confirm the Knicks renounced their right to compete. But their lethargy and inaction spoke louder than superfluous on-court bickering ever could.
The Knicks tallied just 41 points on 37.5 percent shooting in the second half against a team that ranks 22nd in defensive efficiency, numbers that would seem even less flattering if it wasn't for J.R. Smith's garbage-time explosion.
Heads hanging low, shoulders sagging to the floor, the Knicks left the court rather silently, having squandered another pivotal opportunity. In the locker room, their demeanor and responses reflected their effort, reeking of indifference and inertia.
"At this point, man, I’m kind of running out of comments to talk to you guys about," Carmelo Anthony told reporters, via the New York Post's Marc Berman. "It seemed like it’s becoming repetition, saying the same thing over and over. We got to try to find something else to talk about."
If only there was something else to talk about. The Knicks haven't given reporters or fans anything to discuss other than their current seven-game losing streak—their second-longest of the year (nine)—and lifeless season.
Mounting losses should elicit defiance, some sort of rejection to reality. Or so one would think.
Adjustments aren't being made. Woodson tinkers with starting lineups like it's still preseason, but the Knicks' switch-heavy, vulnerable pick-and-roll defense remains. Attempts at resolving their defensive transgressions have been infrequent and futile, combated only by mangled versions of zone prevention that preclude switching, but promote immobility.
The offense is equally maddening.
At times, it's aesthetically appealing, bringing fans to their feet with occasional ball movement and Anthony-made three-pointers coming within the flow of the offense. More often than not, though, the Knicks are a stagnant bunch, relying heavily on jab-step, isolation-heavy 'Melo to bail them out of clock-draining sets.
Plays outside of timeouts are even worse, mainly consisting of one-on-fives, contested jumpers and desperation heaves at the tail end of the shot clock.
Still, after all that, after all the losing, there is no change. There is no shift in ideology and worse, no leadership or fight.
When the Knicks should be clinging to fading playoff hopes, they've become complacent instead, pondering their bleak future aloud.
"That’s something I have to visit during the offseason," Chandler said of his future in New York following the loss in Detroit, via Berman. “We’re all going to have a lot of decisions to make."
Across the board, nothing is being said or done by the Knicks to suggest they care anymore. It's both disturbing and inexcusable. NBA players are generously compensated for their physical abilities and emotional dedication to the cause, whatever that cause may be.
The Knicks are failing in both areas, 61 contests into an 82-game season, approaching each loss with disarming stoicism, dispassionate distance and most recently, unabashed selfishness.
"For me, it’s important regardless [to finish out strong]," Chandler explained, per Berman. "I got a lot more pride than this, coming in night in, night out losing, and not putting forth the type of effort it takes to win. At this stage of my career and what I’ve established, I refuse to let it put a blemish on it."
"Me." "I." What about "us?" What about "we?" Where is the camaraderie the Knicks showed last season and for a good portion of this year?
Where are the leaders, taking ownership of this team? Standing by their lockers and behind their podiums, offering excuse after excuse after excuse.
"Right now, we’re searching, we’re trying to find combinations," Woodson offered in Detroit, via Berman.
Searching for the right combinations three-quarters into the season is inexcusable. Woodson's stubborn indecision and ignorance is inexcusable.
New York's response—or lack thereof—to the coach's tactics is inexcusable.
Smith was lampooned for questioning the Knicks' heart, not because he was wrong, but because he wasn't the right person to say it. Problem is, while true, the right people aren't talking. And when they are, they're saying the wrong things.
For all Anthony's on-court diligence, his passive behavior in the locker room is ominous, almost like he has one foot out the door of a broken home he cannot escape.
This summer, he will have the chance to accept less money and take his talents far, far away from Knicks owner James Dolan's despondent circus. But that's assuming he has options. Given Anthony's taste for extravagant markets, leaving is unrealistic.
The Los Angeles Lakers will have cap space, but they also have a 35-year-old question mark in Kobe Bryant while lacking the flexibility to surround both stars with a supporting cast. The Chicago Bulls could make a run at Anthony, but that would demand they part ways with Mike Dunleavy, Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer before asking the Knicks superstar to join another depleted core headlined by the injury-prone Derrick Rose.
Point is, Anthony may very well be stuck in New York, with the team he's physically carrying and by all appearances, emotionally checked out on.
Then there's Chandler, the other player qualified to call out his teammates, who is instead challenging himself to finish his season on his own terms.
Finally there's Woodson, who should be the third and final person capable of disparaging his players for sake of progress. But he's tied to railroad tracks at this point. Short of a miracle, he won't be coaching in New York next season.
Whatever he says won't resonate. If that weren't the case, the Knicks wouldn't be where they are right now (self-contrived hell). Anything he says will have the impact equivalent of a senile drifter yammering at clouds.
That leaves...nobody. Not anyone of note. What Smith, Amar'e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton and anyone else says means little. Less than little.
One would hope that's not true. That the Knicks still collectively care. Absence of evidence to the contrary, however, forces us to realize they don't.
Fittingly enough, that means nothing. The Knicks don't have a puncher's chance of making the playoffs. Not like this.
Not when it appears they've quit on their coach and each other, and worse still, themselves.
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