As the news came into their purview, whether via television ticker, mobile alert or the dolt in their office bumping them mid-meeting at the office, the collective of masochists known as Knicks fans had a collective sigh of relief Wednesday afternoon.
Phil Jackson's latest reshaping of the Knicks roster saw the team acquire forwards Quincy Acy and Travis Outlaw from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for forward Jeremy Tyler and guard Wayne Ellington.
The move on the surface constitutes little more than a weird shuffling of the deck chairs. Tyler is a talented (albeit enigmatic) young power forward, and Ellington a 26-year-old shooting guard with a higher career three-point percentage than $19 million man Jodie Meeks. Outlaw is an overpriced veteran who hasn't been effective in four seasons, and Acy a promising defensive talent but one who may have wound up on the waiver wire in a couple months. The needle moves nary an inch for either side.
But that's not the reason Knicks fans were damn near holding a fiesta at Pennsylvania Plaza.
No, the celebratory high-fives and handshakes came because of who wasn't involved in the trade. Namely, Pablo Prigioni. As the Knicks increased their efforts to move Ellington, ESPN's Marc Stein reported they had begun dangling the Argentine guard as a sweetener. That news was met with many reactions, most mirroring that of Posting and Toasting proprietor Seth Rosenthal:
And then there was rejoicing.
With Ellington off the books and Tyler being used as the teaspoon of sugar with the medicine, no longer was there a reason for Prigioni to be sent elsewhere. The Knicks probably aren't done with their roster shuffling, but Prigioni has to be safe, right?
You, common NBA fan who just so happened to run into this article through a series of off-handed clicks while eating a Cinnabon without a napkin, may be wondering what's the fuss. After all, Prigioni is a 37-year-old who has career averages of 3.7 points and 3.2 assists over 144 games. Looking strictly at the conventional statistics, Prigioni looks like another fungible veteran hanging on for his last couple paychecks.
Say such blasphemy around the Knicks fan in your life, though, and prepare for an expletive-laden tirade that strangely fixates on your mother.
See, over the last two years, Prigioni fandom has become something of a sub-genre to Knicks fandom. It's an exclusive club where diehards hold up the velvet rope, Pope Prigioni posters adorn the wall and commemorative mugs feature, well, his mug.
When I was young and first beginning to develop an understanding of the game, Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson were inventing the single coolest celebration my 10-year-old eyes had ever seen. Their two fists to the headband were a showing of camaraderie and brotherhood and also gave the game some youth and excitement. It didn't matter the Clippers were terrible and neither player found their true calling in L.A. With one cool celebration alone, I was hooked.
Growing older and working in the sports industry has long since beaten the individual team fandom out of me. But for Knicks fans who still live and die with the nightly happenings at Madison Square Garden, Prigioni has engendered the same level of irrational attachment I once held for Miles and Richardson.
Last season, Knicks fans friends discussed Prigioni with nearly the same fervor as they did Carmelo Anthony's future. Why on earth does Mike Woodson keep trotting out the stretched-out carcass of Ray Felton over Pablo? My uncle, a mid-50s Knicks fan with whom I speak maybe twice a year, called me out of the blue in December angry he'd missed Pablo when in New York on business. (Prigioni was out with a toe injury.)
Of course, there is a key difference here: I liked Miles and Richardson because I was a dumb 10-year-old whose opinions could be swayed by utter nonsense. Knicks fans love Prigioni because he possesses the polar opposite traits of what Knicks basketball has come to represent.
Where fans grew tired of endless isolations from J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, et al., they could take solace in Prigioni attempting six isolation shots all season, per Synergy Sports. Where those isolations led to staid, dribble-heavy basketball featuring an avalanche or poor shots, Prigioni's arrival could typically get the ball back to whirring around the perimeter. Pablo averaged nearly as many passes per game as Anthony in half of the minutes.
It also helps that you pick up on the intricacies of Prigioni's game the more you watch him play. The slight hitch in his running motion. The more noticeable one in his jumper, which knocked down 46.4 percent of its threes last season, by the way. The way he seems to start running before he even makes a pass. The way your mind starts to drift and you wonder how much you'd pay for a Prigioni vs. Andre Miller Old Man Game pay-per-view extravaganza. ($12.46, thank you.)
These thoughts form attachment. But they're also one of a bygone era.
When Jackson took over the Knicks front office, he promised a full-fledged culture change. He was not joking.
There are seven players currently on the Knicks roster who were there at the end of last season. Only two of those players are there (Anthony, Cole Aldrich) by Jackson's choosing. Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire come attached with horrifying salaries that make trading them nearly impossible. (Jackson would know; he tried.) Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith have both been the subject of constant trade rumors. Even Tim Hardaway Jr., a potential Sixth Man candidate, was thrown around to sweeten the Stoudemire pot.
Given the Knicks' salary commitments and the restrictions of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, that level of shuffling is instructive. By the time the 2015-16 season hits, I'd be surprised if more than two or three players from the 2013-14 roster are still around.
For all of the great things Prigioni brings to the table, Jackson is probably looking at it in the most pragmatic way possible. Here is a 37-year-old who plays a backcourt position that is de-emphasized in the triangle system and probably won't be playing when the Knicks will be good again. Left with the choice between Prigioni and Shane Larkin, a 21-year-old competitive bulldog who is a year removed from being the No. 18 overall pick, most smart general managers would roll the dice on the young guy.
That's what Jackson is readying himself to do. Just don't be surprised when Knicks fans dap a few headbands on Pablo's way out.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.
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