Over the last decade, no other large market team has been more disappointing than the New York Knicks. And while the franchise has taken a bigger stride this year, maybe even more than expected, the Knicks are still nothing more than a shadow of their '90s self.
Sure, the fan base in New York is more excited than it has been dating back to an Allen Houston-led team that also featured Larry Johnson, Latrell Sprewell, and Glen Rice.
But the celebratory posture that Knicks fans are indulging in is mostly due to an acceptance of anything that isn’t completely dismal and a tolerance of general mediocrity, even in a weak conference.
And who could blame them?
Owner of the Knickerbockers, James Dolan, sabotaged multiple seasons in the anticipation of wining and dining LeBron James into the Big Apple—all while having relatively successful individuals on the roster.
His relationship with Isiah Thomas put the city that never sleeps into a stagnant coma, watching the likes of Zach Randolph, Jamal Crawford, Al Harrington, Nate Robinson, Quentin Richardson and David Lee all come and go without leaving anything to show for it other than a team in shambles and a promise of the future.
The Knicks also placed their faith in Stephon Marbury—for God knows why—the self-proclaimed “best guard in the league,” inexplicably.
So why complain now, especially when the Knicks are on pace to win the most amount of games in nine years, a mere 45?
Because decency has relieved irrelevancy and frustration, placing a mirage over one of the NBA’s greatest cities.
Here’s why the New York Knicks are, at best, fool’s gold:
Dating back to 1998, Mike D’Antoni had never coached a professional team in the United States. Most of his time had been spent coaching overseas in Italy, where his teams experienced much success.
D’Antoni has brought that success, although relative, to the NBA, where he has coached the Denver Nuggets, the Phoenix Suns and the Knicks. He also went on to win Coach of the Year in 2005 with the Suns.
But there is a looming criticism, one that is difficult to overlook, that dampens all of D’Antoni’s accomplishments.
Despite being an offensive mastermind, the “Seven Seconds or Less” coach doesn’t have a clue on the other half of the court. He’s defensively inept, to say the very minimal.
Since taking on the Phoenix Suns in the ’03-04 season, D’Antoni’s best defensive team was still the 23rd worst the entire league had to offer, nothing to hang hats on.
In five of the last eight seasons, dating all the way back to 2004, the teams that he has coached have conceded more points than 93 percent of all other NBA teams and hasn’t been ranked better than 28th in points per game allowed.
Including his brief stint with the Denver Nuggets in 1999, his PPG allowed average for his career has ranked his teams 27th in the league.
Only one team that he has coached has given up fewer than 100 PPG, the 2004 Suns, but they managed to score less than they gave up.
And since arriving to New York, D’Antoni’s defensive lapses have spiked to an all-time high. Including this season, the Knicks have conceded 106.8 points to their opponents over the last three years—An average .01 points lower than this year (106.7 PPGA).
For his career, D’Antoni-led teams give up almost 104 points per game on average.
Sure, the Knicks are a fun team to watch, as were the Phoenix Suns when he was coaching there. But nothing materialized in Phoenix other than some playoff exits that are directly related to defensive incompetence, despite having multiple 60-win seasons.
Is there any reason to believe that the current New York Knicks, D’Antoni’s second-worst defensive team ever, can be anything other than an exciting team that will never be taken seriously by the conference’s elite? Probably not.
The most amount of coverage that rookie center Timofey Mozgov, the only center on New York's roster, has received has been due to rookie Blake Griffin’s unadulterated abuse of him, highlighted by perhaps the best dunk of the year.
But that’s been mostly about it.
Other than the jaw-dropping slams on Mozgov, the Knicks don’t have a center to talk about. Amar’e plays center as either a lack of options, or as Mike D’Antoni’s liking. No matter the reasons, the results remain.
The Knicks can’t protect their middle or Stoudemire’s minutes because there isn’t a reliable player who can do either on New York’s roster.
Ronny Turiaf isn’t an offensive player, no matter how the imagination gets stretched, and is, quite frankly, an enigma on a team that prides itself on scoring a surplus of points every game (107.5).
Then there is the mystery of once-prized and young forward Anthony Randolph, whose minutes have disappeared and removed him from the rotation. The Knicks could possibly use Randolph as trade bait to obtain a center, but most recently, Knicks' president Donnie Walsh has been quoted as being able to obtain first-round draft pick(s) for him, another attempt to acquire Carmelo Anthony.
The truth is that it is impossible to compete in the playoffs without a legitimate enforcer in the middle, like Charles Oakley or Anthony Mason. Every team that matters from the Eastern Conference has the Knicks beat in strength, size, and underneath the glass where men rule the game.
Perhaps the brightest spot for the Knicks, other than Amar’e Stoudemire, has been Raymond Felton, who helped lead the Charlotte Bobcats to the playoffs last year.
Felton is having a career season and has played in all 40 of the Knicks’ games so far. He’s also putting up over three points more per game than his best offensive season to date, all to go along with a career high in assists (8.9).
And what’s been most impressive about Felton thus far is his adaptability. He’s played for stern coaches like Larry Brown and Roy Williams at the University of North Carolina and done well, but is thriving in New York under loosey-goosey Mike D’Antoni. He’s even averaging almost two steals a night, good for fifth in the league.
But just like the Stoudemire situation, D’Antoni doesn’t have anybody to protect Felton’s minutes.
D’Antoni doesn’t trust Toney Douglas, which is odd because he’s a shot-happy, me-first player—the epitome of Knicks basketball for the last 10 years and the type of player that flourishes under D’Antoni’s fast-paced system.
Taking a look at the backup point guards all around the East’s elite, the Knicks are the weakest. The Boston Celtics have ex-Knick Nate Robinson, Orlando has Chris Duhon and Gilbert Arenas, the Bulls have C.J. Watson and the Heat has Mario Chalmers.
In order to compete in the long haul of the rigorous NBA season, teams must be able to safeguard the minutes of their best players. In this case, the Knicks can’t protect either Felton or Stoudemire.
The New York Knicks are not the worst rebounding team in the NBA. In fact, the Boston Celtics grab the least amount at only 38 rebounds a game, but it all depends on how you interpret rebounding.
Total-accumulated rebounds by game is only one way of looking at it. In that regards, the Knicks are as mediocre as their decent record suggests, just below the middle of the pack.
The most fundamental way of looking at it is the differential, the number of rebounds obtained minus the number of rebounds given up, where the Knicks rank 28th in the league—the same rank as points allowed per game.
And, not to read into the Knicks’ rebounding woes too much, but everybody knows that rebounding and defensive win championships.
The Knicks do neither.
On any given night the Knicks can simply outshoot their opponents, highlighted by a 128-115 home win over the league-leading San Antonio Spurs. But they can’t shoot that way, 55 percent, every game. And if you’re giving up 115 points at home, it’s difficult to come away with wins.
Two games later, the Knicks were put in their place by the Los Angeles Lakers, as the defending champs held them to just 87 total points. Again, two games later, the Knicks went on to pour in 125 against the Utah Jazz in Energy Solutions Arena, only to concede 131 points and lose. The Knicks also gave up four consecutive 30-plus point quarters to Utah in the process, a nauseating statistic for any team.
What’s even more sickening about the Knicks' 22-18 record heading into Wednesday’s game in Houston is that New York can beat the Spurs at home by 13 by scoring 128 points, only to turn around and lose to the lowly Sacramento Kings by 10 in Madison Square Garden a few days later.
Their performance against Sacramento was their second-lowest point total of the season (83), and the Kings typically give up almost 103 points a night.
Also, some of the most impressive feats by the Knicks this year have come on the road, including one stretch where they won eight consecutive games, not an easy feat. However, since then, New York has played seven games away from Madison Square Garden, but has lost five—featuring a dismal performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Dec. 18, the Cavs' last win.
The disparity between capability and execution is baffling, not a pony worth riding into the playoffs.
Just one day before the Knicks’ season debut in Toronto, breaking news of illegal tampering appeared with the New York stamp on it. The undying itch of Isiah Thomas has turned into a decade-long rash that the Knicks can’t seem to satisfyingly scratch or heal.
Rodney Heard, director of East Coast scouting, was allegedly involved with illegal workouts that featured Brandon Rush and soon-to-be-Knicks Joe Crawford and Wilson Chandler.
Thomas hired Heard back in 2006, and, according to Yahoo! Sports writer Adrian Wojnarowski, “[Thomas] still enjoys a close relationship with him.”
To go beyond the basic scrutiny of illegal workouts, highly-scouted Brandon Rush from the University of Kansas injured his knee and has never fully recovered.
If the league’s investigation finds the Knicks guilty of tampering with college players, New York could be facing possible “fines, suspensions…[and] the loss of a future draft pick,” according to a New York Times article by Marc Berman.
Isiah Thomas’s mark on New York can only be defined as an atrocious period, characterized by a sex scandal, tampering violations, Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry, and a flat-out awful team.
Who knows when those effects will officially and fully go away?
A recent article by NBA writer and columnist for NBA.com Shaun Powell has brought to light what many scouts and front-office executives truly believe about Carmelo Anthony.
The general consensus: ‘Melo isn’t the type of player to lead any team to NBA glory without a lot of All-Star talent around him.'
Well, what about if you add him to MVP candidate Amar’e Stoudemire? Maybe the Knicks as his desired suitors can bring them both what they allegedly want: the Larry O’Brien trophy.
In all seriousness and to be light about it, that probably won’t happen—the championship, that is.
You can’t add another slice of bread to a loaf and make a sandwich. What Anthony brings to the table is exactly the opposite of what the Knicks need: a lack of defense.
Carmelo is one of the game's most elite scorers, and is a good rebounder for his position. But you can’t add offense to offense and expect to change anything on the other end of the floor, especially when Mike D’Antoni is the coach.
Maybe Anthony’s desire to be in New York, along with being a Brooklyn-born native, has to do with Mike D’Antoni and his zero defensive-accountability standard.
And in all fairness to basketball purists, Anthony takes possessions off. He stares down referees while the ball is swiftly moving to the other end of the court, as if he can help his team by playing victim to the ineptitude of NBA in-game adjudicators.
Looking back at the courting of LeBron James over the last couple of years and the incessant Carmelo Anthony trade talk, it’s become apparent that James Dolan cares about one thing: Money.
The city of New York is considered the Mecca of Basketball, a strange pseudonym for a town whose relevance has been non-existent for a decade and because the Knicks haven’t won a championship in almost 40 years.
It’s even stranger when you consider that basketball originated in Massachusetts, where the standard for success is measured in championships, not a sold-out arena—which is what James Dolan really cares about.
The wining and dining of James, the Stephon Marbury debacle, and newly added ‘Melo trade talks are all opiates for the fans. Dolan is not a fool on either the business end of basketball or the reality of it.
You can’t win championships without defense, but you can sell tickets in the process. That’s exactly where Dolan would like to keep the franchise: sold out and marketable.
And basically, he’s selling the fan-base out and short. While the Knicks should be looking for a way to deal with their defensive and rebounding issues, Dolan is looking for a way to obtain a one-dimensional athlete that can’t solve either. What’s more ridiculous about the entire situation is that the Knicks have the assets to obtain both with what is on their current roster and possibly make a real playoff push against the best in the East.
The culture that James Dolan has created is built on falsified perceptions of success. On one hand, he has fans that are starting to really believe. On the other, he knows the truth but seeks to only reinforce the bank and prey on the emotions of New Yorkers.
The New York Knicks have quickly reinvented themselves as a winning team, and that trend should continue, much to the delight of the fans. But winning as the measurement of success is relative to both long and short term goals.
For now, the Knicks are steadily just above mediocrity and have the playoffs in their sight. The anticipated acquirement of Carmelo Anthony may help this team in the long run of becoming a championship contender of the future, but that’s barring management’s willingness to address its prominent weaknesses, scoring not being one of them.
Thus, obtaining Anthony isn’t an answer to bumping this team up to championship-like status.
To really assess the Knicks chances of competing with the likes of Miami, Orlando, Chicago, and Boston the lingering question remains: can Mike D’Antoni’s anti-defense approach ever relinquish the reigns of a patchiness framework?
History says that a coaching and cultural change is much needed. And no matter the pieces, whether that includes both Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul to tag along with Amar’e Stoudmire, a high-octane and run-n-gun system has never won championship, unless it was backed by a sincere defensive effort—like the old Showtime Lakers.
Until then, James Dolan will continue to front a falsified championship competitor, marked with a one-dimensional coach and the desire to add at least one of the same type of player.
All of this leaves New York in a slightly different spot, but with the opportunity to lose in the playoffs instead.
So while Knicks fans feel united and semi-secure, James Dolans knows the truth and won’t fully address the situation from a non-marketable angle, ultimately leaving the fans with a fake contender but some highlights along the way.