Never one to miss an opportunity to needle Knicks fans, my idol Bill Simmons had Howard Beck on his podcast today and they jointly made the case that if Kevin Durant is indeed going to switch teams, it makes much more sense for him to go to the Clippers instead of the Knicks.
Anytime Simmons makes some kind of proclamation like this, I give him a pass because he’s in the entertainment business, first and foremost, and he knows what gets clicks and listens1.
Howard Beck, on the other hand, is a journalist, and arguably one of the four or five best and most respected covering the league today. He’s also someone who used to cover the Knicks on a daily basis during some pretty dark times and has been open and honest about the fact that he doesn’t think the Knicks will ever be successful as long as the current ownership structure ensues.
Does he still hold a grudge for the media policies that were in place during his time here? Who’s to say. I’m not about to get into whether his stance on James Dolan is valid or warranted, because quite frankly I have no idea. I’m also a fan of the team, so for me to call out any bias on Beck’s part without acknowledging my own would be disingenuous and wrong.
Still, a case was made that LA is the better choice for the apple of New York’s eye. Were they right in saying KD should remain on the left coast? Let’s take a look:
Beck’s big point, unsurprisingly, is that the ownership situations are incomparable. He makes the case that there’s a great vibe throughout the Clippers organization thanks to Steve Ballmer (who certainly seems like a guy you’d want to work for), whereas with the Knicks, there’s a tension that pervades the franchise which exists up to this day, and it all comes from upstairs.
While it’s unclear whether Beck has been around the team since David Fizdale – himself seemingly a very positive guy that can lighten up a room – took the reins, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt here. That said, Dolan, by all indications, has butted out of basketball operations for years now (save the time he stepped in when most in the basketball world hoped he would to dismiss Phil Jackson).
Meanwhile, Zach Lowe had this nugget on the Clippers in his NBA preview:
The brain trust surely includes folks who know the league is ripe for a proper tank job, and wish Steve Ballmer would greenlight one.
That’s not insignificant, especially in a year where the draft is stacked at the top and with LA needing to renounce several of its cap holds to have room to sign Durant anyway. Simmons and Beck also make the point that Ballmer gets kudos by his willingness to spend freely. If one thing about James Dolan has never been an issue, it’s this.
Next up they talk about how Los Angeles has a better collection of NBA talent, which no one would argue with at the moment. What they don’t have is a 7’3″ Latvian with the potential to change the sport.
We have enough evidence to know that stars come to play with other stars, and of the Knicks and the Clippers, only New York has one such player in tow. Beck mentions Porzingis, but only offhandedly, noting that his injury status makes him a question mark. While it’s true that no one fully knows what version of KP to expect when he returns, if his own Instagram account is to be believed, the Unicorn seems to be progressing nicely:
The truth will set you free pic.twitter.com/w9zS6dlPSx
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) November 9, 2018
Regardless, the mere notion that Porzingis exists and will likely be here for the duration of Durant’s prime is a huge factor in this discussion, and ACL or no ACL, that can’t be taken lightly. Few guys can alter championship races, and a healthy KP looks primed to be one of the few who can.
As for the rest of the rosters, neither Howard nor Bill seem to buy into the hype surrounding the Knicks young core, despite the fact that Simmons’ own site has put out multiple pieces touting it this year alone. The Ringer’s lead NBA writer also seems to be a fan of their young point guard:
The next time someone says Frank Ntilikina is a bust, remind them that he is 20 and then send this video: https://t.co/UBuRlLjTzw
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) November 8, 2018
Look, the Knicks are bad. No one’s arguing against that. They also currently have the 21st ranked net rating in basketball and have had a fourth quarter lead in every game except one. Fiz seems to have something positive brewing, and the front office has unearthed some gems. To dismiss the roster as a collection of unknowns and never-will-be’s seems a bit shortsighted.
The Clippers are more of a known quantity and have quite a bit of NBA talent. They also will look very different if they’re to open up the cap room to sign Kevin Durant. Yes, they have all the cap space they need, but making that space available will also require renouncing the cap holds of several players who currently have them in the Western Conference playoff hunt. As implied earlier, they also don’t figure to be getting much help via the draft, whereas the Knicks may very well be in contention to nab one of the Duke All-Stars.
Lastly, the idea of bad contracts came up. Beck used the word “terrible” to describe Tim Hardaway Jr.’s pact. I myself have gotten in trouble with Knicks fans for arguing that despite his hot start, the remaining two (and possibly three, depending on if he exercises his player option) years left on THJ’s deal is not an easily moveable asset, mostly due to his below-average-at-best defense. That said, he’s one of only a dozen NBA players currently seeing over 30 minutes a night that’s sporting a 55 true shooting percentage and a 29 usage rate2.
What made Beck’s denouncing of Timmy a bit egregious was the fact that two minutes later, Simmons was singing the praises of Danilo Gallinari. The former Knickerbocker has had a wonderful year thus far, shooting the lights out of the ball while averaging 20 points per game. He’s also 30 and and has missed over 50% of his team’s games over the last five-plus seasons. His contract is no more or less movable than Hardaway’s.
At the end of the day, it seems like it’s at best a 50/50 toss up, but as many have stated, if Durant does choose the Knicks, it’s likely going to be about his own basketball legacy more than anything else. For as great as Ballmer and the city of Los Angeles might be, saving the Clippers doesn’t have quite the same cache (as Simmons strongly mentions).
Seven months and counting until we all find out.
In the meantime, the Knicks have 70 more games to play. Hopefully by the end of that, some of these more tired narratives will continue to go away.