The ups, downs, hopes and realities of being a Knicks fan during a rebuilding season

As I sit here on New Year’s Eve after one of the most embarrassing games in Knicks history, it’s a great opportunity to take the time to reflect on what I thought was going to happen this season, what has happened, and what I want to see happen for my beloved Knicks in 2019.

What I thought would happen

As an overly optimistic, highly hopeful, extremely supportive (and always disappointed) Knicks fan, I decided this year was going to be different. I was ready to go into this season with no expectations and somehow find even more patience than I had ever given before. As if the last 24 years of my fandom were not enough.

With KP out of the lineup and nobody worth the excitement, I had no choice but to hop on the rebuild train packed with lots of patience and optimism. Yes, it was going to be another long season, but I was ready for it…or so I thought.

After watching our rookies in a few Summer League games and learning more about coach Fizdale and the front office’s plans for the future, I was all in. I was ready to support this team through the ups and many downs ahead.

A rebuild is not supposed to be exciting, extreme patience is necessary, and lots of alcohol helps, too. As Knick fans, we know better than anyone else what shortcuts can do to a supposed “rebuild.” But I was excited for the process.

I attended this year’s open practice with an open mind, and it was hard not to get excited for the young talent we had just acquired. Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson looked like they were going to be studs! Allonzo Trier totally shocked me. Was it possible for my Knicks to get this lucky in the draft?!?! We got steals in Robinson and ISO Zo! At that point, I was even rooting for Ron Baker! He looked ready for the season, and so did Frenchie! I wasn’t sold on Mudiay but hoped for the best.

What has happened so far

After a few wins and close defeats to start the season, the Knicks were exciting to watch again. It’s like they were our child’s team, and as fans, we were those extremely supportive and encouraging parents sitting on the bleachers, watching and cheering. No harsh tweets, no blaming the coach, we were looking for the positives, even after a loss.

The Knicks went on a short-lived winning streak after a heartbreaking loss to the Trail Blazers; they went on to beat the Celtics, Pelicans and Grizzlies. That was where I made the mistake of going off the tracks and not trusting the process. For a second, I was about to revert to my old ways and have hope the Knicks can make the playoffs this year. They were right there, almost at .500, and if they could have held on until KP came back, I was sure it was possible. At least the delusional Knick fan in me thought so. Boy, was I wrong… and in denial for what was about to come.

The Knicks went on to win two more games after that win streak, a great win over the Bucks (which cost us later) and an overtime triller against the Hornets. Recent games have been horrible. So horrible that I, out of all people, have jumped on the tank train! At this point, it’s what’s best for the rebuilding process and for the future. Especially for Zion Williamson, if the basketball gods can finally be on the Knicks side! We are due for a #1 pick.

What I want to happen for the rest of the season

What I want to see for the remainder of this season is for the Knicks to continue to compete and show signs of development. Recently, we haven’t seen this at all. It’s almost like the young players have run out of gas, already. To be fair, there have been a few injuries. And there are a few notable exceptions. Kevin Knox is really giving it his all for the Rookie of the Year award. He is slowly adding himself to consideration; it makes you wonder where he would be if he didn’t injure his ankle early in the season.

Noah Vonleh has made a tremendous impact on both ends of the floor. I would like the Knicks to find a way to keep him next season, especially if we are trying to build an identity as a defensive-minded team, plus he’s the Greek Freak’s kryptonite.

I have apologized to Emmanuel Mudiay several times! I really appreciate a player that makes you eat your words. He has done an amazing job and will be a great backup point guard next season. Yes, deep down I still question his consistency. I hope he proves me wrong.

I am so over Enes Kanter and his unsportsmanlike attitude! Yes, Enes we know you like double doubles, but like your friend in OKC, we want more than an impressive stat line from you! I’m so glad Fizdale is not afraid to sit him. His lack of defense is what the Knicks should keep in mind before they even think of re-signing him this coming summer. I think his Knick days are done after this season.

I really hope we continue to develop and give meaningful minutes to our young players, especially Frank! After all, the youth represents the future of this team.

I think we need KP to come back around March to show free agents that he is back and the team is building toward something good at the World’s Most Famous Arena, which is an attraction on its own, let alone if the team is stocked with promising young players.

However, for all the free agent talk, I’m ok if they don’t land one of the superstars in July, which seems unlikely anyway. I just want the team to do what they told us they were going to do.

Stick to the process.

There’s no need to rush the plan by spending money this offseason, just because they have money to spend. Hopefully, we get Zion or the #2 pick and keep grinding. What’s another year or two! We’ve waited this long. Knicks fans can wait a little longer to build the team the right way.

I’m mentally preparing to get though the rest of the season with tequila and my Knicks thread. We can do this Knicks fans, we’ve been through worse. Wishing you all a happy, healthy New Year… and the #1 pick for 2019 😁

Make sure to follow me on Twitter where I will be keeping the conversation going about the Knicks all season long!

Happy Thoughts for a Happy New Year

First, watch the beginning of the play above.

Then, imagine, instead of of a dinosaur, that’s a 7’3 Unicorn catching at the top of the key. Imagine him stepping into a 30-foot bomb and scoffing at his defender for giving him so much room. Imagine him pump-faking when his defender remembers, “Oh sh**, that’s not Kanter! This guy can shoot,” and closes out too hard. Imagine one dribble to the basket. Imagine a long, lean arm rising toward the clouds before hammering the ball through the rim.

Rewind.

Imagine this Unicorn does nothing extraordinary. Instead, simply imagine the impact of his presence. Imagine his defender, the opponent’s rim protector, fearing his range. Imagine the defense extending well beyond the arc rather than sitting in the circle. Imagine the extra space for cutters and drivers.

Imagine the Unicorn in the near corner. Imagine him moving to the mid-post, catching the entry, and turning to shoot an effortless fadeaway, uncontested despite his defender’s best contest. Imagine it off one foot like Dirk. Imagine it kissing the glass before falling through.

Rewind.  

Imagine he doesn’t shoot from the post. Imagine he engages Timmy in the dribble-handoff. Imagine the confusion when the defense can’t just sit on the roll. Imagine, instead, a fade to the three-point line for a quick flick of the wrist. Then imagine a few possessions later, the Knicks run the same action. Imagine the defense, fearing the three, anticipates the pop. Now imagine the roll. Imagine his long strides toward the rim. Imagine him leaping to catch the lob, handling it with such ease and grace that even road fans must applaud.    

Imagine the opportunities in transition. Imagine him setting the screen for Mudiay, drifting to the top of the key, catching and shooting. Or imagine he doesn’t get it. Is Thaddeus Young anywhere near Mudiay’s release? No. He’s blanketing the Unicorn, giving Emmanuel any number of easier options. Just imagine the impact of his gravitational pull, what it could do for everyone else on the floor.

Imagine him catching the inbound. Imagine him taking his man off the dribble – one bounce, maybe two – and drawing the foul. Or imagine he executes the handoff to Lee, and…they switch? Maybe this worked in the past, but not anymore. Not with this better, stronger Unicorn. Imagine a patient Lee pulling it out to exploit the mismatch. Imagine the mouse being walked into the post and dominated. Or imagine Lee inexplicably shooting it anyway. Missing. Yet you don’t scream at the television, because there it is – a vintage Unicorn tip-slam. Imagine his glare. I’m back, it says.  

Imagine the two-man game with Frank. Imagine the collective length of this duo, neither of whom can legally rent a car. Allow your mind to drift to the other end of the floor, even as the offensive possession continues, and imagine the devastating defensive impact they could have together.  

Not now. We’re still trying to score. Imagine the Unicorn fading, catching, and…well, you know the result. Or imagine, again, his gravity. Imagine his defender can’t thwart Frank’s baseline drive. Imagine his man must sprint toward the hash mark, full speed, everything he has. Imagine how different Frank’s life would be. Imagine how much easier it’d be to play with controlled aggression, to find room, to create off the dribble. Imagine Frank getting all the way to the rim. Imagine him flushing it with two hands.

Imagine the help coming from the baseline, with the Unicorn being blanketed out by Fizdale. Imagine Frank taking an extra dribble before throwing a dart to Knox in the corner. Imagine Knox rising up and releasing. Imagine the ball doing what it’s been doing for Knox lately.  

Imagine, now, the wing helping down to the corner. Imagine the extra pass to Lee.

Imagine a top-ranked defense playing helter-skelter, desperate to recover, but always one pass, one move, one step behind. Imagine the open jumpers. Imagine clogged lanes parting like some sort of biblical event. Imagine a frustrated timeout. Imagine a baffled opposing huddle. Imagine futile adjustments. Imagine increased continuity, percentages rising, teammates filling more suitable roles and young talent inching closer to potential fulfillment, all made possible by the return of a truly unique talent…

Sometime soon, you won’t have to imagine anymore. Sometime soon, this will be your reality.

Just imagine how you’ll feel then.

On This Date: The Chris Smith era ends

December 31, 2013: The New York Knicks waive Chris Smith

As perhaps an auspicious start to a new year, the Knicks waived Chris “Da Gawd” Smith, the brother of JR Smith, to re-sign Jeremy Tyler.

Da Gawd initially joined the Knicks 2012 Summer League team. The team gave him a training camp invite, but was cut before the season after suffering a season-ending left patella injury that required surgery.

Smith re-appeared on the 2013 Summer League team. The Knicks subsequently signed him to a contract that guaranteed him $490,000 if he was on the opening day roster. Because Jeremy Tyler underwent foot surgery before training camp, Smith made the roster and received his guaranteed salary. Tyler was cleared to play in December for the Erie Bayhawks, the Knicks D-League affiliate.

Da Gawd played all of 2 uneventful minutes with the Knicks. He hasn’t appeared in the NBA since and is currently a free agent. He last played for the Maccabi Kiryat Motzkin of the Liga Leumit. 

After the Knicks waived Chris Smith, JR Smith posted an instagram photo alluding to “betrayal:”

View this post on Instagram

#OnceAgain

A post shared by JR Smith (@teamswish) on

Fans, media, and players alike criticized the signing as a sign of nepotism. Additionally, the move reeked of a favor made to CAA, the agency that represented both the Smiths, Carmelo Anthony, Mike Woodson, and many members of the Knicks & MSG Sports. Brandon Jennings squabbled with JR Smith on Twitter about the signing. The NBA later fined JR $25,000 after sending a tweet threatening to send “street homies” to Detroit.

When JR Smith signed a 3-year, $18 million extension in the summer of 2013, it’s possible that one of the stipulations was to sign Chris to a contract. This was also part of a larger ploy to retain Carmelo Anthony in the summer of 2014. Both Melo & JR Smith are close friends dating back to their days with the Nuggets.

Although Melo re-signed with the Knicks, the CAA influence slowly dissipated. Metta World Peace alluded to many of the issues with CAA when he was cut in February 2014. Additionally, Phil Jackson slowly removed a lot of the CAA handlers and staffers associated within the organization.

Despite the vitriol against the Smiths, the one silver lining out of this ordeal was Chris Brickley. Brickley played a year of basketball with Chris Smith at Louisville under Rick Pitino. He eventually trained both of the Smiths over the next two seasons. With the recommendation of JR Smith & Rick Pitino, the Knicks hired Brickley in 2013 as a player development coach.

Brickley confided with Melo during his tenure with the organizations. His workouts with Melo became notorious on Instagram and sparked future workouts with NBA stars alike. Due to the increased popularity, the Knicks & Brickley mutually parted ways in 2017. For Brickley, this allowed him to expand his horizons beyond just the Knicks. For the Knicks, this allowed the team to keep some of their player development protocols in secret for purposes of competitive advantage.

Brickley later formed the BlackOps basketball training and workout program. He runs sessions during the offseason for high school, college and NBA players alike. The sessions include individual drills and scrimmages. 

Most of the sessions are held at Life Time Athletic at Sky, a gym designed by Melo that opened in 2016. Coincidentally, Kristaps Porzingis rents a few penthouses in Sky that gives him unlimited access to the Life Time Athletic health club and basketball court.

 

On This Date: Knicks acquire Moochie Norris

December 30, 2003: Knicks acquire Moochie Norris in a trade with the Houston Rockets

New GM Isiah Thomas made his first trade with the Knicks by acquiring Moochie Norris & John Amaechi for Clarence Weatherspoon. Originally a 2nd round draft pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, Norris spent most of his career as a backup point guard with various teams in the NBA and the Continental Basketball Association. He spent the previous 3+ seasons with the Houston Rockets backing up Steve Francis.

Norris received a 6-year, $23M deal before the 2001-02 season. However, his production never matched his contract. Norris scored a career-high 8.1 points/game and started 26 games in the 2001-02 season, but his production decreased heading into the trade.

Amaechi never played a game with the Knicks. Isiah waived him shortly after the trade and retired afterwards. Amaechi never played a game with the Rockets after being acquired in September 2003. 

Clarence Weatherspoon fell out of favor in the Knicks rotation due to injuries, lack of production, and a glut of PFs. (Kurt Thomas, Othella Harrington, Mike Sweetney) Scott Layden erroneously gave Weatherspoon a 5 year $27 million contract in the summer of 2001.

Norris played sparingly after the trade due to the Stephon Marbury trade and the emergence of Frank Williams. Norris was ultimately traded back to Houston in the following year for Mo Taylor.

News Summary: Enes Kanter’s wild night in Milwaukee

What happened: The night started with David Fizdale replacing Kanter with Luke Kornet in the starting lineup. Kanter responded with a tweet to suggest he was not happy with the decision. Kornet responded by pouring in a career-best 23 points, on seven, count ’em, seven three-pointers!

Then what happened: Kanter said he would address the lineup decision after the game, but that issue took a backseat to the questionable ejection he received after a skirmish with Giannis Antetokounmpo.

  • Giannis was knocked down on a drive attempt to the basket leading up to the altercation. After the referees reviewed the play, both players received technical fouls (on a play no common foul was issued), and Kanter received a second technical for taunting. You can read the reasoning behind the technicals given by the crew chief after the game here. Kanter received three stitches from the play leading up to the incident.

How did KP get involved? Bucks assistant Darvin Ham was a bit aggressive in trying to separate the two players, which annoyed Kristaps Porzingis, who was watching from home.

  • Kanter: “He texted me and I talked to him on FaceTime. He can be quiet but he supports us 100 percent. He’s always supporting us and it means a lot to me.’’ [Marc Berman | New York Post]
  • Kanter: “I could’ve just pushed him back and started another fight. But I don’t think the NBA wants that. He’s not my assistant coach. He’s not my friend. He’s not nobody. He should be fined.” [Steve Popper | Newsday]

The NBA reviewed the incident between Kanter, Giannis, and Ham and issued no fines. The NBA said Ham “acted as a peacemaker to separate the players. We determined that no further action is needed for any party.” [Marc Berman |New York Post]


On This Date: Knicks waive DeMarco Johnson

December 29th 1999: Knicks waive DeMarco Johnson

In a sign of gutting the legacy of the Ed Tapscott/Ernie Grunfeld era, the Knicks waived DeMarco Johnson. Johnson was on the injured list and the Knicks wanted to free up his spot for Rick Brunson on the active roster.  

The Knicks drafted Johnson 38th overall in the 1998 NBA Draft. He spent 4 years at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.1 Due to the lockout, DeMarco spent the 1998-99 season in Italy with Sony Milano.

Unfortunately, DeMarco played only 5 games with the Knicks and had a grand total of 6 points and 7 rebounds in 37 minutes. DeMarco represented another draft pick bust during the Grunfeld/Tapscott era. Players such as Rafer Alston, Cuttino Mobley, Jahidi White, Greg Buckner, and Ryan Bowen were drafted after him and had relatively productive NBA careers. The other Knicks 2nd round draft pick, and current Nets GM, Sean Marks had several productive seasons in the NBA despite being shipped to the Raptors in the Marcus Camby trade.

DeMarco Johnson never played another NBA game after the Knicks waived him. However, he carved a decade long career playing overseas in Italy and Spain. He is currently an assistant coach on the Hampton University basketball team. 

Noah Vonleh, the Giannis stopper

Ok, so nobody stops Giannis Antetokounmpo, but Noah Vonleh has done a pretty good job of slowing him down over the four games the Knicks have played Milwaukee this season.

You might ask how this is possible considering the MVP candidate is still averaging 31.3 points on 52.9% shooting vs New York?

  • What the stats say: Giannis is shooting 52.1% on possessions he is guarded by Vonleh, who has defended him more than any other defender in the league. This is a drop from the 58.1% he shoots vs everyone else. Vonleh has also forced 7 turnovers and blocked 3 shots. He might not be shutting him down, but he is making a difference on the defensive end. [NBA.com/stats]
  • Why this could matter: Noah Vonleh is a free agent after this season and the Knicks don’t hold any Bird rights to sign him to a significant deal over the cap. If the team wants to preserve cap space to chase a star, it might be difficult to keep him in New York. However, before worrying about what happens in July, they could look to acquire extra assets from an Eastern Conference playoff team looking for someone they can put on Giannis in key situations. The Knicks could always trade him as a rental and bring him back over the summer, but with more assets to show for it.

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Kanter unhappy with bench role

Enes Kanter lost his starting spot to Luke Kornet over the last two games. He has not been shy in voicing his displeasure.

  • Kanter: “I don’t understand. This is too early in the season to shut me down. My goal is to go out there and try to be an All-Star this year. That was my goal. But now, look at the situation. You can’t do anything about it. You’ve got to stay positive. Just got to stay positive.” [Ian Begley | ESPN]
  • When pressed about his feelings on the Knicks prioritizing player development, Kanter said, “Ask me after the [Nuggets] game. I’ll have a better answer. … We’ll just talk about it after the game.” [Marc Berman | New York Post]

Should the Knicks be playing Kanter? Using the difference in points scored vs allowed per 100 possessions when Kanter is on the court vs off the court, you can project his impact on team wins. This season, the Knicks have played like a 15-win team with Kanter on the floor, versus a 27-win team when he is off the floor. The team’s net rating is 6.2 points LOWER when he plays versus when he doesn’t. [Cleaning the Glass]

  • If you are reading this blog, you know his limitations on defense; Kanter is also a limited player on offense, as a scorer out of the post or on put-backs. Regardless how you feel about the Knicks prioritizing youth over veteran playing time, it is debatable whether Kanter makes the Knicks better.

Meanwhile, Lance Thomas and Courtney Lee were reportedly told “a while ago that the organization was prioritizing ‘development,'” which I take to mean playing young players over veterans. [Stefan Bondy | New York Daily News]

  • Fizdale said there was a team-wide discussion Monday before its film session where the frustrations of the veterans who have seen their playing time decrease were addressed.” [Chris Iseman | The Record]

Mitchell Robinson back soon

Mitchell Robinson is hoping to return for the Knicks’ January 4th match-up with the Lakers, although it is more likely he won’t return until the final two games of the current west coast trip, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post.

  • Robinson: “Hopefully the last two games or before I’ll be playing. I would like to play [against the Lakers]. I don’t like sitting down. I just want to play.” [Marc Berman | New York Post]
  • The Knicks are 0-7 since Robinson left the lineup with a sprained left ankle. He recently shed a walking boot that he had been wearing during his recovery process. He injured himself falling awkwardly on December 14 vs Charlotte, the last game the Knicks won.

Knicks blown out in Utah

The Knicks nearly faced their largest halftime deficit in franchise history during their blowout loss to Utah. A Tim Hardaway Jr. three-pointer saved them from that dubious feat. The Knicks found themselves down by 37 points at halftime (their largest halftime deficit ever is 40 points).

  • Fizdale: “[The Jazz] came out with force. We came out dead. We had no legs, no life, no nothing, couldn’t make shots, couldn’t get stops. It was a total avalanche.” [MSG Networks]
  • Knicks assistants Keith Smart and Kaleb Canales gave it to the team at halftime. The Knicks responded with a better second half, but it’s hard to evaluate when the score was so out of hand.

Frank dunks over Gobert

This was literally the only highlight of the game.


Mudiay discusses troubles in Denver

Emmanuel Mudiay was not on speaking terms with the Denver media upon being traded to the Knicks. He tells the New York Daily News that questions about his struggles and benching became repetitive.

  • Mudiay: “I kind of shut down for a little bit. That’s just the honest truth. I was young. I’m still young. But you have to kind of go through certain things.” [Stefan Bondy | New York Daily News]
  • Mudiay admitted he was out of shape when coming to New York last season, finding his solution in giving up fried food. [Stefan Bondy | New York Daily News]

Dotson part of future?

The Knicks have a strong interest in Dotson as a part of their future, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post.

  • Dotson has a non-guaranteed amount of $1.6MM that the Knicks have until July 15 to decide on.
  • Since his 2019 salary is only about $800,000 more than a min roster charge, there is not much cap savings in letting him walk. It would seem to make sense to keep a young player with a strong work ethic, rather than looking to replace his production, at such a cheap price, with someone else.

Luke Kornet starts again

Luke Kornet received his second consecutive start in Utah. He connected on four more three-pointers in the Knicks loss, after making seven in his first start.

  • Utah took advantage of the Knicks’ defense by putting Kornet in situations where he was forced to defend 1-on-2 out of drop coverage, as Gobert finishing most plays with dunks. The Knicks guards had trouble keeping the ball-handler in front of them on pick and rolls.
  • The Knicks tried to adjust in the second half. They had Kornet show high on the initial screen to prevent penetration. He would then quickly recover back to his man. This worked in isolated situations, but didn’t in others. The Knicks’ off-ball defenders had trouble bumping or “holding” the roll man to allow Kornet enough time to recover.

In his first start: Kornet became the first seven-footer to connect on 7 three-pointers in a Knicks uniform, according to Basketball-Reference. He also joined a small list of seven-footers across the entire NBA to connect on 7 threes. The others are Channing Frye, Brook Lopez, Lauri Markkanen and Dirk Nowitzki. [Kevin Pelton | ESPN]

  • What starting means: Hopefully it means that Fizdale is starting to figure out that as much as Kanter racks up points and rebounds from post-ups and put-backs, he adds very little value as a pick-and-roll player in the offense, and becomes a net negative due to his defense. Kornet helps the Knicks stretch the floor up to the 5 position, providing a major threat to pop out of pick-and-rolls, and he is also a stable defender near the rim.

David Fizdale likes what Kornet can do for the Knicks’ defense.

  • Fizdale once said Kornet “couldn’t jump over an envelope” in complimenting his ability to protect the rim despite his lack of athleticism. Kornet responded, “I was actually thinking about how many envelopes I could jump and then putting them in his office.” [Marc Berman | New York Post]
  • How was Kornet’s defense vs Milwaukee? Milwaukee is the best team in the NBA scoring near the rim. In Kornet’s first start, the Knicks held them to 61.1% near the rim (which would rank 22nd). Part of this is a result of Vonleh’s defense on Giannis, and Kornet was beat convincingly by Brook Lopez on a few possessions, but overall, he helped the Knicks stay even on defense against a tough match-up.

On This Date: Knicks spoil Grant Hill’s MSG Debut

December 28, 1994: Grant Hill makes his MSG debut, but the Knicks prevail with the victory

The New York Knicks spoiled Grant Hill’s MSG debut with a 101-93 victory against the Detroit Pistons. Patrick Ewing led the Knicks with 30 points and 11 rebounds. Charles Smith also had a double double with 23 points and 10 rebounds. 

Hill – the heralded rookie from Duke – scored 21 points, but shot 7-19 from the field and Anthony Mason stymied him on the defensive end. Hill represented a new era for the Pistons after Isiah Thomas retired after the 1993-94 season. Additionally, future Knick Allan Houston played 4 minutes off the bench, but didn’t contribute to his statline.

Despite the win, the Knicks faced another significant injury in the frontcourt. Herb Williams fractured his middle finger in his left hand after colliding with Anthony Mason grabbing a rebound. The Knicks were already without Charles Oakley, who was out until February after undergoing surgery on his toe. 

Due to those injuries, the Knicks signed journeyman Greg Kite as a reinforcement in the front court. However, the Knicks waived Kite in February once Herb Williams returned from injury. Kite only played 16 minutes in 2 games, so he wasn’t relied upon in his brief tenure with the team.

Kornet shines in loss to Milwaukee

In a season like this for the New York Knicks, losses are going to come in many shapes and sizes. Some will be embarrassing, some will be heartbreakers, and some, like tonight, against the second best team in the league, with the likely MVP, that scores more points than anyone, can actually make you feel ok.

The final score didn’t indicate it (partially because there is simply a massive talent discrepancy between these teams), but the Knicks fought hard on their way to a 112-96 loss. There were a few highlights, starting with, of course…

  • Luke Kornet, who set a Knicks record for most 3-point field goals by a 7-footer with seven, was a revelation. On offense, his floor spacing opened up the court for the Knicks (which didn’t help because several of their players couldn’t throw one into the ocean…we’ll get to that in a bit) and on defense, he tried. Like, gave actual effort…hands up, feet shuffling…the whole gamut. Amazing what basic competency and energy can do for a defense from even a far-below-average NBA athlete. He is an NBA player. He was not, however, the Knicks best player. That honor goes to…
  • Noah Vonleh. If I was a team that maybe had to play the Bucks in the playoffs, I’d think long and hard about giving up something legit to try and get this dude. Hell, if I’m the Bucks I might trade for him just so someone else can’t use him to defend Giannis. I’m not sure you can play the probable MVP any better than Vonleh did, who just keeps impressing, ending up with 15 and 13 in 35 grueling minutes.
  • No one else was particularly good for the Knicks, but as a team, they competed hard on defense, giving up 112 points, yes, but to the highest scoring team in the NBA in an incredibly fast-paced game. I do not think it was a coincidence that such an effort came with Tim Hardaway Jr. out sick and Kanter relegated to only 14 minutes.
  • Oh yes, that guy. He got ejected for mouthing off to Giannis and getting in his face. Antetekounmpo laughed, as he should have. Kanter needs not be taken seriously by anyone at this point. His pre-game Twitter emoji nonsense is laughably immature for a guy who is supposed to be one of the vets on this team. Seriously…I teach 8th grade and most of them wouldn’t pull the kind of nonsense we see from someone getting paid $18 million a year to be a professional athlete. Enough is enough.
  • Frank was back, and he was…fine. Some nice moments on offense, one ugly brick, some solid defense and a few breakdowns (which we’ve seen more than last year, it seems). He was probably one of their better players overall, which isn’t saying much.
  • No one else could make a shot, but Trier particularly was bad. He finished 2-10, complained about several non-calls, and played some of the only bad defense we saw tonight. If Frank’s play warranted a seat on the bench on Christmas, Trier’s might on Saturday.
  • Lance Thomas, Mario Hezonja and Trey Burke were all healthy DNP’s.

That’s it. This team could use a win. Maybe it comes against Utah on Saturday. Crazier things have happened.

On This Date: Knicks hire Red Holzman. 39 years later, the Knicks play a Triple OT thriller

December 27, 1967: The New York Knicks hire Red Holzman as Head Coach

In a franchise altering move, the Knicks fired Dick McGuire and hired Red Holzman as head coach. McGuire – a native of the Bronx – spent 8 years playing point guard with the Knicks and was a 7-time NBA All Star. After a stint as player-coach and head coach with the Detroit Pistons, the Knicks hired him as head coach in 1965.

While McGuire was a superb player as a Knick, his dominance didn’t translate as head coach. He had a 75-103 record with the team before his dismissal. At the time, the Knicks were in last place. He wasn’t able to get a full season of Willis Reed & Walt “Clyde” Frazier. However, the Knicks later hired McGuire to join their front office and remained there until his death in 2010.

Red – a native of Brooklyn – spent the previous 10 seasons as the chief scout for the Knicks. He was responsible for discovering and drafting both Willis and Clyde. Despite his preference to be a scout, team president Ned Irish convinced Holzman to coach the team.

Irish’s persistence had major dividends for the franchise. Holzman led the team to their only two championships. The key stars he coached – from Earl Monroe to Clyde Frazier to Wills Reed – all made the Hall of Fame.


December 27, 2006: Knicks win a Triple OT Thriller against the Detroit Pistons

The Knicks shocked the Madison Square Garden faithful with a thrilling 151-145 Triple Overtime victory against the Detroit Pistons. The Knicks withstood a career high 51 points from Rip Hamilton and double-doubles from former Knicks Antonio McDyess, & Nazr Mohammed. Future Knick Chauncey Billups also had a double double with 17 points and 10 assists.

The Knicks led by 3 points with less than 10 seconds left in regulation before Carlos Delfino tied the game with a three. The Knicks fell behind by 5 with less than two minutes left in overtime before tying the score and sending the game to Double OT. With the Knicks down 136-134 , Channing Frye hit a buzzer beating shot to send the game to Triple Overtime. The Knicks were able to hold an early lead in triple overtime and sealed the victory.

Stephon Marbury led the Knicks with 41 points and 8 assists while hitting 12-15 from the foul line in 50 minutes. The quartet of Marbury, Eddy Curry, Jamal Crawford, & Channing Frye scored a combined 129 points and made a combined 40-48 from the free throw stripe.

Since the Nuggets/Knicks brawl, the Knicks had a stretch of gritty performances and buzzer beaters that was capped by their performance on this date.

 

Knicks Film School: How the Knicks are getting creative for Kevin Knox

Kevin Knox is scoring in a variety of ways on his way to averaging 20.4 points and 6.5 rebounds over his last eight games. He is scoring in transition, knocking down threes, and driving to the rim with an increased intensity.

As I was looking through the film to see what Knox has been doing differently during this scoring stretch, and you can read more about that here, I came across a few interesting plays that offer a glimpse of how Fizdale is being more creative in getting Knox involved in the offense.

Let’s take a look.


Setting up Knox from dummy action

During Knox’s breakout game against Charlotte, I noticed the offense using “fluff” action, or making it appear they were going to run one of their preferred actions to get Knox the ball coming over the top, only to run something different that resulted in an open look for the rookie.

EXAMPLE 1: The Knicks start in a dribble hand-off (DHO) look, but they really want their primary action to start by focusing the defense on the mismatch in the post between Tim Hardaway Jr. and Tony Parker. Once the Hornets react to this mismatch by sending help, the Knicks anticipate this and create an open look for Knox when his man helps the helper.

The only reason the Knicks show this DHO action to start the play is so Knox can move his man with him toward the top of the key and closer to where he would help the helper when Hardaway Jr. gets the entry.

As the Knicks move the ball to the other side of the court and make the entry to Hardaway Jr., Knox slowly creeps to the three-point break where he will find himself wide open to receive the pass from THJ for the open look.


EXAMPLE 2: Again, the Knicks set their offense as if they are going to run something different than what they ultimately show. Mudiay and Vonleh set themselves in position to set the stagger screen for Knox, fooling the Hornets, and in particular, Malik Monk, into thinking Knox will be coming over the top to receive the ball from Tim Hardaway Jr.

Instead of Knox coming around the stagger screen, as the Hornets expect, Knox cuts to the basket. With Dotson on the far corner, THJ handling the ball high on the perimeter, and Knox’s two remaining teammates set-up for the screen near the three-point line, the floor is spaced so there are no defenders to help inside.

You can see Monk is completely fooled below, as he is so concerned with fighting his way to the top where he expects Knox to be after running around the screens, he doesn’t even realize Knox is under the basket waiting for a pass until it is too late.


You can watch both plays in motion in the video below.

Knicks Film School Podcast: NBA Draft with Jonathan Wasserman

Jon is joined by Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman. They discuss his latest mock draft, including why he has Ja Morrant going to the Knicks, just how much better Zion Williamson is than everybody else, and who New York might take if they don’t want a point guard. Then they talk a little Knicks, including where Kevin Knox goes from here and whether Frank Ntilikina will ever make it in the Big Apple.

LISTEN: iTunesStitcher

Make sure you check out Jonathan Wasserman’s updated mock draft with the Knicks slotted third:

Kevin Knox is thriving with Allonzo Trier’s touches

Let’s pretend the Knicks most recent loss to Milwaukee didn’t happen for a second.2

Instead, I want to take a step back and look at what happened in the previous 14 games, which wraps around an important point in time for when Kevin Knox started scoring the basketball in bunches.

The ninth overall pick, who was notoriously booed by a select group of fans who wanted the team to select Michael Porter Jr. on draft night, is looking much more like he did in Summer League, except, this time, the competition is real.

The Kentucky product averaged 20.3 points and 6.6 rebounds on 43.3 percent shooting over the 7 games leading up to Christmas. Pretty impressive stuff.

However, there is another way to look at Knox’s recent stretch beyond counting back the number of games on the calendar. You can cite the same statistics and replace “last 7 gameswithsince Mario Hezonja has seen his minutes reduced and Allonzo Trier has been out of the lineup.”

Kevin Knox is scoring more than 20 points per game since Fizdale drastically reduced Hezonja’s minutes and when Allonzo Trier was absent from the Knicks lineup with a sore hamstring. On the night Trier first sat and Hezonja found himself riding the bench, Knox poured in 26 points on December 9 vs Charlotte.

In the 7 games proceeding Knox’s breakout night, Hezonja was averaging 20 minutes per game. This is only two minutes less than what Knox was averaging at the time. Since Knox replaced Hezonja in the starting lineup, he is averaging 36.8 minutes, while Hezonja is down to 11.5 minutes, most recently receiving DNPs vs Atlanta and Milwaukee.

And this is where Allonzo Trier’s absence comes into play. Leading up to the injury, Kevin Knox played alongside Allonzo Trier more than any other teammate.

So while Knox’s minutes have ticked up at the expense of Mario Hezonja, his added offensive production is the product of receiving touches and shot attempts that were previously reserved for Iso Zo.

Knox’s touches each game have jumped from 37.6 in the seven games leading up to Trier’s injury to 55.1 over the seven games Trier was out of the lineup. Knox also increased his shot frequency by eight more shot attempts per game, which is interestingly around the same number of shot attempts Trier was averaging in the seven games before he got hurt.

But it’s not just volume that is helping Knox’s numbers. He is also much more efficient, of late. His 43.3 percent shooting accuracy in the games Trier sat out is a drastic increase over the 33.8 percentage he shot in the seven games prior to Trier’s injury.

And where does that increased efficiency come from?

Driving to the hoop… the same thing that “anonymous scouts” criticized Knox for not doing enough; the same thing Knox, himself, knows he needs to do more of to get his offense going.

In the seven games Trier was out with an injury, Knox averaged 5.4 drives per game, which is nearly double the 2.8 drives per game he averaged before that point in time. He is also finishing 46.2% of his shots resulting from drives during this current scoring stretch, versus only 27.0% prior to that, according to NBA.com.

Drives are supposed to exclude fast break opportunities, but it’s hard to know, for sure, if NBA.com is accurate in stripping out the semi-transition plays that result in “drives” for Knox. This could partially explain why his numbers have increased during Trier’s injury. The Knicks are more likely to run with Mudiay at point guard and Knox playing alongside him.

That said, it’s the halfcourt game where the added touches Knox receives when Trier is not playing are helping him the most. Without Trier as the lead ball-handler, the 2018 lottery pick finds himself in more situations, particularly at the top of the key, that allow him to drive to the rim, either to pull up short for his patented little floater, or finish the play with a lay-up or dunk.

This is not to say Allonzo Trier is a bad offensive player, but to suggest that Trier’s dominance of the ball can turn Knox into a spectator when he should be taking more command of the basketball.

If we now look at the Knicks loss to Milwaukee on Christmas, we can see how Knox played with Trier back in the lineup. And guess what? Knox still took plenty of shots, 20 to be exact, but 19 of those came when Trier was off the floor.

If David Fizdale wants Kevin Knox to continue to develop as a lead option in the offense, it might make sense for him to stagger Knox and Trier’s minutes as much as possible. This comes from playing Knox less minutes at the four, often resulting in a lineup that finds room for Trier alongside two other guards, and more minutes at the three, with a player like Noah Vonleh, who helps create plays for Knox with his screening ability rather than taking away opportunities by demanding more touches, like Trier.

Knox might eventually become a great modern day four, but the composition of the current roster is pleading for Fizdale to play him with players who help him drive to the hoop and become a lead scorer instead of playing him with ball-dominant players who take away valuable touches for his development.

Where we’re at with Frank Ntilikina

Frank Ntilikina got a lump of coal in his stocking with another DNP-CD. Where does this leave him, and should Knicks fans once again be worried?

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

The most famous line from Animal Farm, George Orwell’s Stalinist critique from 1945, has taken on newfound meaning to Knicks fans in 2018. Thanks to David Fizdale’s proclaimed mantra of “keep what you kill,”2 the thought from day one is that things like reputation, contract status or years of experience wouldn’t matter when it came to dolling out playing time. If you earned it, you got it, plain and simple.

By and large, this has been true. Scott Perry draftee Mario Hezonja and his .383/.293/.632 slash line have finally been relegated to the bench. Meanwhile, undrafted rookie Allonzo Trier is averaging 23 minutes per game. Co-captain Courtney Lee has seen his time fluctuate, while Damyean Dotson has already played nearly 200 more minutes than he did all of last year. Noah Vonleh and Emmanuel Mudiay – given up for dead by other organizations – have been given second chances at life. Overall, healthy play has warranted healthy minutes.

Yet, after the Knicks 109-95 Christmas Day loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, there is a sense that not everyone is on an equal playing field. Frank Ntilikina – whose mom flew in from across the pond to see him play – saw as many minutes of action as she did2.

Ntilikina had played in eight straight games following three consecutive DNP-CD’s3

Since then, once again, his shot has abandoned him. Frank has gone a combined 6-for-28 over his last five games.

The issue many Knicks fans have is a simple one: why isn’t Ntilikina allowed to shoot his way through slumps the same way everyone else on the team can? Kevin Knox is shooting 38% on the year and has led the team in minutes this month. Tim Hardaway Jr. has shot 36% from the field over his last 21 games and we have yet to see a repercussion. Trey Burke, who was ostensibly Ntilikina’s replacement against Milwaukee, was 1-for-7 on Christmas and is 11 for his last 61 from the field.

More than anyone, Burke seems to be the guy drawing the most criticism from Frankophones. This is someone who, after a three-month stretch of brilliance last season which included unsustainable midrange shooting, has reverted back to what he’s been for most of his career: barely an NBA player. Throw in the fact that the Knicks invested a lottery pick in Ntilikina just a year and a half ago, and it’s easy to see why people are a bit peeved.

I get it. I was sitting in front of the television sporting my French Prince T-shirt, ignoring my wife’s family, just waiting to catch a glimpse of the kid that I’ve wanted to succeed perhaps more than any other in my 25 years of being a Knicks fan.

I had a feeling I’d be disappointed going back to Fizdale’s comments after the Atlanta game when he admitted he probably should have played Frank more, after pulling him when he took only two shots in 13 minutes and looked like the same hesitant, tentative dude we watched for long stretches earlier this season and last. That it came against perhaps the worst defensive point guard rotation in basketball didn’t help matters one bit.

When Burke checked into the game vs Milwaukee, I knew that was that.

I also couldn’t be mad. I mean, I could…that would be the easy thing to do. There’s not a rational Knicks fan alive who wants to watch Burke put up brick after brick while the team’s once-and-maybe-still point guard of the future lies in wait.

But what we want also doesn’t jive with the monumental task David Fizdale has before him. “Culture reset” isn’t as easy as pushing a button. It starts and ends with getting buy in from each and every person in the locker room, and that means making those people feel like playing time is never handed out unfairly.

Has it worked? Consider, for a moment, just how bad the Knicks are. Their best player this season is a guy who they picked up off the scrap heap on a non-guaranteed deal in late July. The man who was supposed to be their best player hasn’t been able to hit the far side of a barn in two months…and that’s his better end of the court. Their leading scorers this month are a point guard, who literally any team could have had if they wanted him, and a teenager who doesn’t fully know what he’s doing yet.

Despite the dearth of NBA-ready talent, this team has been consistently competitive late into games. The talent discrepancy eventually results in the superior team pulling away on most nights, but if you’ve watched them at all this season, you’ve seen a team that plays hard almost without exception.

On top of that, every young player on the roster, save for Ntilikina, has exceeded expectations. That speaks to development, the other pillar of the 2018-19 New York Knicks season: Discard Mudiay and Vonleh’s achievements as part of this conversation at your own peril; they are 45 years old between them. There is no universe in which what they’ve accomplished is bad for this franchise, on several levels.

But there is a feeling amidst some that if Frank fails, it will all be for naught. It’s not an unfair position to take, especially when their approach towards him has been questioned so heavily.

As Mike Vorkunov thoughtfully dove into earlier this month, other organizations skew in favor of giving lottery picks more time whether they’ve earned it or not. It would seem, at first glance, that Frank is not getting the same benefit. He is, on the surface, getting treated the exact same as Burke, who was benched himself for the two games heading into Christmas Day.

The thing most people seem to be ignoring is that with David Fizdale, results are only part of the equation. For him, approach seems to matter just as much.

In no uncertain terms, Frank has been horrible on the offensive end this year, and that is maybe not a strong enough word to describe his performance. Of the 159 players this season with a 16 usage rate or higher who’ve played at least 10 games and 20 minutes a night, Ntilikina’s 43.6 true shooting percentage ranks dead last. Yet that didn’t stop Fizdale from giving him another bite at the apple after a few games on the bench earlier this month.

Had Frank maintained the approach he had in those first three games, regardless of the results, he likely would have been able to give his mom a Merry Christmas. That wasn’t the case though. We know Frank is doing what the coaching staff asks when he drives the lane and shoots without hesitation. In his two outbursts against Charlotte and Cleveland, Ntilikina had seven and nine drives, respectively, to go with 24 total shots. In the five games after that, he averaged only 5.2 drives and 5.6 field goal attempts.

That might not seem like a drastic enough difference to warrant a seat back on the bench, but when you factor in the results – 21% shooting over those five games – yeah, it kind of does.

Is David Fizdale making the right choice? Is he correct to emphasize an approach on offense that essentially boils down to “attack first, think never,” even if that results in more and more shots that don’t go in?

Again, we go back to the “results vs approach” conversation. The Knicks are not trying to win games this year. At some point, hopefully soon, they will have players on the roster that will change that. This year is about putting systems in place such that, when the players taking those shots improve, so will the results. Say what you will about the misses that Timmy, Burke & Co. are generating, but most of these aren’t bad looks. The Knicks currently rank 9th in the NBA in frequency of open looks.[footnote]defined as the closest defender within 4 to 6 feet. They’re just not going in.

What has become painfully apparent is that hesitation plays no part in Fizdale’s coaching philosophy. For Frank Ntilikina, for the moment at least, that means another stint spent watching from the sidelines.

Like last time, it probably won’t be for long. Fizdale once again emphasized after the Bucks game that his rotations are always in flux. This would probably calm the nerves of many Knicks fans a lot more if they were certain the organization still had faith in the young Frenchman.

If David Fizdale is to be believed, they do, and this is simply their preferred method of bringing him along. Here’s what he said to Steve Popper a few days ago:

“He still resorts back but that’s part of his process…It’s just like any habit is. You’ve just got to stay with it where you build a habit of playing free without worrying about what people say, about what the coach is thinking, what anybody is thinking. It’s just because he’s so unselfish, he’s concerned about that stuff. But it’s the further that I can get him away to where he’s not really harboring those thoughts, I think the better off he’s going to be.

“You can see it. When you’re around him long enough, you can tell when he’s like, ‘Screw it. I’m just letting it all hang out and I’m just going to play.’ And you can see when he’s thinking about, ‘If I miss this or if I screw this up, what’s going to happen? What’s the consequence?’ You can see his brain going through that process. How far can I move him away from that is what I’m trying to get him to where he’s constantly in a clear state of mind.”

The ultimate question is whether time on the bench is the best way to get a kid to play without fear of getting sent to the bench. Earlier this month, the method seemed to work.

That, plus Fizdale’s believe that this doesn’t count as a regression, but is instead “part of his process,” should be encouraging.

For many Knicks fans though, words aren’t enough. They need to see proof…both from Ntilikina and the man tasked with bringing him along.

Knicks Film School Podcast: Midseason Prospect Review

Jon goes on a short rant about something that annoyed him from last week before he’s joined by Knicks Film School’s draft expert, Spencer Pearlman, to check in on all the top prospects. Spencer gives an in depth look at why Zion Williamson is his unquestioned #1, why RJ Barrett isn’t his #2, and why if he were the Knicks and had the second pick, he’d take someone few people are talking about. They also discuss Ja Morant, Cam Reddish, Nassir Little and several other players who could wind up in New York.

LISTEN: iTunes / Google

On This Date: JR Smith hits game-winner in Phoenix

December 26, 2012: JR Smith hits game-winning basket to stun the Phoenix Suns 

In what almost amounted to be a post-Christmas Day hangover, JR Smith helped the Knicks avoid a back-to-back disappointment with the game-winner. This was his 2nd game-winner after stunning the Charlotte Bobcats earlier in the month.

JR came off the bench to score 27 points in 37 minutes. Despite not hitting a three point shot, he had 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals. Jason Kidd scored 23 points, on 8-16 from the field and 5-8 from three, with 6 rebounds and 8 assists. Tyson Chandler had a double double with 14 points and 12 rebounds.  

The team was without both Carmelo Anthony & Raymond Felton. Melo missed the game with a hyperextended right knee he suffered when Marcus Camby fell on his leg during the Christmas Day game against the Lakers. Felton injured his finger going after a loose ball in the Lakers game and was subsequently out for the next 4-6 weeks.

After the Suns took a 2 point lead in the 1st quarter, the Knicks took a 10 point lead by halftime. Jared Dudley helped lead the Suns to tie the game after 3 quarters. JR and Kidd helped keep the Knicks in the 4th until the former hit the game winning basket at the buzzer.

On This Date: Reflecting on the history between the Knicks and Christmas Day

For me, Christmas Day has meant a few habitual traditions: watch the Christmas Day Parade, spend time with family, eat plenty of food, and watch basketball. Yes, basketball.

In recent years, the NBA schedule makers were kind enough to place the Knicks back onto the Christmas schedule. The Knicks have played on Christmas in eight of the past nine seasons.  

The Knicks have played the most Christmas Day games so far, with 52 games in the 72-year history of the NBA leading into this season. Most of the matchups were held in Madison Square Garden. The Lakers unsurprisingly are right behind the Knicks with 43 Christmas Day matchups.

The Knicks are 22-30 on Christmas Day. They have one more win than the Lakers (21-22) and have the most losses out of any team.  It doesn’t help that the Knicks lost six of the eight previous matchups.

The Knicks held the first Christmas Day game in NBA history in 1947 against the Providence Steamrollers. The game was held at 9pm and broadcasted on WCBS. Stan Lomax and Bob Edge called the game. The Knicks won the game 89-75 in the original Madison Square Garden.  Tommy Byrnes scored 20 points and Carl Braun scored 19.

The 1980s featured 2 of the most memorable Christmas games ever. Bernard King scored a then franchise-record 60 points in a 120-114 loss against the New Jersey Nets in 1984. 

In 1985, rookie Patrick Ewing helped the Knicks overcome a 25-point deficit to beat the Boston Celtics in double overtime.

The NBA decided to start the 2011-12 season on Christmas Day due to the lockout. The Knicks hosted the Boston Celtics and TNT broadcasted the game. The game marked the debut of Tyson Chandler. Carmelo Anthony & Amare Stoudemire combined for 58 points and Tyson Chandler blocked 6 shots in the 106-104 victory.  

The most memorable moment came at the end when Bill (now Henry) Walker contested Kevin Garnett’s jumpshot to seal the victory. Garnett inexplicably choked Bill Walker after the buzzer. To no one’s surprise, the NBA decided not to punish Garnett for his actions.

 

On This Date: Knicks waive Slavko Vranes

December 24, 2003: The New York Knicks waived Slavko Vranes

In Isiah Thomas’ first official move as Knicks GM, he waived Slavko Vranes, picked 39th in the 2003 NBA Draft. Vranes never played a game with the Knicks despite suiting up in Summer League and preseason. Right patella tendinitis sidelined Vranes since opening day. At the time, Isiah desired players who could immediately contribute to the team and not long-range projects.

Vranes – at a height of around 7’5 – would have been the tallest Knick in team history had he played a regular season game. Vranes later signed a 10-day contract with the Portland Trailblazers and played all of 3 scoreless minutes. He left the NBA in his rookie season to cultivate a career overseas in Europe and Asia. He was a member of the Montenegro National Basketball Team.  

Vranes was Scott Layden’s final draft pick made. Unfortunately, there were quite a few players – Willie Green, Keith Bogans, Zaza Pachulia, Matt Bonner, Mo Williams, James Jones, Kyle Korver – who had long careers in the NBA and some of whom currently play as of today.

What the Knicks do if they don’t sign a superstar in 2019 could define this front office

While the Knicks have put themselves in position to make the necessary moves to offer a max contract to a free agent this coming summer, the front office is not looking to throw a big contract at just anybody, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post.

Berman reports the Knicks are “opposed to giving a 2019 free agent a max-like deal ‘unless that player would be a dramatic difference maker to the team’s fortunes.'”

Some could take this to suggest the Knicks are slowly moving the goalposts for the upcoming summer. In fact, I think Stefan Bondy summarizes it perfectly here:

The Knicks have set expectations and positioned themselves to make a run at a max player in 2019. This has come at the cost of potentially straining their relationship with Kristaps Porzingis by delaying his contract extension and incurring an added cap cost by stretching Joakim Noah through 2021.

But this is life in the NBA. You don’t build a championship team without taking on risk. And risk carries the possibility of loss.

If the Knicks end up empty-handed in the 2019 superstar sweepstakes, what they do next will define how much loss they actually realize from taking on the risk to chase Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and the likes this summer.

This is why Berman’s report (backed by recent comments from Steve Mills) that the Knicks are willing to pass on extending a max offer to a player if they don’t feel like he is a true difference maker is a positive sign.

2019 represents a litmus test for the Mills-Perry front office that has been saying all of the right things when it comes to rebuilding the team through the draft and being careful in how they spend future cap dollars.

If July 1st comes around and a Woj notification pops up on our phones to report the Knicks have agreed to a max deal with say, Kemba Walker, no offense to the Bronx native, but many in New York will be singing the “same ol’ Knicks” song.

The last time the Knicks entered a summer optimistic about their free agent chances and with “max-like” money to spend, they ended up with Amar’e Stoudemire.

It’s okay if the Knicks want to move the goalposts on free agent expectations, as long as when they get to July, they don’t suddenly call an audible and give up on their patient approach to overpay for a player just because they have cap space to burn.

Remember, while the Knicks took on some risk by waiting to re-sign KP and stretching Noah, there were legitimate reasons to make both decisions independent of 2019 cap space.

Noah admitted to having less than ideal focus during his time in New York, and he was not the type of veteran the front office wanted around a young core that includes many players who aren’t even old enough to drink.

Kristaps Porzingis is recovering from a major ACL injury that might have him out of the lineup for the entire season. Perhaps waiting to offer a gigantic extension until he is back on the court and healthy is a wise choice in its own right.

What Berman’s report suggests is that the Knicks are not looking to repeat mistakes of the past in 2019.

Based on the current cap projection of $109 million for the 2019-20 season, the Knicks can create close to $30 million in space by renouncing their own free agents, waiving Lance Thomas, and waiting to sign Kristaps Porzingis until after they have made all of their other signings.

If the Knicks want to create “max-like” space this summer, it will leave their options extremely limited in keeping any of the players who are not already signed through next season. In fact, to create enough room to sign Kevin Durant, who is a 10+ year veteran, they would need to move an additional $8-9 million off their books.

Mills explained in a press conference with reporters on December 21 that the team is still evaluating the players on their roster and that they “feel like there are more people than just the three rookies [they] can grow around.”

This is an important point in the context of whether the Knicks end up signing a max-like player. It seems to suggest that the team is open to bringing back some of their successful reclamation projects, such as Emmanuel Mudiay or Noah Vonleh. As explained earlier, this would be difficult to do if they use all of their cap dollars on a max contract.

In other words, it’s not max player or bust for the Knicks in 2019; it’s max player, if it’s Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving or Kawhi Leonard, or it’s use their cap space to sign players they believe they can build around ..

OR, and this is the part of the strategy that has not been reported or commented on, but perhaps most important, it’s use their cap space to sign players who they can later trade for a star player.

We saw Philadelphia do this with Robert Covington. They signed him to a four-year $46.9 million contract and then traded him a year later for Jimmy Butler.

In the chase for cap space, people forget how often star players change teams via trade. Young players on reasonable contracts are just as valuable, in fact, considering they add value to your team before you trade them, they are more valuable than empty cap space.

If the Knicks don’t land a superstar free agent next summer, and instead overpay for a non-max player, they would only limit their ability to land a star in the future.

If they choose to pass on signing a non-max player to a “max-like” contract, they keep their options open. It would allow them to preserve future cap dollars while investing a portion of their space in signing young players to reasonable contracts.

At this point, even after failing to reach their goal of signing a superstar, they would be maintaining their ability to attract one in the future. And they would be showing us that two fundamental things are different than how the organization has operated in the past.

  • First, the team would be continuing to accumulate assets in the form of draft picks (remember, they will add another lottery pick to their roster in 2019), cap space, and young players on reasonable contracts. In 2010, the future of the team was heavily contingent on the players they signed as big ticket free agents.
  • Second, they will have proven that all of the promises and words they have told us over the past year ring true. They have avoided trading draft picks for stars they can sign later. They have put themselves in a position to sign a star this coming summer. And if they don’t sign a star, they would have successfully pivoted their approach without making a panic move.

The Knicks have set their own expectations by taking on risk to sign a superstar in 2019. But it’s a risk worth taking. And if they don’t sign a superstar, but then successfully pivot their approach, times will truly be different at 2 Penn Plaza.

On This Date: Latrell Sprewell returns to MSG to taunt James Dolan and Micheal Ray Richardson records a franchise record with 9 steals in a game

Decenber 23, 2003: Latrell Sprewell returns to Madison Square Garden to taunt James Dolan

Latrell Sprewell returned to Madison Square Garden as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves and got the last laugh in a 98-92 victory against the Knicks. Spree scored 31 points and combined for 84 points with Kevin Garnett & Sam Cassell4 in the victory.  

Spree repeatedly hurled profanities toward Knicks owner James Dolan during his patented revenge game. It came to the point where Spree received a technical near the end of the 4th quarter for sparring with Knicks assistant coach Lon Kruger. Kruger told Spree to quit the taunting. The NBA later fined Spree $25,000 for excessive taunting.

Spree & Dolan have had an acrimonious relationship during the latter’s tenure as principal owner of the Knicks. Spree angered Dolan by leaving early from several team-mandated media training sessions. He also suffered the inexcusable boating accident shortly before the 2002-03 season. Dolan had enough of Spree’s “character issues” and ordered then-GM Scott Layden to trade him.

Fortunately, Spree & Dolan reconciled in 2017. We now see Spree courtside at Knicks games or attending various team alumni and charitable events.


December 23, 1980: Micheal Ray Richardson sets a Knick record with 9 steals in a game

In the 117-114 loss against the Chicago Bulls, Micheal “Sugar” Ray Richardson set a Knicks record with nine steals in a game. Sugar Ray had a statline of 19 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 9 steals.

Despite his short tenure with the Knicks, Sugar Ray was adroit in passing the ball and showed a penchant for stealing the ball. His 2,244 assists in four seasons still remains the 10th highest mark in team history. His 810 steals is remarkably 3rd all-time in Knicks franchise history.

On This Date: Knicks fire Scott Layden and hire Isiah Thomas

December 22, 2003: Knicks fire Scott Layden and hire Isiah Thomas

The Scott Layden era finally came to an end on this date in Knicks history. In Layden’s 4.5 years with the organization, the Knicks went 175-181, but had a decreasing record each season and missed the playoffs in the previous two seasons to his firing. 

Layden’s most notorious transactions include trading away Patrick Ewing, signing Allan Houston to a $100 million contract, acquiring Antonio McDyess, and trading Latrell Sprewell.  

The motif of his transaction history was the acquisition of players at or beyond their prime, players that lack athleticism, and players that are often significantly overpaid. The rosters he built lacked the athleticism, youthful exuberance, and above the rim play to compete in the modern NBA of the early 2000s.

Despite the highest payroll in the league, the team lacked excitement and it reflected appropriately when the Knicks’ 433 home sellout streak snapped during the 2002-03 season. 

The Knicks decided to hire Isiah Thomas after a recommendation from close friend Magic Johnson.2 Dolan originally offered the position to Magic, but he declined and instead recommended Isiah for the position.

Isiah was originally a minority owner and president of basketball operations for the Toronto Raptors. Under his tenure, the team drafted Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby, and Tracy McGrady.  Isiah resigned in 1997 due to conflicts with the majority owners of the team. Isiah went to coach the Indiana Pacers for 3 seasons.  The Pacers fired him, at the behest of new president Larry Bird, after multiple first round exits.

Isiah spent the first few seasons in New York untangling many of Scott Layden’s transactions. However, he quickly got mired in his own set of problems that slowly destroyed his tenure with the organization. 

 

Kevin Knox impresses early, but Knicks lose to Atlanta

Well that was rough.

I get it. I get that you have conflicted feelings right now. We all watched Zion Williamson have his moment at the Garden, heard him after the game, saw him pay reverence to the locker of the one true unicorn.

Tonight, in all likelihood, gets the Knicks closer to a future reality where Zion is, as he alluded to, making MSG his home for 41 nights a year (and hopefully more).

I get all of that. But in the meantime, well…in the meantime, the reality sucks.

The Knicks have now completed the poop superfecta, losing to the only four teams in the NBA with a worse record than their own. Yes, it’s what this young team was expected to do, even more so because it’s missing Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier, two imperfect players who nonetheless play important roles for this skeleton crew. But at some point, the high morale David Fizdale has built up despite the losses is going to subside. Maybe that matters, maybe it doesn’t. It certainly can’t be fun for the parties involved.

If you’re looking for bright spots, there aren’t many. Kevin Knox lit the Garden ablaze with a first quarter (17 points) that once again reminded everyone why his ceiling could be an eventual top-five scorer in the league. If he can figure out some semblance of sustained effectiveness throughout an entire game, he is going to become a problem. If it happens this year, great, but as far as anyone should be concerned, he is already ahead of schedule.

Then there was Emmanuel Mudiay, who had yet another thirty-point night, his third in five games. This Mudiay thing appears to be real. He is becoming a problem for opposing teams to deal with on offense. How we can judge anyone’s defense on a team with so many bad defenders is a tough topic to handle right now, but he doesn’t appear to be a lost cause on that end of the floor. He hit 3-of-7 from deep tonight, further verifying that this needs to be taken seriously.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was, well…just about everyone else. Other than Vonleh, who has been a steadying presence all season long, the only other guy who stood out was for all the wrong reasons. Frank Ntilikina once again looks somewhat lost. He missed both of his shot attempts tonight, one of them badly, and got visibly frustrated with the refs after a couple of tough foul calls. Everyone seems to acknowledge he is back in his own head. As Steve Mills said today, it is up to the Knicks to help him find the light. Jump ship at your own risk, but I’m waiting the 20-year-old out until he gets right.

Perhaps most importantly, the Knicks, while quite bad and becoming impossibly challenged in closing games, have continued to pay hard. That might seem like a bogus silver lining, but for anyone who’s watched season after season go off the rails, it is not a basic prerequisite. For me at least, I can at least leave these evenings feeling mildly not terrible about where things stand.

Next up: Christmas Day, back at home, vs Milwaukee. Should be interesting, if nothing else.