Don’t quit on these Knicks

Dear Knicks fans,

To say the past few weeks have been crazy would be an understatement. While we were focused on the murmurs around Anthony Davis, the Knicks front office pulled off one of the most polarizing trades in franchise history. To the surprise of most (outside of Steve Mills, Scott Perry & maybe the club medical staff), Kristaps Porzingis is gone. Done. Cancelled in New York.

The temperamental Latvian phenom went from unicorn savior to public enemy number one in a matter of hours. There are a lot of facts swirling about the whos, whats, whens and whys, but I’m not here to dive down that rabbit hole. As the dust settles and New York continues on in its rebuild, separating fact from emotion paints a very different picture for the future of our franchise.

Without the need to slander anyone or trade insults, I want to have an honest talk about Kristaps Porzingis. His skillset can’t be ignored. A 7-foot player who can shoot the three and block shots is ridiculous…on paper. When he was drafted in 2015, Kristaps’ skillset was relatively unheard of…until Steph Curry officially broke basketball. The league has been moving in the direction of perimeter scoring ever since.

KP was essentially the first of his kind (a big man who was a modern perimeter scorer) and the city, hungry for something good…anything good…celebrated him like he was the second coming of Patrick Ewing.

Can we agree that in hindsight this was definitely an overreaction?

Porzingis remains unique as a 7’3″ big man who can both block shots and score like a guard; but his scoring ability, alone, is not as unique as it once was with the rest of the league catching up to the modern style of the NBA. Every functional big man from Brook Lopez to Marc Gasol can shoot the long ball now. Spacing has become more important than ever, and as always, players continue to evolve. Let’s not forget the Lauri Markkanen once set a Bulls franchise record for threes against us. Sigh. The life of a Knicks fan is tough, but I digress. The point here is that Porzingis’ skillset is easier to find than it once was and what he brings to the game can be emulated by a combination of other players (shout out to Luke Kornet).

Another uncomfortable truth about Porzingis is linked to his injury history. It’s been so long since we’ve had homegrown, star-level talent that I think Knicks fans, myself included, got too emotionally attached. I’m the first to admit a bit of clouded judgement, but I have always thought something was worrisome about his injury profile. Even when considered “healthy,” Porzingis never played a full season or shot above 45% from the field. He’s ridiculously skilled, but what good is a star player who isn’t available? A front-court player with recurring lower body injuries is a major red flag for any organization. A cracked cornerstone leads to an unstable foundation.

It’s always bothered me that the “Unicorn” never finished a full season. Richard Gerrafo of Fansided noticed something was up too. He wrote of his concerns, noting that,

“From January of 2016 until February of 2017 (approximately one year and one month), Porzingis suffered six different injuries. He has injured his left Achilles, left groin, left leg, right shoulder, right ankle, and right foot. ”

In his time with the Knicks, Porzingis also had issues with his quadricep (an injury that occurred during his pre-draft workout and again less than a year later), elbow, achilles, and then, of course, a devastating ACL tear.

Scott Perry was well aware of this unfortunate truth. From a purely basketball perspective, Kristaps was too unstable to be a true franchise cornerstone. Not for a maximum contract without injury protections. And as much as people criticize the Knicks for not wanting to offer their resident star player a max contract, it seems they tried to negotiate a contract similar to how other franchises have navigated injury-prone players.

It would have been very “Old Knicks” of Perry to cave under the pressure from the Latvian’s management team, but Scott stood his ground and made a pragmatic move in the best interest of the team. Not only did he refuse to extend KP’s contract last year, he went on record to say his primary goal is “making the Knicks a very good basketball team going into the long term.” He believes in team success over the benefit of any one person and has shown an uncanny ability to think pragmatically about the future.

Team building – real team building, the sustainable kind that we’ve longingly watched from afar from RJ Buford, Pat Riley and Danny Ainge – is a game of chess not checkers. Singular moves must be dissected in the context of a broader strategy.

The news of the Porzingis trade was shocking, yes, but the Knicks’ front office made the right call and the team is set up for future success whether we land a premiere free agent this summer or not.

Yes, Porzingis is gone, but don’t quit on these young New York Knicks. Call me an optimist, but when I look at the current state of affairs in Knickerbocker land – a talented young core, the most open cap space in franchise history and 7 first round draft picks over the next 5 years – I can’t help but notice the upside of so much possibility. Even if the team strikes out on the Kevin Durant/Kawhi/Kyrie sweepstakes this summer, they are under no pressure to sign long-term contracts for anything less than a franchise changing star. There is no rush because our GM has transformed the draft from a desert into a wellspring of possibilities and there will always be another chance to ink a game changer in the future. It’s not a make or break summer when an organization has positioned itself for long-term success through young players and financial flexibility.

Scott Perry is not the inexperienced, short-sighted GM you are looking for. Just the opposite, actually. In just over a year, he has erased years of management failure, properly delegated authority, lifted the weight of bloated contracts and created one of the most talented scouting teams in the league.

I have faith that any future moves are made with one goal in mind – building a championship level roster. As a result of strong leadership, the Knicks go into the summer with an assorted mix of new talent, all the cap space in the world (for this offseason and beyond), no uncertainty about Porzingis, plus the added bonus of seven first round draft picks over the next 5 seasons. SEVEN. More than the last 10 years combined. We finally have picks, money and talented scouts…all at the same time. Recent social media reactions be damned, this regime is intelligent and pragmatic.

The future isn’t guaranteed to anyone, but the Knicks’ front office has done its best to minimize risk while placing the franchise in a position to be master of its own destiny. The change fans have longed for is finally here – if we can manage to see the forest for the trees. Don’t sell low on these Knicks.

The Knicks unite us in a city of passion

I’m from the South Bronx where basketball is life; it lives and breathes in the culture.

When I was a kid, it was like a love of the sport had been poured into us all, taking the shape of our individual personalities. Some were professional trash talkers, others played from sunup to sundown on threadbare courts without nets. On the corner of Valentine and Burnside, across from Echo Park, there is still a mural dedicated to the life of our own local hero – the late Malik Sealy.

Across several blocks, hundreds of people from all ages, races and genders mixed and matched on the court. Imagine that – a summer day in the South Bronx, hip hop blasting and every court full of laughter, shit-talking kids playing 21, 3v3 or full court (winner keeps going). We came from different cultures, spoke different languages and attended different schools. It would have been easy to focus on what separated us – but none of that mattered – we all just wanted to hoop.

I love basketball because it brings people together more than it drives them apart. I like to think that we connect with sports on an emotional level and teams become a part of our identity – extensions of our own personal wins and losses. With millions of different opinions, experiences and cultural expectations, it’s crazy to think how much we are all tethered by something as simple as fandom.

This is the point of view I feel the media that covers the NBA in New York has forgotten. In many ways we have been typecast, forever made synonymous with angry Stephen A. rants, booed draft picks and Charles Barkley cheap shots. While any of these events may happen in isolation, there’s a lot more to us than that.

New Yorkers are among the most diverse populations in the country and to summarize our fandom – the experiences, beliefs, habits and goals – with a set of hostile caricatures is for lack of a better word, dishonest. A more accurate perspective would take into account the loyalty, passion and unwavering (even stubborn) hope that unifies every true Knicks fan.

We come from around the world – in all genders, shapes, sizes and years of devotion. We root for different players, regimes, trades and leadership with nothing less than straight up passion and support. That level of dedication can result in some pretty extreme takes (enter Twitter threads about Carmelo Anthony at your own risk), but to know a Knicks fan is to know someone who values loyalty above all else.

Basketball should be a force that unites us instead of one that drives us apart. Fans aren’t looking for click-bait headlines or made-up drama about their team; they are looking for useful information and stories that offer a closer connection to the team.

In a city of over eight million people from all around the world, there are going to be a lot of different opinions. This is New York, after all. We will never be shy in sharing our thoughts. Being bold is part of our identity. Some takes will inevitably be more based in reality than others, but the one thing I believe all Knicks fans have in common, wherever they are from, is an unwavering belief that our team will be great again…some day.

We can be patient, too. We can survive a legitimate rebuild. These things are possible because passion and perseverance are as important to this city as Madison Square Garden itself. We represent the Mecca – a place that was once home to the NBA world champions, a city known globally as a beacon of art, history and growth. A place where we have all grown from struggle.

This is why NYC will always be Knicksland. It’s why we have bonded with communities of fans from all over the world. It’s why, even though we haven’t had a winning team in years, the Knicks are still more relevant than half the other teams in the league. Forget about booing fans who crave attention and hot takes from burned out writers. Remember that our team is one of the originals in the league; that while we’ve witnessed plenty of lows, there are over SEVEN decades of connection between the city of New York and Knickerbockers basketball. No shade to the Nets but they will never have the same historical roots planted in this city. I feel a great amount of pride in supporting this team, wins & losses be damned.

The other day I randomly Googled “Knicks fans” and was reminded of how a lot of people might see us. A child crying ridiculously over a European player he knew nothing about. Random articles pumping fresh toxicity into our daily discussions. A social media post where a so called “fan” auctions off his loyalty for purple and gold delusions of grandeur. Let me tell you something right now – anyone who truly embodies the spirit of this team, of this city, could never sink so low as to barter character for cash. Any self-respecting Knicks fan, no matter where they are on the globe, can separate real support from fake enthusiasm.

Knicks fans come from every walk of life and are among the most engaging and passionate group you will ever find. Don’t believe me? Walk up to anyone rocking the blue & orange and ask what they think of Ewing, Porzingis or Ntilikina. If you’re feeling especially brave, start up a conversation about Carmelo Anthony or Phil Jackson. Mention Oakley or Mason for extra cool points. What do we think of Fizdale? Is Perry really a low-key genius? Will the French Prince ever fulfill his destiny?

There’s a lot to discuss and none of it involves tears on national television or throwing slander at our home squad. Ask us ANYTHING about the team, from any era, and you’ll instantly become part of a multifaceted conversation about everything from defense, to team building, to draft pick analysis to ridiculous free agency hopes. That is who we are. Passionate, opinionated, hungry and always relevant.

Ignore the few who act out on national television for attention or those too burned out or impatient to recognize the team is headed in a new direction. The organization is in a healthy place and we’re lucky to have such pragmatic and motivated leadership. There is a deep history with this team, one that includes both hardship and championship success. My advice as we move forward in this new era of basketball is to focus on the unifying passion and loyalty that has always been the lifeblood of this city.

There are much better days ahead.