If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.
– Alexander Hamilton & Malcolm X, among others
Tomorrow marks exactly 30 months since Steve Mills hired Scott Perry as general manager of the New York Knicks, forming the front office tandem that was supposed to guide this team out of the darkness and finally, as we have heard so many times since that day, “build this the right way.”
Here’s the thing about the concept of “right” though: there’s no standard definition for it, especially when it comes to building a basketball team. You just kind of know it when you see it.
Some moons ago on a podcast, Jon and I discussed whether or not the Knicks should trade for Brandon Ingram. While we may have disagreed on whether to trade for Ingram or not, what we did agree upon was that it would take quite a bit to acquire Ingram, and that he has the potential to be an excellent wing. The trouble is that, as good as he is, he’s unlikely to become a top-10 player in the NBA.
The conversation got me thinking: How can the Knicks get a top-10 player that aligns with their long term vision? What can the team do differently compared with the last time they acquired a top-10 player in a trade in Carmelo Anthony?
Before we get to whether or not this Kawhi thing matters (it does, just maybe not for the reasons you think) and whether there’s a good reason for such a story to be taking up people’s time six months after the fact (there is, kind of), let’s get the actual facts straight:
After the Knicks’ 107-100 win against a severely depleted Washington Wizards team on Saturday, Julius Randle was asked about why his play has improved in recent games. He told the Associated Press: “A little bit into the season, we’re learning how to play off each other a little bit better. Playing a little faster…”
I was struck by that last comment about playing faster. Throughout his tenure, David Fizdale frequently talked about playing with more pace, but like a lot of things he said, it never came to fruition.
In Fizdale’s 22 games this season, the Knicks ranked 27th in the league in pace, per PBP stats, averaging 97.45 possessions per game. Since Miller took over, it’s been a different story. Their renewed urgency reminds me of how I start hustling when I’m late to meet a friend and they call to ask me where I am. The Knicks are playing like they just lied about being five minutes away.
It’s hard to deny the Knicks look like a different team offensively in the beginning stages of the Mike Miller era. The offense runs more north-to-south than east-to-west. Picks are set with a purpose and players finally operate with a level of space. After time out (ATO) plays are actually converted.
Sure, Elfrid Payton is healthy. Yes, there is often a team effort bump after teams fire their head coach. Yes, the team faced off against bottom feeder teams in the Golden State Warriors (sans Steph Curry and Klay Thompson), Sacramento Kings (sans DeAaron Fox), and a defense optional squad in the Atlanta Hawks, but there is more cohesion on offense. In 4 of 6 games in the Miller era, the Knicks had at least 24 assists total, with 30 against the lowly Hawks squad. This is not a bad total knowing that the Knicks scored 103 points in 2 of the 4 games and 124 against the Warriors.
Prior to David Fizdale’s dismissal, my biggest criticism of him as a coach was his inability (or refusal) to consistently put his players in positions for success. I’m not even referring to something as complex as installing an offensive “system;” I’m talking about simply evaluating his players’ strengths and weaknesses and rolling out lineups with complementary skill sets. That, to me, seemed like the bare minimum a coach could do, and yet it was a standard that felt out of reach night after night.
Mike Miller now walks into a situation where all he has to do is not play Kevin Knox at shooting guard and Knicks fans will rejoice (note: Knox played ~4 minutes at SG on Sunday night in Denver, during which the Knicks were +5….but the point stands). Beyond fixing the most egregious positional debacles, the Knicks still have several rotational adjustments they can make to potentially get more out of their players. One of those is playing Julius Randle at the five on offense.
After particularly gut-wrenching losses, I, like many Knicks’ fans, go through a range of emotions and thought processes: I’m disappointed; I’m annoyed; I’m enraged; I’m encouraged when they keep it close; I look back for plays that cost them the game; I think about what they should’ve run or done differently; I point fingers; I search for silver linings; I focus on good for those that played bad and on bad for those that played well; I go on Twitter, look at the extremes, and settle into a middle-ground…
But sometime during this recent run of futility, I became enlightened. Honestly, I don’t know how I missed it before. Even at 4-20, I couldn’t see it. I’d ask myself, “We signed all these players. The front office talked about winning more games. How are we worse than last year when last year was a blatant tank?”
If you’re like me, this week’s been bleak for you as a Knicks fan. While last night’s win against the Warriors was a comforting pick-me-up like an iced Dunkin coffee on a sweltering day 1#SponsorMeDunkin, the Knicks’ organizational dysfunction is still very much a topic of conversation.
Alan Hahn had a well-thought out thread yesterday, illustrating the Knicks’ lack of a plan and the need to throw out the old guard and start anew. What Hahn said wasn’t revolutionary but it got me thinking about what successful teams do look like. Enter: the New York Yankees, less than two days removed from signing one of the best pitchers in baseball, Gerrit Cole.
It would seem inconceivable to compare the Yankees, a model for perennial winning, with the Knicks, an example of consistent losing. We learn more from our failures than we do from our successes, but if the Knicks continue to not learn from what’s gone wrong, the least they can do is look at an organization that’s had plenty go right. What can we learn from the Yankees that can be applied to the Knicks?
Much was made of the fact that on Friday morning, David Fizdale was allowed to conduct practice and meet with the media before unceremoniously being fired via a two sentence press release mere hours later. No cursory pleasantries. No “We thank him for his service.”
Once upon a time, I started a short-term, contract job I accepted through a temp agency. The position was in a field I had a significant interest in and I was thrilled to get started. During the first week, I realized both the job and the field of interest weren’t a fit. My boss knew it too. I privately planned my exit the second week and went back to another place I had turned down, asking if the position had been filled. One afternoon of the third week, I was offered that role and verbally committed. The goal was to sign my paperwork and give my notice the next day.
In a twist of fate, I received an email from my recruiter at the temp agency the day I verbally agreed to leave. “Can we talk later this afternoon?” It was lunchtime, I had an incredible amount of work to do, and I wanted to break the news that I was leaving to her the next day. She wrote back saying no. “We really need to chat today.”
The Knicks came away from this weekend with two home losses against teams that are virtual locks to make the Eastern Conference playoffs.
If you’re looking for silver linings (I understand if you’re not in the mood), it’s that both games were competitive. Philadelphia and Boston each needed to come through in the clutch to pull out these victories.
Conversely, that means New York let two winnable games slip away. Sure, the most important parts of these games are less about the wins and losses; instead, it’s about the development of our young core. But, it would certainly be encouraging to see that young core pull off an upset win or two and show flashes that they can produce when it’s winning time.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year With the vets not excelling And everyone telling you the end is neeeeeeeeeeeear It’s the most wonderful time of the year
It’s the crap-crappiest season of all With some December beatings and the season’s fleeting Randle please pass the baaaaaaaaaaaall It’s the crap-crappiest season of all
There’s allowed coast to coasting Knox defense for roasting And several DNPs for Zo There’ll be plenty of stories And tales of the glories of Ewing’s Knicks long, long ago
It’s the most wonderful time of the year There’ll be some players going And we’ll soon be knowing If Fizdale’s still heeeeeeeeeeeere It’s the most wonderful time Yes the most wonderful time Oh the most wonderful time Of the yeeeeeeeeeeeear
Ah, December, the month that seemingly always breaks the Knicks. New York hasn’t survived December without either a losing season or some sort of skid for six years. It doesn’t appear this year will be any different.
That’s how it felt, at least.
You have to remember that 25 years ago, the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was a dead
zone for a car radio. This really didn’t matter, unless of course you were
listening to a game. And even then, without traffic, it took, what…two, three
Except this didn’t feel like two or three minutes. It felt like two or three years. Because this wasn’t any game…it was Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and the team I’d just been introduced to less than a year earlier, but which had already captured my soul in a death grip that has only gotten tighter over the years, was on the verge of going to the NBA Finals.
Barring something extremely unlikely, Kristaps Porzingis will play more games against the New York Knicks before his career is over. As such, this last week is not the last time we’ll hear about the drama that proceeded his exit and the subsequent trade that sent him to Dallas.
But a funny thing happens to NBA narratives over time: they get warped and distorted, like a wood floor that’s seen one too many leaks. Eventually, if you put some pressure on it, the original truth will break into fragments…convenient bits of fact and fiction mixed and matched at the teller’s whim.
So before we get to that point, I thought now that the fiasco of KP is over for the year, I’d settle some things once and for all.
As the Knicks reach what I can only imagine is DEFCON 2, I’m left wondering how those who eventually remain will pick up the pieces and put this lovable pile of steaming turds back together. You see, firing everyone is the easy part. Tearing it down is simple. It’s the rebuilding where, as you’re likely well aware, things can go awry.
That’s why I’m assessing the chants, diving deeper, and trying to make sense of what would follow after firings. Without further ado…
With reports swirling that Knicks head coach David Fizdale might already be on his way out, there will be no shortage of questions raised about this organization, its direction (or lack thereof) and whether anyone could come in here and coach up this group of seemingly mismatched pieces.
If and when Fiz does get the ax though, left behind will be unanswered questions of just how much more he could have done. To that end, what might end up being his last game was fairly revealing, both in ways we’d expect and ways we may not have.
The topic of load management has recently divided Knicks fans more than any other topic that does not relate to Frank Ntilikina’s ability to play basketball.
Some see the practice as players being soft while some see the benefit of ensuring a healthy and refreshed player when the playoffs role around. The playoffs might be just out of realistic expectations for the Knicks this season, but we still need to address the topic of load management as it relates to our potential perennial All-Star, RJ Barrett.
Toss out all your “small sample size” caveats. Discard any “let’s wait and see” reservations. Do you hear that wary part of your brain? The part that’s whispering cautious thoughts to protect your heart because it’s been broken too many times before. Disregard all that, Knicks fans. Abandon all doubt ye who enter here.
Once Kevin Durant tore his Achilles, this year was going to be one of two things: 1) A potential playoff team, carried by another star, with a roster catered towards those two big name players or 2) A 17-win squad with a few starting-caliber players. If you don’t already know, it’s now the latter.
It’s only been three games – three games – and yet the season already feels like it’s slipping away from the Knicks. I truly, truly wish I was being overdramatic. And hell, maybe I am, but the near future feels incredibly daunting.
At first blush, the question is absurd on its face.
No, someone with the self-proclaimed nickname “Iso Zo” (it’s his Twitter handle, for crying out loud) and who teammates allegedly called out as a cancerous presence on the court at times last year should not man the position most directly responsible for ensuring others get to occasionally shoot the ball.
But then again, in the Bizarro World known as Knicksland, where having three nominal point guards really means you have zero, the Theater of the Absurd presents nightly double features (with free popcorn!)
“This season is all about the development of our young core.”
If the Knicks exceed expectations this season on the backs of veterans on (essentially) one-year deals – Marcus Morris, Wayne Ellington, Taj Gibson, etc., the exhilaration of winning would still be a welcome change, make no mistake. Knicks fans would still get excited about the wins, but there would be a shallowness to that excitement. Most of us would deeply prefer to see promising play from RJ Barrett and demonstrable improvement from guys like Mitchell Robinson, Frank Ntilikina, and Dennis Smith Jr.
However, there is no one whose development I’m more interested in watching this season than Kevin Knox. Continue reading →
Greetings, everyone. Seeing as how this is my first contribution as an official “professor” for Knicks Film School, I felt it would be fitting that I bring you all back to class.
During my junior year of college, I took a course called “Organizational Behavior in Business” and it blew my mind. It was a qualitative course that focused on the soft skills required to be successful in the working world, something that often goes overlooked. “In your career, you will need to depend on people to accomplish tasks, goals, and projects,” the class syllabus read. “You will need to work for other people, work with other people, and eventually direct other people.” Continue reading →