With the bittersweet end comes a new beginning

Miss this season? Are you nuts? Yeah…a little bit.

Prior to walking into the Garden for the final game of the season on Wednesday, if you’d asked me what my prevailing emotion of the night would end up being when I left, the best guess would have been relief.

It’s the only logical response in the season we just experienced, one where I’d visit NBA.com/stats on a near daily basis, scrolling through different categories, filtering by various date ranges, mining for data, any data, that would indicate things were trending in the right direction. During the month of February when the team was bordering on a top ten defense, it felt like they’d won a damn playoff series. Seeing them never fall to the very bottom of the barrel in net rating was an actual, honest-to-goodness source of pride for me on more than one occasion.

It’s been that kind of a year.

Oddly enough though, as the last game devolved into a blowout and the finish line drew closer, relief was the last thing I was feeling. I wasn’t thankful the year was ending. I wasn’t happy about the fact that (knocks head on wood) it would only get better from here.

Instead, I was, ever so slightly, unfathomably, inconceivably…

Sad.

No, it doesn’t make any sense. The purpose of being a fan is to root for a team that wins games. It’s kind of the point.

I’m sure that, for this very reason, there’s a healthy segment of the city that hasn’t tuned in much this year, or for that matter, most of the last several years. I think about these people sometimes and there’s a small part of me that admires them. They probably spend their winter nights doing all kinds of cool shit. Like going out to dinner, playing Risk or having orgies. Do people still have orgies? I wouldn’t know because I’m busy watching Emmanuel Mudiay shoot mid range fadeaway jumpers by the dozen.

Whose loss is that, really?

No, I don’t have that choice because I long ago crossed that threshold of fandom where I was all the way in. The Knicks were so exciting for so long during so many of my formative years that I never stood a chance at being anything other than what I am. That’s probably the case with you, if you’re reading this, the day after the end of the season that any sane person would have wanted to leave in the past the second it concluded, or started for that matter.

Not me. Despite the fact that I’d strongly consider giving an appendage (or at least a toe) for the Knicks to be competitive again, there is another part of me that will miss this year.

It’s simple, really. Since Patrick Ewing’s last game as a Knick, this was as rudderless an organization as existed in the sport. Even before I became an attorney, I was always great at selling myself on bullshit when it helped me get through the day, but even I couldn’t convince myself that there was anything much to look forward to. It’s what made those years so hard; it wasn’t just losing – it was pointless losing.

This year felt different. Kevin Knox might have been the worst heavy-minutes player in the league, but every travel, step out of bounds or wild foray into the paint bizarrely felt like a step in the right direction. He was the most raw example of a roster full of players who carried with them at least the promise of improvement, and in the case of Knox and Mitch and maybe one or two other guys, really significant improvement if everything breaks right.

People often ask how I had it in me to sit and watch every game of the worst season in franchise history, and the honest answer is that it was pretty easy, at least in comparison to years past. For as much as I’ve yearned for a winner, all I’ve ever really wanted as a fan since Ewing left was to regain the ability to hope. This season provided it.

It also played out with the lowest stakes imaginable. Every time one of these kids had a breakthrough, it felt like a pleasant surprise. Every Mitch block, every Knox three, every Trier iso…it was like found money. Most people see a penny on the sidewalk and keep moving. Knick fans know better.

Is this a product of subsisting on bread and water for too long? Of course. These good vibes are the ultimate result of Knicks fan PTSD. For a competent franchise, a year like this is a necessary evil stuck in between high times. For the Knicks I’ve known most of my life, a 17-win season played mostly by relative children has been a cause for celebration.

So yeah…there’s a part of me that will miss it, especially because of what’s likely coming around the corner. The stakes, it would seem, are about to be increased tenfold. Losses will matter again, and there will be real consequences when stuff goes wrong. Things are, by any reasonable definition, about to get better, but also a lot more complicated.

Winning is hard, and when you’re expected to win, it can get even harder, especially in this town. Ask any Laker fan how much fun this season was. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll be exploited by a league getting smarter by the day. And the Knicks track record is against everyone else is, umm…not the best.

So yeah, while I’m excited, I’m also nervous as all hell. I want to believe they have enough intelligent decision makers in place to avoid a similar fate as LA, but really, I have no idea. For as much as I’m looking forward to finding out the answer, I’d be lying if I said a small part of me won’t miss this. It’s crazy, but then again, not much about following this team has ever been sane.

On that note, here’s to the lovable bunch of losers who made this year more bearable than it had any right to be. I’m not sure this was a season to remember even for those involved, but for reasons I still can’t fully explain, it’s not one I’m likely to forget anytime soon.

Now let the real fun begin. Giddy up.

 

Part III: Leadership

As the season draws to a close, Jonathan Macri completes his assessment of the 2018-19 campaign by grading the highest levels of the organization. In case you missed it, be sure to check out Parts I (the players) and II (the coach) as well.

As we approach the two week mark for Avengers: Endgame – sure to be the coolest three hours of my summer1 – I’m reminded of the moment that got us to this movie in the first place, when a misbegotten Star Lord cost half the universe its lives.

About two thirds of the way through Infinity War (Spoiler alert for the seven people who haven’t seen it), the delightful Chris Pratt, playing an intergalactic hoodlum turned hero, had himself a moment he’d like to forget. The Avengers, or at least the half of them that had been jettisoned into space, had come up with a kick-ass plan to remove the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos’ big purple mitt. It involved loads of CGI wizardry that stuck the Mad Titan in a compromising position where he no longer had control of his bodily functions. Pretty freaking ingenious.

To finish him off, all the Avengers needed to do was remove the damn glove. They were thisclose to doing exactly that, until Pratt lost his shit because he realized Thanos had killed his girlfriend (who also happened to be Thonos’ daughter – long story). After repeatedly punching him in the face, the big guy snapped out of his trance, retained the gauntlet, and kicked everyone’s ass. You know the rest.

If your theater-going experience was anything like mine, the crowd reacted like the city of Cleveland as JR grabbed his rebound at the end of Game 1 of the 2018 Finals and immediately started running for a shot of Henny. It may have been the ultimate Nononononowhatareyoudoingnoooooo moment in cinematic history.

Here’s the crazy thing though: we knew it was coming. Marvel had announced the sequel to this film long before A:IW even came out. We knew Thanos wasn’t going to lose…and yet every person who saw the film was devastated when it didn’t happen. Not only did we buy into the fantasy, but we bought into the fantasy within the fantasy.

All Pratt needed to do was keep walking, and boom: universe saved.

Except he couldn’t help himself.

As those punches were landing, I was reminded of a feeling that has become all too familiar in my lifetime, one deep inside my core.

It’s the feeling I get any time I take out my phone (or, back in the old days, turned on the television or radio) and instantly know that the franchise I’ve rooted for since I was nine has done something stupid. It’s the feeling Lakers fans got a taste of on Tuesday night, when Magic Johnson decided to quit his job without telling anybody. I reacted to the Shams Bomb like every other Knick fan alive: Thank God it’s not us.

Because it has been us, so very, very often. We’ve seen those Tweets too many times. The feeling we get when we open them is what’s at the heart of #LOLKnicks. It’s the one responsible for all of our insecurity complexes, the reason we take every good happening with several grains of salt. It’s why I do what I do on this site – it’s cheaper than therapy, and healthier than scotch.

The first time I remember the feeling, I was 17. I was at the house of my first serious girlfriend, opened up a copy of the NY Post that was on the table when I walked in, and saw the news: Patrick Ewing had been traded. I tried for a bit to pretend like I didn’t care about this team far more than I ever would for the girl, but she saw through that pretty quickly. She was pissed; I was distraught.

It’s not the fact that he was traded that had me bummed – a possible move had been discussed for weeks, and the team badly needed a reboot. No, it was the return they got that had me perplexed. Even as a teenager, I knew that trading Ewing’s expiring contract for Glen Rice – a 33-year-old who played the same position as the team’s two best players – was odd.

It was a directionless move if there ever was one. It’s like someone told the team to shit or get off the pot and they couldn’t make up their mind, so they got up and lost their bowels all over the bathroom floor. We’ve seemingly been cleaning up the mess for 19 years.

Perhaps not coincidentally, James Dolan had taken over the running of the team the previous season. The messy missteps that have come during his tenure have been well documented, whether they be on the court, via trades or signings, or having nothing to do with actual basketball altogether. I’d go through them in more detail, but I’m writing this at 8:30 on a Sunday morning and it’s too early for a drink.

Point is, there have been enough of these moves since the Ewing trade that we should not only know an LOL Knicks moment when we see one, but expect it before it hits. Like the inevitable plot device that got us to the next Avengers, it shouldn’t be a matter of whether they’ll fuck up, but simply when, and how soul-seething will it be.

And yet, inexplicably, I entered this season with hope. Hope that we could pull off the glove, and somehow make it from October to July without adding another moment to the list. More than anything – more than developing the youth, clearing cap space, instituting an offense, or anything else – whether the organization could soberly walk that nine-month tightrope while touching its nose and not falling flat on its face would come to define this season.

Why? Because the fate of the Knicks’ universe depended on it.

For reasons only slightly less explicable than the Avengers nearly defeating Thanos, one of maybe the best dozen players ever seems to want to spend the second half of his prime playing basketball in New York. The rumors have been swirling since before training camp began. While nothing in this league is ever certain, for once, all the Knicks needed to do was not fuck things up and they might come out on top.

Did they do it? It depends on how you look at it, but as we assess how the organization as a whole did this season, one thing is for certain: Scott Perry did his part.

The basketball lifer from Detroit brought with him a reputation of professionalism and basic competence, two things often sorely lacking at MSG. His appointment had me hopeful, as did the fact that James Dolan had stayed out of basketball operations since vetoing a Kyle Lowry/Iman Shumpert trade because his backside still hurt from the Bargnani deal. #WhateverItTakes

Over his first year on the job, the closest thing to an LOL Knicks moment we had was when Joakim Noah and Jeff Hornacek got into it at practice one day. That’s small potatoes around these parts. On the plus side, he navigated the Carmelo Anthony trade saga about as well as could be expected, bringing back the pick that would become Mitchell Robinson. Most significantly, he added no future salary and finished his first year with more picks in the cupboard than he started with – the Robinson pick plus two more for Willy Hernangomez, and then one dealt for Emmanuel Mudiay.

(BTW, for all the hand wringing over the Hernangomez trade, Oh-Billy finished this year in Charlotte averaging seven points and five boards in 14 minutes a game and had the lowest net rating on the team of anyone who played more than 800 minutes.)

It’s way too early to judge the basketball decisions Perry made this season, but so far, so good. Knox is what we should have thought he would be. Mitch is a revelation. Allonzo Trier is an NBA player, ceiling TBD. Ditto for Kadeem Allen, who is signed through next year.

I just wrote a whole bunch of words about the coach Perry hired, who, if nothing else, has the team feeling like their best selves despite all the loses.

And then there’s the KP trade. It’ll likely take years before we can fully evaluate it, but the return was praised by most objective observers.

More importantly, the deal was very un-LOL Knicks in two very important ways. Primarily, it saved the organization from a bevy of distractions this summer in more ways than one. Less obvious but perhaps more importantly, it seemed to represent a tacit attempt to add to the culture through subtraction.

Ah, yes…there’s that “C” word again.

I feel the same way about team culture that my 17-year-old self did about getting laid: it seemed like everyone else was getting in on the action except me, and I was fairly certain that would never change. It seems like everywhere you turn, there are articles and anecdotes about the outstanding culture of Team X or Team Y, and I’m convinced that I’ll never read such an article about the Knicks.

It’s tough to argue that the juju on a team with the worst record in the league is on the up and up, but for as much as they stink, there does seem to be a different vibe around this particular group:

So Perry gets a small but shining gold star for his efforts. Steve Mills? When Howard Beck summarized the feelings of anonymous execs around the league that “[t]he front office leadership also draws skepticism from rivals,” it was a polite way of saying that people question why Mills still has a job.

While it’s not necessarily an unfair critique, whatever system the Knicks front office duo has put in place since Perry came aboard seems to be working. For the first time in a long time, all the decision makers are on the same page. Whether Mills has been involved in every move or no moves, it’s all been under his watch as much as Perry’s. If one gets a passing grade, so should the other.

Which brings us to the man in charge.

The feeling I had the moment I opened Twitter and saw that March 9 TMZ clip was the exact one I had hoped to avoid this season. It was Star Lord and Ewing and Isiah and Bargs and Oakley and every other moment I’d like to forget all wrapped into one. It was why, when Beck noted in the aforementioned piece that those same anonymous execs had doubts about the “generally poor reputation of owner James L. Dolan,” there was nothing I could do but nod silently.

What we can’t know, at least not until roughly 80 days from now, is whether Dolan’s inability to just keep walking will make one iota of difference to the Knicks summer plans. The effect that his general presence has on the franchise is something I’ve pondered more than any other topic this season. It’s why I’m not holding my breath for that positive article about the Knicks culture, and why for all the KD talk, I remain unwilling to allow myself to fully believe in the fairy tale.

If you go by the opinions of players and execs around the league, it won’t matter, at least not where Durant is concerned. Maybe we’ve hit the turning point. Maybe this is the start of an era when people will want to come here, and one occasionally curmudgeonly owner really doesn’t have the effect some would have us believe. It bears repeating: just because certain people clearly want Dolan’s existence to make more of a difference doesn’t mean it actually will.

It also doesn’t mean it won’t. There’s simply no way to know for sure.

Here’s what I do know: if July doesn’t go the Knicks way and the entire basketball world is once again laughing at our expense, a part of me will always wonder just how much a ten second interaction with a fan had to do with it.

And another part of me will be mad at the first part for ever believing there was another ending to a movie that’s been 18 years in the making.

Either way, the show must go on.

Unfiltered Thoughts on the Knicks Season, Part II: David Fizdale

Continuing with his end of season recaps, Jonathan Macri tries to take an objective look at someone he’s supported all year: Head Coach David Fizdale.

In case you missed Part I: The Players, find it here.

When I was in 8th grade, my best friend asked me for a favor.

There was this girl he liked, and she agreed to go on a date with him, but her parents couldn’t know about it so she had to go out with a friend. The girl’s friend didn’t want to feel like a third wheel, so my friend needed me to ride shotgun.

Being 12 years old with a bowl cut, I would have gone on a date with an English Mastiff, and didn’t put up much of a fight. I was curious, though, about what I was getting myself into.

“All I know is that she’s really nice.”

Even as a pre-teen, I knew what this was code for, so I mentally prepared myself as best I could.

I did not do a good enough job.

We live in an increasingly PC world, so rather than give an explicit description of my companion for the evening, I’ll just say she was soup that ate like a meal and we’ll leave it at that. I did, however, learn a valuable life lesson that evening: no matter how bad you think it’s going to be, it can always, always be worse.

Which brings us to this Knicks season. As I wrote last week, this year was always going to be ugly. But was it supposed to be this ugly? Um, no.

I fully believe that, internally, the Knicks thought they could have a Hawks-type campaign – one that started rough but smoothed out into a team playing .500-ish ball towards April. If that’s the case, then shouldn’t wins and losses factor into judging this season?

Let’s consider Kevin Knox as we try to answer. When the Knicks lottery pick has been off the court, New York has a negative 3.2 net rating during those 1718 minutes. That’s quite a bit better than the negative 13.1 rating in the 1998 minutes he’s played, and is smack dab in the middle of the 32-win Pelicans (-1.2) and 28-win Hawks (-5.3) in points outscored per 100 possessions.

It’s not an exact science, but here’s betting that if the Knicks had their top draft pick slumming it in the G-league, I wouldn’t have needed to expend nearly as much lipstick this season, and Wilbur would be few pounds lighter and a tad less stinky.

That, of course, would have been useless, not only because there still is a very real incentive to tank, but because Knox’s minutes at this level will theoretically pay off in the long run. As my personal Yoda reminded me this week when we were having a discussion about Mitchell Robinson, the only way to get better is to play:

Should Fizdale & Co. be held accountable for Knox’s struggles? Of course they should to some extent, and we’ll get to that in a second. Regardless, it seems silly to judge a coach (or a front office, for that matter) on the win total when over 70% of the minutes have been played by dudes who couldn’t get into some Manhattan clubs (because they’re under 25).

So if we’re not judging the season on the team’s record, let’s instead hold the Knicks to task and assess them on the two things they themselves proclaimed this year would be about: development and culture.

Deveopment

The Big D isn’t nearly as simple as it sounds.

Is it enough that certain young players have improved as the season has gone along, or does the fact that the collective product is still tough to watch matter more? They say a rising tide lifts all ships. In the Knicks case, the opposite has happened…a few individual ships are looking strong, but the tide is often barely above the ocean floor.

It’s also tough to pinpoint who gets credit for what, which is what Mr. Gaines and I were really trying to get to the bottom of. Are the coaches the reason that Mitchell Robinson no longer jumps at the sight of every shiny object? Or for Allonzo Trier getting to the line 7.2 times per 36 minutes since the All-Star break, as opposed to 5.0 before? Or for Damyean Dotson being one of the most efficient pick and roll players in the league and nearly doubling his assist rate since the calendar flipped to 2019?

On the contrary, how much blame should Fiz get for Frank Ntilikina being the worst shooter in the league this season? Has playing Luke Kornet, a net ratings darling, so infrequently this year hinder his potential growth? Do the one or two comically bad turnovers Kevin Knox still gets every game fall on Fizdale’s shoulders?

Even putting aside these issues, assessing the developmental success of this season is difficult for one major reason:

The key young players on the roster who either vastly exceeded (Mitch & Zo) or comfortably exceeded expectations (Dot, Kornet and Kadeem Allen) all kind of feel like house money. That’s great…as long as the bank isn’t about to default on your mortgage. There’s something unsettling about the sure things being anything but sure, even if you’ve picked up some nice surprises along the way.

That’s where Knox, Frank, and to a lesser extent, Smith Jr. come in.

Consider that when New York made the KP deal, those three were still considered the best young assets on the Knicks, as Zach Lowe noted in his post-trade deadline piece. Since then, Smith Jr. was inconsistent and is now hurt, Knox followed an abhorrent January with an even worse February, and Frank played 32 minutes total.

Injuries obviously aren’t the coach’s fault, and to his credit, DSJ did show some improvement in the short time he was here, cutting his turnover percentage this season from 20.3 in Dallas to just 13.5 in New York while upping his assist percentage from 24.2 to 32.2. Knox has even rebounded to somewhere close to his Rookie of the Month form, putting up a .413/.422/.739 slash line since March 1 (he was at .403/.384/.640 in December) to go with a 6.8 assist percentage (same as December). He’s also creating more on his own, as 57.1 percent of his March field goals were assisted, as opposed to 67.8 in December and January.

And then there’s Frank. I recently argued that his struggles are not primarily the fault of the head coach, but it has come under Fizdale’s watch, and that fact can’t be denied. There must be a modicum of blame, and maybe more than that.

All in all, even if the results didn’t exactly come from where we thought they would, this team will have somewhere between four and six young guys it feels good about heading into the offseason. As the head coach and team brass have said, part of development is figuring out who’s going to stick around and who isn’t. It’s incredibly rare that everyone gets to come along for the ride.

So let’s give a tentative “check” in faint, green pencil under the development column. Which brings us to the dreaded “C” word…

Culture

Why do I think New York’s brass wanted to end up in the neighborhood of 30 wins this season? Because there was one absolute, drop-dead necessity that had to take place this year: the Knicks as a franchise needed to be able to go into the offseason with their head held high, and not limp into July, hat in hand, begging for someone to take their money. They needed to feel good about their players, their program, and their progress. In other words, arguably the worst culture in the NBA needed a reboot.

If you’ve listen to the players themselves, that much has already happened. The one guy who seemed not to be on board is now gone (although there may be more to it than him simply not believing in the team’s progress) and the ones that are left seem to have bought in.

Is this simply youthful naivete? Does it even matter? As a wise man once said, it’s not a lie if you believe it. Fizdale wears his version of the truth across his chest like a badge of honor, and he has those around him believing it wholeheartedly as well.

While it isn’t always clear from the outside what Fiz emphasizes and what he doesn’t (more on that in a sec), the fact that we haven’t heard a peep about playing time from anyone outside of Slappy McGoo is telling. It indicates that players know what it takes to get minutes, and if they’re not getting them, they either agree with the decision or are simply accepting it for the greater good. The team also plays hard, and while the final score often doesn’t indicate it, the Knicks are almost always in games either early or late.

He’s also won over the media, which is important in this market whether we like it or not. As Chris Iseman reminded me on the podcast last week, David Fizdale hasn’t snapped at reporters once throughout this entire soul-seething campaign, which is kind of amazing.

This is all good stuff. It’s also necessary evidence for Fiz supporters like myself, because the health of the basketball culture he’s instituting on the court is far less clear.

On the Court

While there are certain things the Knicks head coach this year was never going to be able to improve – shooting, for one, which goes hand in hand with assists to some extent – certain numbers are inescapable.

For one, Fiz has unfortunately channeled his inner Patrick Swayze for much of this year. The corner three is the most efficient shot in basketball and the Knicks have taken proportionally fewer of them than all but two teams in the NBA. Meanwhile, on defense, teams get away with taking the lowest percentage of midrange shots in the league when they play New York. There is an urgency lacking on parts of many nights that one would expect to be present more consistently under a new coach. As we saw on full display many times this season – most recently against the Raptors – if you move the ball against the Knicks, you’re going to score, probably pretty easily.

It all goes on Fizdale’s docket. Every bit of it. They haven’t been as good as Atlanta this season, and the shot profile on either end isn’t as clean as Brooklyn’s was when Kenny Atkinson took over.

Here’s an important question that hasn’t been asked enough though: Would Atkinson, Pierce or anyone else have been able to do better in a similar spot, with this roster and these requirements to get minutes to the youngest members of it?

I’m dubious for the same reason we don’t know whether Fizdale’s X’s and O’s are any good: he was handed a roster almost completely bereft of shooting and shot creation in a league predicated on shooting and shot-creation. It’s why the low assist numbers have never been of much concern to me. With the youngest roster in the league, anyone who expected to see some Spurs-style, “beautiful game” offense this season was always dreaming.

Did you enjoy watching guys like Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox play this year? Guess what? That comes with a price: a simple offense without a lot of moving parts. To some, this is maddening, and it certainly isn’t very pretty to watch, but it’s also an offense that has generated a higher frequency of open looks than any team outside of the Warriors, Spurs or Celtics. Sadly, the Knicks are the worst shooting team in the league this year by a country mile.

As I wrote earlier this season, even though their simplistic offense opens up some good looks, they miss out on the best looks – corner threes as noted above, as well as “wide open” shots2 and easy looks at the basket2 – but again, that’s the price of youth. It’s also the cost that comes with running a system built for a premier shot creator/ball handler and instead having Moe, Larry & Curly at your disposal3.

It’s also a system that has yielded some analytics-friendly numbers.

According to Cleaning the Glass, the Knicks are 10th in the league in frequency of shots taken at the rim. They’ve also gone from taking the 3rd most mid-rangers in the league last year to the 14th most this season – tied with Denver, and less than the Celtics, Sixers and Warriors. They’ve also gone from the 29th to 23rd in attempted threes. Perhaps most impressively, after finishing bottom-five in free throw rate over the last five seasons, they’re 12th this year.

They’ve also gotten better since the trade. They went from dead last in corner 3’s before January 30 to 18th since, and from 13th in frequency of shots at the rim to 8th. On defense, they moved from the least midrangers forced to 9th from the bottom.

Small signs, but signs nonetheless. In the end, even after a year that at times made my pre-teen trip to the movies feel pleasant in comparison, Coach Fiz comes out arguably unscathed. If nothing else, his profile around the league doesn’t seem to have taken a hit.

(And yes, despite everything I’ve just written, there will be people who continue to kill Fizdale for the mere fact that he refused to quit Emmanuel Mudiay. I get it, as shown by my thoughts from Part I. He’s also one of 11 guards to be averaging over 19 and 5 per 36 minutes on at least 45% shooting4. It’s not a bad list. The Knicks are also 3 points per 100 possessions better when he sit. IDK. Kill the loyalty if you want, but it’s not enough for me to downgrade Fizdale’s performance by itself)

Will what he’s done be enough to help the Knicks land someone special in July? I’m sure that while their targets will certainly consider Fizdale’s Year 1 performance, their perception of the organization as a whole will be a far greater determining factor.

That’s what we’ll tackle in Part III of my end of season series…next week.

All stats through Tuesday, April 2

Unfiltered Thoughts on the Knicks Season, Part 1: the players

In the first of his three-part series assessing the Knicks season, Jonathan Macri takes a look at New York’s roster…and doesn’t hold back.

If someone asked me now to look back at my 23-year-old self, cut the bullshit, and honestly rank the reasons I decided to go to law school, they’d appear in the following order:

3: Helping people with their problems (7% of the reason)

2: I thought it would be a good place to meet girls (11.5%)

1: Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny, the theme music from Law & Order, and like a dozen scenes from A Few Good Men, but this one more than any other (81.5 %):

The scene is flawless. It’s peak Cruise, and arguably Moore’s best moment in the movie5. When I watched it, all I wanted was to get a job where I could stand up and yell in someone’s face, preferably about my knowing the law and them not.

Fast forward 12 years and 2.5 careers later. It turns out being a lawyer isn’t actually that fun or cool, which should really be a disclaimer before this movie begins2. Luckily it wasn’t a total loss because I learned a valuable lesson – one that has single-handedly gotten me through this rectal exam of a season.

Like Lt. Kaffey says, what you believe doesn’t matter when you’re a lawyer; it’s all about what you can prove, or if you’re a defense lawyer, knowing which shit to throw against the wall and in what order to throw it.

After watching the Baby Knicks try to learn to walk all year, the wall3 is completely brown. I’ve trotted out a lot of arguments, mostly because I feel that a first year coach with the youngest roster in the NBA collectively deserves the benefit of the doubt, but also because I’m a fan, and as a fan, I just find it easier to think the best.

So all year, I’ve done what a good lawyer does: take the facts and make the best of them. This has often required me to bite my tongue in service of the greater good. When the ship is going down, the band must play on. And played I have, with enthusiasm, grace, and I’d like to think a little bit of dignity. It has been an honor.

But, well…I’ve watched every game of a 15-win season and the last lifeboat is leaving, so fuck it:

Here’s what I really think.

Mario Hezonja

Just an unbelievably maddening player.

Sometimes you watch a guy and can clearly tell he stinks. We had one here. His name was Andrea Bargnani. Sadly, the Knicks owner brass that traded for him thought watching film of a player before acquiring him was considered tampering.

Back to Hezonja: he doesn’t stink. We’ve seen enough on both ends to know as much…which is why he’s been perhaps the most frustrating player on the whole damn team. For every “Ooo!” there’s three head-scratchers and one head-slapper.

I continue to think he’ll have a relevant moment in the league at some point, likely on a smart team with shooting, which is why there’s a tiny part of me that wouldn’t have minded seeing him back. That ship seems to have sailed though, as he’s been a DNP-CD the last two games following a missed defensive assignment last Thursday vs the Raptors. It got him yanked from the game and seems to have been the final nail in his coffin as a Knick.

(just please don’t tell the Croatians I said anything)

Emmanuel Mudiay

My stance on Emmanuel Mudiay this season has made me feel like the friend in the middle of a breakup who tries to support both parties.

“Wait, you had lunch with him? Did you guys share a bag of dicks? I hope you shared a bag of dicks.”

It hasn’t been fun.

Has Mudiay been good? No…no, he has not. But he hasn’t been terrible either. You could even argue that he’s played a bigger part in more wins this season than anyone on the team4. He just turned 23, had a markedly better campaign than either of his last two, and as I’ve argued all season, if he takes one more leap, we’re talking about a useful player here.

And then you watch a game like Monday’s win against Chicago, where if you told me he had was being paid to throw the game, I legit would be like “Yeah, ok…that makes sense.” He was grizzly in all the ways that Bad Mud is usually grizzly, forgetting things like how to dribble, the dimensions of the court, the fact that there are four other players on his team that are also allowed to shoot, and that legs are best used to hold us upright instead of as display items sprawled across the floor. He had the worst plus/minus of anyone on either team except for Brandon Sampson. I could be Brandon Sampson and you wouldn’t know it.

For every game Mudiay has played a part in leading to wins, it feels like he’s had two or three of these types of affairs. When you add this to the fact that it’s almost impossible to be a helpful guard in this league without being either a solid defender or a reliable 3-point shooter – I don’t see him becoming either one – it makes you wonder what the benefit is to keep watering this plant.

You could talk me into giving him a near-minimum contract, because continuity is an undervalued asset in the NBA, but that’s about it.

Dennis Smith Jr.

A lot of the questions people have about Mudiay also come up when you’re talking about Dennis Smith Jr., but there’s four important differences between the two:

  1. Smith has at least shown the ability to be a really good defensive player. That he doesn’t display this ability more often leaves me 50% hopeful and 50% terrified.
  2. He can get to the rim (and above it) as well as all but a few guys in the league.
  3. His bad games don’t induce the need for Tums.
  4. He’s only in his second year.

So yeah, there’s reason to be hopeful. I really like the way he’s run the offense since he’s come over, and his decision making hasn’t been nearly as bad as advertised. Even the shot seems to be an above the neck issue, and I think he’ll be able to get it to league average eventually.

Still, something just seems a little…off about Smith, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. The back stuff is absolutely a concern to me. If the Knicks really did sign KD and got Kyrie or Kemba too, even if they dumped Smith for a middling return (Phoenix’s second rounder, for example) I don’t know that I’d be terribly heartbroken.

That would assume, of course, that they could re-sign…

Kadeem Allen

…on the cheap, which would be fantastic, because he rocks. Seriously. Name one reason this dude can’t be one of the best backup point guards in the league based on what we’ve seen this year.

You can’t, can you? If the shot is even semi-real5, he’s exactly what you want in a third or fourth ball handler. The collective urgency of the defense ratchets up a few levels whenever he’s in. Sign me up.

Lance Thomas

I love Lance Thomas, and there’s nothing you can say or do to change that.

Allonzo Trier

Yay! Someone we can all enjoy together!

Iso-ball gets a bad rap around these parts because a) Melo played here and b) we have eyes. Treir is a different kind of cat though – a homeless man’s Harden who gets to the line at will while hitting a robust 39% from deep. He’s also got some old-man craftiness to his game, bobbing and weaving until he gets a sliver of daylight.

As his lobs to Mitch have shown us, his passing isn’t a lost cause, and he’s quick and slithery enough on defense to make you think that he might not be a train wreck on that end as he gets older.

I don’t think the “Future 6MOY” stuff is outlandish. Of everyone on this roster outside of Robinson, he’s neck and neck with Knox as the guy I’m most confident is still here next season. Speaking of which…

Kevin Knox

After the second game of Summer League, I went live and said that in order to make the leap from bottom feeder to contender, a team needs to get lucky in the draft at least once and end up with a difference-maker from a spot where those types of players are usually gone. I felt like the Knicks had accomplished exactly that.

Little did I know that I was talking about the wrong guy.

We’ll get to Mitch in a bit, who is basketball caviar. Knox, on the other hand, is like bad Chinese food. You know it’s not good but you keep eating anyway, not because you’re hungry, but because you had a craving.

Knox satisfied a specific craving the Knicks had: a big wing who can score in a variety of ways, and we’ve already seen the vague outline of that player at 19 years old. His finishing will get better as he gets stronger, and I’d bet on him scoring over 20 a game with above average efficiency a few times in his career. He’ll be fine.

But it looked like we were getting something better than “fine” after Vegas. His abhorrent defensive awareness and lack of playmaking and shot creation make me think that was a bit presumptuous.

DeAndre Jordan

I’m totally cool keeping him if it means his buddy KD is coming with him. The Mitch Mentor stuff is nice too.

That said, maybe starting next year, when the games matter again, he could occasionally, you know…jump. Like, in someone’s way. When they’re rolling down the lane. Unimpeded. Repeatedly.

DJ’s minus 19.0 net rating in New York is a promising sign for the possibility that he’s a legit candidate for the room exception6. Other than the Lakers doing dumb shit, I’m not sure I can see any team paying him more than that to be their starting center.

Noah Vonleh

Between his midseason downturn and recent injury, it’s easy to forget Vonleh might have been the Knicks’ best player through the first half of the season. He felt like someone who had risen just above the “good stats, bad team” threshold, at least when he was locked in on defense over the early part of the year.

Then the trade deadline happened, and Vonleh fell off a cliff. It’s hard not to wonder whether a player who’s had team after team give up on him got in his feelings a bit after seeing his name pop up in trade rumors.

New York will put him on the free agency back burner, which is fine. He’s competent, and the shot might be real, but we’re not talking about someone who isn’t replaceable. That said, if he wants to be here, that has more value to the Knicks than it does for most other organizations. Room Exception Candidate # 2.

Luke Kornet

He is absolutely an NBA player, and I kinda think he can be a rotation guy on a good team.

It’s not an accident that of everyone on New York’s roster who’s played at least 500 minutes, he’s the easy leader in net rating. You probably can’t play him at the four long term, but he’s savvy enough on defense that you can survive minutes with him at the five. His shooting at the five is a legit problem that opposing defenses need to game plan around.

Frank Ntilikina

I just wrote 2000 words on the Ntilikina situation, and probably another 20,000 before that this season, and, well…I think I’m all out.

Maybe it’s like Carrie says, and you’re only allotted a certain amount of tears/words per man/player; and I’ve used mine up7. That’s probably it.

In short, I still believe in him, and probably always will.

Damyean Dotson

I love me some Dot. Like, love me love me some Dot.

He’s far from perfect. He’ll probably never be that upper echelon level shooter who defenses have to account for all the time, a’ la JJ Redick. If he doesn’t get there, just how much value he offers on offense is questionable. His off ball defense is low key some of the worst on the team, and there’s a real chance it won’t get much better.

I don’t really care. He’s the only guy on this team besides Allen that you can consistently depend on to navigate a screen. He’s shown some friskiness with the ball in his hands of late, and his 1.11 points per possession on 113 opportunities as a pick and roll ball handler is elite. He’s a monster rebounder for his position.

Best of all, if you break his career down not into two seasons but three – rookie year, pre-All-Star break and post-All-Star break– we’re looking at someone who has made leaps and bounds at each checkpoint.

  • Rookie: 44 games, 10.8 min., 4.1 points, 1.9 rebounds, 0.7 assists, .447/.324/.696
  • Pre-ASG: 49 games, 24.7 min., 9.3 pts, 3.5 rbs, 1.4 asts, .422/.366/.714
  • Post-ASG: 18 games, 32.9 min., 15.0 pts, 4.1 rbs, 2.7 asts, .424/.386/.800

I’m all in.

Mitchell Robinson

Speaking of all in…

Here’s the space where I’d usually include all kinds of stats that back up just how crazy Mitchell Robinson’s rookie season has been, but you’re smart and have seen all those, so we can skip that part.

(Ok, one stat: Mitchell Robinson is the first player in history – not rookie, player – to average four blocks per 36 minutes in a season where they played over 1000 minutes and had an effective field goal percentage as high as his .691. The next closest eFG% on the list is .606, from Hassan Whiteside in 2015-16)

Instead, I’m going right to the thing that I’d probably consider a hot take if it wasn’t already so blatantly apparent to me: Mitchell Robinson is a star

This fact would be apparent even if I hadn’t spent the past quarter century watching, studying, and generally obsessing over this sport, because you don’t need experience watching a sport to know when you’re seeing a star. You just know.

I don’t know exactly how to define “star,” in the same way that I don’t know how to define good team culture, or the perfect sandwich. But you know it when you taste it, are around it, or with Mitch, simply witnessing it.

In more games than not that he’s played this season, Mitch was the one player who stood about above the rest in a way that doesn’t require analysis. It just requires a working pair of eyes.

We have seen the light. And it blocks out the sun.

Check back later this week for Part 2: David Fizdale

 

The Blame Game: On David Fizdale and his role in Frank Ntilikina’s lost season

With the unsurprising news dropping today that Frank Ntilikina is done for the year, it’s a good time to reflect on just how responsible he is for a season gone awry for the Knicks young guard.

Let’s start here, because starting anywhere else would be disingenuous:

I like David Fizdale.

I like him for a lot of reasons, some of which have nothing to do with basketball. He just seems like someone I’d enjoy grabbing a beer with. This probably shouldn’t matter as much as it does in my assessment of his coaching. Or maybe it doesn’t matter enough. More on that in a bit.

More than anything, I like David Fizdale because I’ve watched this team lose a lot of games over a lot of years, and I’ve seen coach after coach look like they’re out on their guys, the season and their job before the All-Star break. Larry Brown looked like he was out before camp broke. Don Chaney looked and sounded so miserable that I’m convinced he and that prick principal from Dangerous Minds are the same person. Jeff Hornacek made the color beige seem exciting in comparison.

When you’re a fan hanging on by a thread, searching for reasons to believe in bigfoot things might get better, if the guy in charge doesn’t even believe it, well…that’s pretty fucking depressing.

David Fizdale has been the opposite of that. He is the best type of salesman – the one who won’t only sell you the blue ray player that’s been sitting in the corner of his stock room since last Christmas, but who’ll make you think you got a great deal in the process. God bless a man who can walk in front of a group of reporters and say, with a straight face, that a team mired in a stretch of 7 wins and 46 losses just had its best practice of the season, as he did last weekend.

That doesn’t just take charisma. It takes balls. The Knicks needed a man with more than a bit of both to head up the operation this season, because it was always going to be ugly.

But even in an acknowledged tank job, a) it wasn’t supposed to be this ugly (more on that next week) and b) everyone was supposed to come out in one piece on the other end.

With today’s news that Frank Ntilikina is done for the year, that is officially not going to be the case.

One thing I can say for certain after this season is that having one foot on Frank Island and another in Fizdale’s bandwagon is a lonely combination, filled with more self-loathing than is usually associated with Knicks fandom. It is not recommended.

Other than obvious stars, I don’t know that I’ve ever believed in a Knick as much as Ntilikina. He represents all the things we’ve wanted so badly through the years – prototypical size, unselfishness, defense, intelligence, boyish good looks8 – and at a position that’s been filled with ineptitude, imposters or Pablo Prigioni since Clyde was traded to Cleveland.

Because of the offense he wants to run, Ntilikina was quite decidedly not what David Fizdale sought in a point guard. That much is pretty clear at this point. But hiring Fiz to run a particular style of ball was the intention of Scott Perry and Steve Mills from jump street. They knew exactly what they were signing up for, and telegraphed as much when they told an anecdote before this season about attending a Laker game last year and deciding they needed to get more athletic.

This was always going to be an offense predicated on ball handlers being able to break down a defense and opening up shots less with finesse and more by brute force.

Enter Emmanuel Mudiay.

There have been many critiques levied at Fiz, but most come back to the same place: his dogged insistence on playing Mudiay through thick and thin, seemingly at Ntilikina’s expense. To many people, after all the preseason talk of defense and ball movement, it proves he’s either clueless or full of shit.

Doesn’t it?

Of all the questions that have been asked about Fizdale this season, this is the fairest. It calls into question the very essence of teambuilding: is it better to set a tone by employing players who are already good at the trait you want to emphasize, or do you give weaker guys repeated opportunities to fail as long as they’re trying their best?

On one hand, I want to give Fiz the benefit of the doubt here. If he prioritized playing his better defenders, Mitchell Robinson never would have gotten an opportunity to learn on the fly, and Kevin Knox probably sees the floor for all of 13 minutes this season (and Trier ain’t far behind).

On the other hand, sometimes enough is enough. Mudiay may be a reasonable facsimile of the type of guard Fiz envisions running his offense, but there comes a point where you know what you have in a guy, and we reached that point with Mudiay a while ago. Yet the leash on him continues to stretch the length of the court, as it has for all of the young Knicks.

All but one, that is.

And that, more than anything, is what has so many in the fan base annoyed. Why the double standard? Why the seemingly harsher treatment for the only guy consistently doing the things Fiz himself professed were important to the development of this team? And to benefit someone with a very limited, not particularly high ceiling?

Fizdale told us why, again, and again, and again.

This was never about Frank vs Mudiay…or Frank vs Trey Burke…or Frank vs Dennis Smith Jr…or Frank vs anyone. It was always about Frank vs Frank, or more specifically, Frank vs the version of Frank Fiz so desperately sought.

Repeatedly, Ntilikina committed the one sin Fiz absolutely would not tolerate: he was hesitant. Frank knew that to play, he needed to shoot. He started to force it, his shooting got worse, and a vicious cycle began.

Next, Fizdale tried tough love, and it worked…for a hot second. The three-game stretch Frank had after his three-game benching was the best of his young career. The next game, vs Charlotte, he left early with an injury, and watched from the bench as Emmanuel Mudiay had perhaps the best night of his career in leading the Knicks to victory. Is it a coincidence that another downward spiral started from that point forward?

Ntilikina shot 28% from the field over the Knicks next nine games, which included another benching, this one on Christmas day. Then, after Frank missed three games with an injury, he bounced back with a six-game stretch where he was the head-and-shoulders leader in net rating amongst Knick regulars, the last two of which were starts. It looked like he had turned a corner. Maybe, after everything that happened, Ntilikina had gotten to a place where he could toe the line between being true to himself and being the guy Fiz wanted.

That was over two months ago. He’s played 32 minutes since then thanks to the groin injury he suffered in that final start vs Miami. They ended up being his last minutes of the season. And we are, of course, left with questions.

Was it Fizdale’s initial demotion from the starting lineup way back in November that hastened Frank’s shooting woes? Maybe, although he was 29% from the field and 17% from deep in the five games prior to his demotion.

Should Fizdale have known that the change would further shake up Ntilikina’s confidence? Maybe, although the results following the later, week-long benching would seem to indicate the opposite.

Was it wrong for the coach to prioritize playing a highly imperfect guard who happened to be better suited to run his offense of choice, even if it torpedoed the team’s defensive ceiling in the process? My guess is that Fizdale would have loved nothing more than to keep playing Frank and eek out a few more wins, but swallowed his pride and did otherwise because he thought it was more important to get his players used to playing in his offensive system – a system where there is zero room for hesitancy.

This has led many to claim that Fiz doesn’t care about defense, which never made any sense to me and still doesn’t. Anyone who’s coached on a championship staff knows the value of defense…when you’re trying to win games. That was never the goal of this season, or at least not above development. Does playing a better defender over a worse one impact the culture in such a way as to inspire poorer defenders to up their game? This would seem to be the philosophy of many, but I’d just as soon argue that giving bad defenders the chance to improve is an equally valid path, especially when they’re trying hard, as the Knicks have largely done this season.

The bottom line is that Frank’s increased presence on the defensive end would have been great for the bottom line this year, but the long-term gains would be uncertain at best.

So what should Fiz have done? Benched Tim Hardaway Jr. instead of Frank back in November? Try selling that to the locker room. Move Knox to the four? We’ve seen him get manhandled in that spot all year. Insert Frank back as the starting point guard when it became apparent Mudiay was who we thought he was, offensive preferences be damned? That’s exactly Fizdale did back in January, albeit due to Mud’s injury.

Then Frank got hurt. And now we’re here.

It’s our instinct to keep asking these questions because it’s impossible not to look at Ntilkina’s season and try to find someone to blame. Fiz became a natural target because he’s the guy trotting out the turnstile who makes a half-dozen head scratching decisions every game. I get it, especially when the alternative is to look at the delightful kid who does nothing but try his ass off and play the right way and say “it’s your fault.”

The sad fact is that Frank Ntilikina is quite literally the worst shooter in the NBA who didn’t come out of the gate like we would have hoped. Some of that has to go on his shoulders.

I still believe in him, of course. How could you not? I mean, look at that smile…

I just don’t know if it’s going to happen for him in New York.

The reality is that Ntilikina was drafted to play in an offense very different than this one. That the man who drafted him was fired 10 days later is an unfortunate part of that reality.

He can function in this system, in a role slightly different than the one originally envisioned, as Fizdale talks about in the clip above. As the coach has alluded to repeatedly, Frank and DSJ should theoretically make beautiful music together…if our French son can hit is shots. Maybe that can happen here. Maybe his confidence isn’t so shot that it requires a change of scenery to resuscitate. Maybe surviving the summer and starting next season on the Knicks roster will restore Frank’s faith that, yes, the organization who drafted him does still want him around.

Or maybe not.

A lot will depend on what happens in July, or, better yet, what the Knicks’ brass thinks will happen in July, and whether they’ll need every ounce of cap room available. The best chance to trade Ntilikina might be on draft night. That’s over a week before free agency begins.

And just how confident should they be? I’ll have more thoughts on that soon.

In the meantime, I will probably be the only one who remains neither in the “Fire Fiz” camp, nor the “Frank stinks” one. It’s a lonely place to be.

But hey, at least I got a kickass blue ray player to keep me company.

NYC Basketball legend and former Knick Cal Ramsey passed away today

NYC Basketball legend and former Knick Cal Ramsey passed away today at the age of 81. Beyond being a former Knick, Ramsey was a New York City basketball legend who left his legacy from all areas of the city’s basketball spectrum, from the courts in Rucker Park to NYU and Madison Square Garden.

Before spending a couple years playing professionally with the St. Louis Hawks, Syracuse Nationals & the New York Knicks, Ramsey made his mark on the NYC basketball courts. Beginning in his teenage years, Ramsey dominated the courts in Rucker Park alongside basketball legend Thomas “Satch” Sanders. Ramsey was a rebounding machine and the duo formed one of the most fierce front-court duos. Ramsey also had his fair share of battles against Connie Hawkins & longtime friend and NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain.

At NYU, Ramsey received a bachelors degree in business administration from the School of Commerce (now known as Stern School of Business). Cal was an All-American senior at NYU and still holds school records in all the rebounding categories.

After his playing career, Cal continued to make an imprint on and off the court. Ramsey was one of the first few African Americans to play in the NBA. He, like many of his contemporaries, suffered through discrimination as an African American basketball player. Teams would set a quota for the number of African Americans that were on the roster. Ramsey likely only played 3 seasons in the NBA due to discrimination.

In 1963, Ramsey accompanied Wilt Chamberlain down to DC for the March on Washington. He witnessed Martin Luther King’s historic “I have a Dream” speech in person.

In 1972, Ramsey joined the Knicks as a television color analyst. He became the first African American TV analyst for the Knicks organization. He remained in that role for 10 years before he returned to NYU in 1983 as an assistant coach on the basketball team. He remained an assistant coach until his death.

In addition to all the achievements above, Ramsey spent more than half his living life as a member of the Knicks community. He’s served as a “goodwill ambassador” for the organization for the last 35+ years. He spent a lot of time working within the Garden of Dreams foundation and interacted with various community groups over the years. He’s made appearance at various Knick-related events over the years including basketball camps, fan appreciation nights, press conferences, and the opening of basketball courts across the New York City playgrounds. He was seen everywhere and his legacy will forever be remembered.

Come watch the Knicks with Knicks Film School, Posting & Toasting, and others!

Hey everyone! Come join us on Friday, March 15, at 8:30 p.m. to watch the Knicks play the Spurs at John Sullivan’s in midtown!

A whole bunch of your favorite people from the Knick blog-o-sphere will be in attendance, including:

  1.  Knicks Film School (Jeff Bellone), Jonathan Macri (the dean of KFS), yours truly, and others from KFS
  2.  The Posting & Toasting crew, including the Ghost of Kristaps Past (Ashwin “Shwinnypooh” Ramnath), Zach Diluzio, Jon Schulman, and others
  3. CP from KnicksFanTV
  4. J. Ellis from The Knick of Time Show
  5. Jeremy Cohen, Andrew Claudio, and others from Gotham Sports Network
  6. Craig & Barry from the Hard Knicks Life Podcast
  7. The one and only Alex Wolfe from the Locked On Knicks

The spot is John Sullivan’s, located at 201 W 35th St. in midtown, between 7th and 8th Ave. It’s actually only about a block and a half away from the Garden. The game starts at 8:30 p.m., but showing up before or after then is obviously fine. We’ll have the whole top floor to ourselves to enjoy the game.

The last party that we hosted in November was a great time and helped raise over $750 for the Garden of Dreams foundation.

This time around, we will have $8 beers, wines, and well drinks all night.  Please bring plenty cash as $2 from all cash drink sales will go to the Garden of Dreams foundation. Additionally, we will run a few raffles during the same with some fun prizes, so do bring some cash with you.

Hope to see you all there!

What to watch for from the young Knicks down the stretch

The games stopped having meaning a long time ago, but what happens on the court still has some importance to a select group of players. Jonathan Macri takes a closer look.

After the Knicks play their Tuesday night game against the Pacers in Indianapolis, they’ll have completed over 80 percent of their schedule. This long, arduous, soul-crushing siege of a death march will almost be over, possibly with fewer wins than the franchise has ever accumulated in a single season.

We’re in the endgame now.

Thankfully, even though the basketball is often unwatchable for quarters, halves and occasionally games at a time, this season is a bit different than many of the losing campaigns that came before it. As has been pointed out by every pollyannish Knicks fan this year2, there is a vague outline of a young core here that could make for an interesting future regardless of what transpires this July.

Would that core look a lot better surrounding a 7’3” Latvian? You betcha. Are we positive that the development of these kids has been executed to perfection across the board? Not in the slightest. Is it possible that they, along with the incoming draft pick, will all be sent packing for Anthony Davis quicker than you can say “We’re going to build things the right way?” Don’t count it out.

But I’ve written about all those possibilities already this year and my brain might slowly start to seep out through my ears if I try to do so again. Instead, let’s go on the assumption that these young’ns will be here and this staff does know what it’s doing – which, in fairness, we have seen ample evidence of despite what could be argued are some glaring miscues.

As such, if you’re one of the 18 people who plan to take in this last fifth of vodka season in all its glory, here’s something to look for from each of the guys that figure to stick around for a bit.

Allonzo Trier

Problem: He’s not shooting enough threes

Solution: Shoot more threes

Save for the ugly nine-game stretch after his December injury, during which his effective field goal percentage dropped all the way down to 33 percent, Trier has been the model of efficiency this year. He is one of only four rookies averaging 20 minutes a game with a usage rate over 20 that has an effective field goal percentage above 50. The other four are the first four picks in the draft.

The problem is that he should be even better. On the season, Trier is putting up two 3-point attempts per game despite hitting over 41 percent from deep. If that number doubled? We might see…well, we might see the guy we’ve seen over the Knicks last eight games.

Over that stretch, Trier is averaging 3.8 long range shots per contest, and it’s resulted in a scoring average over 16. The best part? His deep ball percentage has actually improved to a certainly-unsustainable-but-still-nice-to-see 46.7 percent. If he can simply take around four threes a game for the rest of the year and hit somewhere around his yearlong average, the narrative surrounding his perceived ceiling might really begin to change.

Oh, and his passing? Obviously that’s Trier’s main issue, but getting him to be more of a playmaker is too hefty a task for right now, and figures to be offseason homework. For now, just let the bombs fly.

Frank Ntilikina

Problem: He’s not on the damn court

Solution: Get on the damn court

Can you blame a guy for getting injured?

I mean…no. No, you can’t…

Right?

For a lot of fans, not having to look at Ntilikina put up brick after brick is probably a relief. For those of us who had staked our claims on Frank Island and are now feeling the water between our toes, having him miss what will wind up being over a quarter of the season is like a final punch to the gut in what has been a brutal year.

On one hand, there was a sense before the injury that maybe he could finish strong. If you take away the month of November – when he looked like someone playing basketball for the first time – Ntilikina was a 36.6 percent 3-point shooter on the year. Putting all of his other issues aside, anyone with his defensive profile that hits outside shots at an above-average rate is a useful player.

On the other hand, save for the three-game stretch that followed his three-game benching, there was never a sense that Frank was on the verge of really putting it all together.

There are a lot of complicating factors at play here, not the least of which is that the Knicks may need to choose between Ntilikina and the combination of Damyean Dotson and Allonzo Trier for salary cap purposes, assuming they’re able to ink two max players this July. If that’s the choice, it’s easy to see which way they’ll go.

That said, if the Knicks sign Kyrie Irving and they can get something for Dennis Smith Jr, maybe he’s the one to depart, especially considering the fact that Ntilikina might not even be worth a late first-round pick based on his play thus far.

Of course if he does come back and play well, that might only hasten his exit out of town. Might that be for the best, as it’s now quite clear David Fizdale favors a particular type of guard to run his offense? Wouldn’t Frank’s skill set would be far better suited running more complex offensive sets in a Warriors or Spurs style system? Does it even matter if his offensive struggles continue? Which team might take the risk of finding out?

These are all questions that will likely remain unanswered unless Frank can get back on the court. And he better hurry…we don’t have enough life-jackets in the boathouse for everyone.

Damyean Dotson

Problem: Getting lost off-ball

Solution: Purchase a map

This one’s simple.

Dotson has arguably been the Knicks best perimeter player since Tim Hardaway Jr. got traded away. So he’s been their best perimeter player all year.

Over his last 11 games, Dotson is averaging 15 points while shooting 38.4 percent from downtown on over six attempts per game. Those sure seem like the numbers of a starting shooting guard. His on-ball defense, though…that’s where it’s at.

His activity level makes you feel annoyed on behalf of the guy he’s guarding. He gets around picks better than anyone on the team, and his defensive rebounding – he’s over three a game – is more than solid.

That said, his off-ball defense needs a lot of work. We’ve routinely seen Dotson lose track of his man and get caught ball-watching this year, often resulting in cuts to the basket or wide-open threes. Theoretically, this shouldn’t be an offseason thing; he should be able to up his engagement and attention levels as the year finishes up. It just hasn’t really happened yet.

If that changes, it’s not hard to see him slotting in as the starting two-guard on this team next season, regardless of who New York signs in July.

Mitchell Robinson & Dennis Smith Jr.

Problem: Lack of playing time together

Solution: Paging David Fizdale…

In the 15 games they’ve been teammates2, Mitchell Robinson and Dennis Smith Jr. have played a total of 145 minutes together, or just under 10 minutes a game. For a pick and roll combo that could be devastating and needs as much time as possible to develop, that’s…not ok.

Obviously, it’s tough to play a pairing much more than that if one guy is starting and the other is coming off then bench, as Robinson still is. Here were David Fizdale’s most recent words on the topic from about a week ago, courtesy of NorthJersey.com’s Chris Iseman:

“I just like his rhythm right now. Why mess with it? If you do throw him in there I’d be pretty [mad] off at myself the first game I throw him in there, he gets two and I’ve got to sit him for a bunch of minutes…I want to keep the kid feeling good and in a good rhythm. It allows me to do some different stuff with him in the second half. When he’s playing well I can play him more minutes. I can even start him in the second half like I did one game at home.”

I get all of that. Robinson himself has even spoken of feeling less pressure and more comfortable with coming off the bench.

At some point though, maybe just throw caution to the wind and say “fuck it.” I’m sure DeAndre Jordan wouldn’t mind getting an early start on his planning for Cancun, perhaps over the season’s last ten games. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Kevin Knox

Problem: He hit the rookie wall

Solution: Break on through to the other side

There are some out there who look at how the last two months have gone for Kevin Knox and are ready to proclaim him a bust.

In fairness, he has looked bad. Like, “Emmanuel Mudiay is my spirit animal” bad. This clip from Sunday night’s Wolves game pretty much encapsulates how the last several weeks has gone for him:

Here’s the thing though: Kevin Knox can make a layup at this level. We know this because we’ve already seen him do it many times, along with a lot of the things he’s seemingly been incapable of doing for a while now, when the Monstars stole his powers he hit the rookie wall.

Is that just a convenient excuse? Maybe…but there are some numbers to back it up.

I noted on the podcast recently that if you stopped Knox’s rookie season after his 44th game – the exact point where he exceeded his minute total from last year at Kentucky – he’d have finished with a .422 eFG%, including 34 percent from deep, and a 9.3 TOV% on a 22.3 usage rate. Over the next 15 games – the ones that have everybody jumping out of open windows – those numbers dipped to .366/.299/12.2 on the exact same usage.

Keep in mind that this is the same dude who was voted rookie of the month in December and was the coaches’ injury replacement for the Rising Stars Game on February 63. For a guy to go from “top ten rookie” to “bust” in the span of a month feels like more than a bit of recency bias.

All this being said, it would still be nice to signs of life. We kind of did on Sunday, in a game where Knox finished 5-of-11 for 13 points and four (four!) assists. It was the first time this year Knox has had that many dimes in a game where he scored more points than shots he took. His best stretch came late in the first half when he had a drive with a nice finish, a triple, a cross-court assist to an open Damyean Dotson for three, and a dish to DeAndre Jordan for what should have been an easy two.

If he just had a few minutes like this during every game from here on in, everyone would feel a lot less anxiety heading into the summer. The Knicks needed to get this pick right. Despite recent evidence to the contrary, maybe they actually did.

The Kristaps Porzingis Trade Postmortem

Almost one year ago to the day (and two blogs ago for me personally) I wrote a story the day after Kristaps Porzingis went down with a torn ACL.

My message was clear. Although there was no silver lining to the injury, the Knicks should use their misfortune as an opportunity to do something they otherwise would have been unable to: repair the relationship with their fallen star, one that the previous regime had sullied. I proposed that when July 1, 2018 came around, New York’s brass should have approached Porzingis at midnight – torn ACL and all – with a max contract extension that would have kept the Unicorn in blue and orange well into the prime of his career.

Continue reading →

Knicks fill second two-way spot with Kadeem Allen

The Knicks will sign guard Kadeem Allen to fill their second two-way roster spot, according to Shams Charania.

Allen is most known for his defense: he was named to the Pac-12 All Defensive Team in college and made the All-NBA G-League Defensive team last season. The 26-year-old4 plays a physical defense, and you guessed it, has a long 6’9” wingspan. He was a second round pick of the Celtics in 2017, out of Arizona, playing in only 18 games for Boston, mainly playing for their G-League affiliate in Maine where he had a successful season.

Allen signed a training camp deal with the Knicks last July before being waived at the start of the season.

NBA teams are allowed to carry up to two players on two-way contracts at a time. The Knicks already have Isaiah Hicks signed to a two-way. Allen’s former Arizona teammate, Allonzo Trier, was signed to an NBA deal in December, which opened up a spot for Allen to sign with the Knicks.

Players on two-way contracts split their time between the G-League and the NBA. The two-way status allows the player to spend up to 45 days (plus additional days for travel and non-practice days) with the NBA club. G-League players cannot play with their NBA affiliate unless they have a contract to do so.

Allen’s salary will not count against the Knicks salary cap, but he will earn the rookie minimum salary pro-rated per day he spends in the NBA, while earning a two-way pay rate for the time he remains in Westchester.

Two-way contracts that are signed during the season are pro-rated downward in terms of NBA service time. Since Allen will be signed right at the deadline (January 15 is the final date in which two-way contracts can be signed), he will receive approximately 22 days of NBA service time depending on how many days he travels and actually practices with the team during that time.

Allen is averaging 13.7 points on 46.8 percent shooting, while dishing out 5.7 assists and swiping 1.6 steals per game for Westchester this season.

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]


Steve Mills elaborates on Joakim Noah decisions

In a press conference with several reporters, Knicks President Steve Mills made his most direct statement about the decision to waive and stretch Joakim Noah by making it clear that signing him wasn’t his idea and there was more than just financial reasons for why they cut him loose when they did.

“There was a reason why we thought that this was the best thing for the culture and the environment of our team,” Mills said, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. “When the speculation was why don’t we handle Joakim one way and we decided to handle it a different way, there was a reason why we handled it the way we decided to handle it.”

Joakim Noah admitted during an interview with Chris Vernon that he was “too lit” for New York City, alluding to his partying routine.

“I can look back on it and say I thought I was ready for New York City, and I wasn’t. It’s something I have to live with … I remember after the first game, I probably had, like, 60 people at my house,” Noah explained to Vernon.

“I’m lit. I’m too lit to play in New York City. Memphis is perfect for me. Chicago … we were lit in Chicago, but I was young. You recover faster, you know?”

The Knicks decided to waive Noah in September. The final year of his contract is stretched over three seasons, providing the Knicks with near-term cap savings in 2019 at the expense of an extra cap hit over the subsequent two seasons.

According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, both Kristaps Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina were told not to go out with Noah when he was still with the team.

The Knicks are trying to build a safe environment for a roster filled with many players who aren’t even old enough to drink. While the losses have piled up this season, the team appears to be a tight-knit group under coach Fizdale.

As the Knicks have moved on from Noah, Mills made it seem like signing him wasn’t something he was on board with from the beginning.

“Obviously I’m disappointed it worked out the way it worked out,” Mills said, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. “I don’t know that, had it been just my decision, I don’t know that I would have signed him.”

Mills was general manager of the team when the four-year, $72 million contract was signed. However, Phil Jackson was clearly running the show at the time. It is believed that Clarence Gaines also advocated for the signing. Of course, it was Gaines who is credited for pushing the Knicks to select Kristaps Porzingis.

Noah signed a contract with Memphis after being waived by the Knicks. He has played eight games for the Grizzlies, recently missing time from a sore heel.

Kristaps Porzingis is progressing, but his return is not imminent

Ten months after Kristaps Porzingis fell to the Garden floor with a torn ACL in his left knee, the team has announced that he is making progress in his rehabilitation, but a return date is not imminent.

The full statement from the team is below:

Kristaps Porzingis underwent recent evaluation by the team’s medical/training/performance staff.  The evaluation confirmed that Kristaps’ knee is healing well, and he has made good progress with rehabilitation. Once he reaches the remaining rehab benchmarks, he will advance to on-court team drills and activities.  He will be re-evaluated in mid-February. 

Mid-February will mark the one-year anniversary of Porzingis’ injury. The timetable for players returning from ACL injuries tends to be in the 12-month range; however, each case is different, and with Kristaps Porzingis truly a unicorn in body type, it is difficult to evaluate his injury in comparison to others.

We learned from one of KP’s Comeback videos in June how the plan from the beginning was to take it slow with his recovery process, as his own fitness coach recognized that his body mechanics need to improve to reduce the risk of future injuries.

Steve Mills provided additional detail on Porzingis’ recovery at a press conference with reporters before the medical update was released.

“What he’s done is he’s progressed to the point where he’s able to do some one-on-one,” Mills said, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. “Actually work on the court with our coaches. There’s still some benchmarks that we need to look at to see when he could move to the next phase of his on-court development, on-court progression. But he’s at the point now where he’s able to do 45-minute sessions on the floor with our coaches to go through a bunch of on-court activities.”

There is ongoing debate by basketball observers on whether it is prudent to bring back Porzingis at all this season.

Some fans would prefer they take it slow with the budding superstar and let the team’s record fall where it may in the lottery standings without him.

Others believe it makes sense to have him return, at least for a short stint of games, in order to prove to potential free agents that he is healthy and ready to team up with another star to become a competitive force in the Eastern Conference, although when Mills was asked about this point in today’s press conference, he said it was not part of the consideration.

If Kristaps Porzingis meets the necessary benchmarks during his reevaluation in mid-February, I would expect it will still take some time for him to actually return to the court, so it’s safe to say that we probably won’t see #6 on the Garden floor until March, the earliest.

 

Report: Knicks have expressed preliminary interest in Jabari Parker

The Chicago Bulls are reportedly shopping Jabari Parker, who fell out of Jim Boylen’s rotation last week. According to Ian Begley, the Knicks are one of the teams that has expressed preliminary interest in the forward who is due to make $20 million this season, with a $20 million team option for 2019-20.

Ian Begley adds to his report by speculating that the Knicks would remain steadfast in their approach to not give up any future first round picks in any trade proposal.

The allure of Parker is the amount of money he makes this season, along with his team option for next season, would give the Knicks the opportunity to exchange a large sum of salary without taking back any 2019 commitment.

Both Chicago and New York are over the cap, but neither team is a taxpaying team. Under the rules of the CBA, the Knicks would need to trade a minimum of $15 million in salary to acquire Parker, which is $5 million less than his cap hit of $20 million.

This means New York would need to add a little less than $3 million to Courtney Lee’s contract to make a deal work that involved the veteran wing who is due to make $12.8 million in 2019, an amount the Knicks would like to get off their books.

Of course, the Knicks could also look to trade a player like Tim Hardaway Jr. and make the trade work one-for-one, but with Timmy due to make north of $18 million through 2020-21, it might cost the Knicks an extra asset to accomplish that kind of deal.

As things stand right now, if the Knicks renounce all of their own free agents, with the exception of Kristaps Porzingis, they are still about $8-9 million short of having max space to make an offer for Kevin Durant. Of course, there are a lot of avenues the team can pursue in opening up that remaining cap need, but it is worth considering when looking at a potential Jabari Parker trade.

Parker has battled injuries throughout his career. The former number two overall pick has not played in more than 51 games since 2015-16. He has already suffered two ACL injuries while in Milwaukee. This season, he is averaging 15.2 points and 6.9 rebounds on 45.5% shooting in Chicago.

If the Knicks were able to acquire him while providing themselves with salary relief in 2019, he also gives them the option to keep him through next season if they strike out in free agency. They could then re-load with cap space in 2020, while adding forward depth to their roster for the 2019-20 season.

Tim Hardaway Jr. playing through plantar fasciitis

Tim Hardaway Jr. is battling planter fasciitis, which involves inflammation of a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of the foot and connects the heel bone to the toes (plantar fascia)2, according to David Fizdale.

Fizdale told reporters that the Michigan alum will “manage” the injury moving forward and will play when the Knicks face Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Hardaway Jr. had missed Monday’s game from what was called a sore heel on the injury report.

Planter fasciitis is not typically an injury that players recover quickly from. The Knicks plan on assessing Hardaway Jr.’s pain threshold in deciding how often to play him.

“He’s going to tell us,” Fizdale was recorded saying by The Record. “We’re going to treat it. The more he can tolerate, that’s how much what we’ll go with it. When he can’t take it anymore, that’s when we’ll give him rest.  One of those injuries is a real tender injury because you do everything with your heel.  He’s been battling for us. That’s why I love him.”

It is a bit curious why the Knicks, at 9-23, in a rebuild season, are looking to have their top scorer, who is due to make over $36 million over the next two seasons, play through a plantar fasciitis injury. Hardaway Jr. has suffered many bumps and bruises throughout the season, a few times taking hard hits to the head during games, only to keep on playing.

When Fizdale was asked if he has thought about shutting Timmy down, he responded “No,” according to Mike Vorkunov. “I gotta score some baskets. I can’t shut down Timmy. We need Timmy.”

Hardaway Jr. is averaging 21.0 points per game on 39.5% shooting (including 35.8% from downtown). After a strong start to the season, his shooting and defense have both regressed. Perhaps this plantar fasciitis injury explains why.

Tyson Chandler believes Knicks have chance to land top free agent

Tyson Chandler was in Brooklyn as the Lakers faced the Nets on Tuesday night, so the local reporters took the opportunity to ask him about the Knicks. Chandler called Madison Square Garden home for three seasons between 2011-2014, playing on the 54-win team that represents the best Knicks team of the 21st century.

“I like David Fizdale. I like what he’s doing,” Chandler was recorded saying by Barbara Barker of. Newsday. “I honestly think it’s a matter of time. I think they have the potential to land a big-time free agent to pair with [Kristaps] Porzingis and after that it could be a matter of time.”

Chandler was traded from the Knicks in 2014 as one of Phil Jackson’s first moves after taking over as president of the organization. The former Defensive Player of the Year thinks the environment around the team has changed since then.

“It’s definitely changed,” he said. “You have some good guys over there. That always helps. The Knicks went through a tough time. The Phil Jackson era was a tough time. Before that was a tough time. Then, when me and [Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire] were there, it was a fun time. They just have to get back to that again. It just takes one little piece to switch things up.”

James Dolan gives wide-ranging interview

James Dolan touched on a variety of topics in an interview / profile piece by ESPN’s Ian O’Connor. I provide some highlights below, but I recommend that you read the entire piece since it is rare to get this much detail on the Knicks and Rangers’ owner.

The quote that is getting the most press from the article is James Dolan saying “I could never say that I wouldn’t consider selling the Knicks.” Dolan confirms he has received “feelers” for around $5 billion, but there have been no “bona fide” offers.

Of course, any hint of James Dolan selling the Knicks will come with celebration from Knicks fans, but if you read the context around the quote, you will see that selling the team is not exactly in the Dolan family plans.

“I can tell you that nobody in my family wants to sell the Knicks and Rangers. It’s not just my dad. It’s the whole family. It’s my [five] brothers and sisters. They like being owners.”

James Dolan via Ian O’Connor

Dolan explains how it’s his responsibility to his shareholders to consider an offer, “my family is not in [a position to want to sell], and they are the majority shareholders. They hold the majority of the vote. … As a majority owner, I don’t want to sell, either. As the head of the public company, you can’t say you can’t sell, because then you’re telling your shareholders that your own personal feelings about your assets are more important than their money. And they won’t invest with you if you do that.

Read into the above as you like.

JAMES DOLAN HIGHLIGHTS

On Phil Jackson and the triangle. “I think it was much more about this triangle thing. It was much more about his philosophy, that he couldn’t get the group to buy into it. And I think he got yessed a lot. I think they’d be underneath their breath going, ‘This is not a great idea,’ and he got into conflict with some players over it. But I think he tried hard to get his system in. I just don’t think he ever got it in.”

On Jeff Van Gundy as potential coaching candidate and head coach search process. “I never heard that. He wanted the job? Look, I’ll do whatever’s necessary to help the team. If Scott and Steve said Jeff’s the right guy, fine, but it was really their call. I didn’t meet anybody else other than Fiz. They said, ‘Look, he’s our pick, I want you to meet him.’ So I did. I wasn’t involved in the selection process at all.”

On hiring Fizdale and having an all-black front office. “When we hired Fiz, Steve came up to me and he says, ‘How do you feel about having an all-black front office?’ I’m like, ‘We do?’ I didn’t realize we did. I don’t think that way. I think about how to get the work done, who’s the best person to do the job.” 

On women in the Garden workforce. “We have a lot of women who work in our company who are in very senior positions. That’s not because I’m trying to hire women. I think that’s because women are overlooked, and so therefore if you’re looking for the best person, the odds are stacked in favor of finding a woman for the job because the men are oversubscribed to and the women are undersubscribed to, and so therefore you get a better executive when you’re looking at women.”

On Donald Trump. “I’ve known him for a long time. I got married at Mar-a-Lago. I’m a member of Mar-a-Lago, and I support him as a friend. And you don’t have to agree with everything that he’s doing in order to support him. And he’s, by the way, our president, and I don’t understand people who wish our president to do badly. Why would you wish your president to do badly? It’s like wishing that your milkman will bring you sour milk.”

On Harvey Weinstein. “I wrote him a whole letter about [his predatory conduct] and he never responded to it, until the next time I heard from him like six weeks later, and it was a request for tickets. And I’m like, ‘I know you read my letter.’ But I gave up on him long before that.”

Adam Silver’s thoughts on Dolan paraphrased by Ian O’Connor. “The commissioner did say that Dolan’s stature has grown among his peers, that Jim serves on a number of impactful league committees and that his expertise in the media business is unrivaled. Silver also says that, more than any other owner, Dolan uses data and sound business principles instead of emotion in difficult negotiations, and that he forever calls the league office as an invested advocate of the Knicks.”

Kristaps Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina were told not to go out with Joakim Noah, who admits to heavy partying in NYC

Joakim Noah signed a four-year, $72 million contract with the Knicks that seemed like a mistake from the moment the contract ink was printed back in 2016. It turns out that Noah was as unprepared for New York as many in the fan base were in accepting his large contract.

Noah ended up playing only 53 games for the Knicks, before being banished from the team last February after an altercation with coach Jeff Hornacek.

“When I got kicked off the team, it was New York fashion week and I was getting a lot of money and I had no direction,” Noah said in an in-studio appearance on the Chris Vernon show. “I really had to make a decision of how I wanted to live my life. If I kept going on the direction I was going in and stayed in New York, then I probably wouldn’t be here right now.”

The Knicks decided to waive Noah in September. The final year of his contract is stretched over three seasons, providing the Knicks with near-term cap savings in 2019 at the expense of an extra cap hit over the subsequent two seasons.

Listening to Joakim Noah talk to Chris Vernon, you can understand why, beyond the financial implications, the Knicks’ front office might not have wanted him to be a role model for their young core of prospects. According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, both Kristaps Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina were told not to go out with Noah.

“I can look back on it and say I thought I was ready for New York City, and I wasn’t. It’s something I have to live with,” Noah tells Chris Vernon.

“I remember after the first game, I probably had, like, 60 people at my house,” Noah explained. “I’m lit. I’m too lit to play in New York City. Memphis is perfect for me. Chicago … we were lit in Chicago, but I was young. You recover faster, you know?”

Noah ended up signing with the Memphis Grizzlies, where he is trying to find new life after nearly falling off the deep end in New York.

“I’m getting paid millions of dollars, and I have nothing to do [after being banished by the Knicks last February], and I’m 32 years old. I had to lock in and set a routine for myself … ’cause partying and being an athlete, they don’t go hand in hand.”

Let’s hope both the Knicks and Joakim Noah learned their lessons.

Courtney Lee has off shooting night in Westchester loss to Lakeland

After missing most of training camp and the beginning of the regular season due to a nagging neck injury, Courtney Lee was having difficulty getting acclimated into the Knicks lineup.

So he decided it would be best to get some extra reps in the G-League, where he played for Westchester in their loss to Lakeland on Tuesday night.

Lee posted 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists on an off-shooting night. He took a high volume of shots, trying to find his touch, but finished 7-21 from the field and only 1-9 from three. Being that this game was a tune-up for Lee, the numbers don’t matter as much as the reps.

Lee did not travel with the Knicks for their game on Wednesday in Cleveland. He will return to the lineup in Charlotte on Friday. 

The veteran guard requested the time in the G-League to get into shape and rhythm again.

Fizdale was impressed by Lee’s decision. “That was his decision to go to the G-League. I was like, ‘What a pro,’” Fizdale said in a quote recorded by the New York Daily News. “The fact he came to us and said, ‘I’m hurting the guys, I have no legs and I have no rhythm. If it’s OK, can I go to the G League and play some minutes?’”

Of course, the Knicks have a roster decision to make shortly after Allonzo Trier returns from a hamstring injury, if they want to sign him before his 45-day NBA service time expires. The Knicks could let negotiations extend beyond 45 days, meaning Trier would return to the G-League until a contract and roster spot is settled.

It was reported by Adam Zagoria earlier on Monday that the Knicks are expected to convert Trier’s two-way contract to a standard NBA contract.

To eventually make room for Trier, I would expect the Knicks to waive one of their players on a one-year deal (such as Kornet or Baker) rather than complicating their efforts in trying to accomplish two goals by trading Lee: shedding his 2019 salary and creating an extra roster spot. So if you are inclined to connect transactional dots, don’t read too much into this Westchester assignment.

LeBron hints at Garden, but never seriously considered the Knicks last summer

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade played their final NBA game against each other on Monday night at Staples Center. And after the game, a conversation caught on camera has Knicks fans waking up to a dream that never happened. 

In talking to Wade after the game, Lebron tells him the only venues he considered appropriate for their final showdown, “It was either here [LA] or the Garden, that’s it.”

Before you get too crazy in thinking about LeBron alluding to wanting to play at the Garden, Joe Vardon of The Athletic reports, “According to multiple sources close to James, he meant that a final meeting with Wade was so special, it could only be held at a venue like Staples Center or Madison Square Garden — two history-rich arenas in the the glitziest and most glamorous cities in the NBA.”

This clarification was first reported by Michael J. Duarte of NBC LA.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN, who knows LeBron as well as anybody in the business, adds that LeBron was probably always thinking of going to LA, but after the way Phil treated Melo, it was a done deal.

Of course, the Knicks would have needed to create the necessary cap space to sign LeBron last summer, anyway. His biggest recruiter, Enes Kanter, would surely be gone, Noah stretched, and either Courtney Lee or Tim Hardaway Jr. packaged somewhere. Perhaps a draft pick would have been moved for the Knicks to rid themselves of these contracts.

Long story, short, LeBron probably wasn’t ever coming here. It remains a dream that never happened.

Former Knick Eric Anderson passes away at the age of 48

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sszr4VRosQ

Former Knick Eric Anderson suddenly passed away today at the age of 48.  Anderson spent his collegiate years at the University of Indiana and was the Most Outstanding Player of the 1992 NCAA Tournament’s West Regional.  Anderson was part of a team that reached the Final Four.

The Knicks signed Anderson in 1992 after everyone overlooked him in the draft.  He played sparingly – 27 games – over the next two seasons and was the recipient of massive cheers when entering blowout games.  

His main highlight in the NBA was being a part of an unexpected shoving match with Harold Ellis of the Los Angeles Clippers.   

Anderson left the NBA in 1994.  In 27 NBA games (all with the Knicks), Anderson scored 42 points, but remarkably was 2-2 from the three point arc.  He played the 1994-95 season overseas in Spain and spent two seasons with the Fort Wayne Fury of the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association (CBA).  The Fury were located in Indiana, where Anderson went to college and close to his hometown of Chicago, Illinois.

Report: Knicks expected to convert Allonzo Trier to standard NBA contract

Adam Zagoria is reporting that the Knicks are expected to convert Allonzo Trier from a two-way to a standard NBA contract this week. Trier’s 45 day NBA service limit was set to expire on December 15, but a hamstring injury will keep him out of basketball activities for at least the rest of this week, and thus, delaying his service time deadline until he recovers.

Zagoria has covered Trier closely since high school. He followed him all the way through college. Beyond writing for his own ZagsBlog, Zagoria contributes to the Arizona Daily Star. If there is a local reporter to trust with Trier news, it is Zags.

Trier sat out of Sunday night’s game due to a hamstring injury. After an incredible start to the season as an undrafted rookie, he has cooled of late, shooting only 35.7% in December, down from 48.9% the previous month. He is averaging 11.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists on the season.

Of course, for the Knicks to sign Trier to an NBA contract, they will need to create a roster spot. There has been no leaked reports of who the team might waive to make space for the Arizona rookie.

Once they create a roster spot, the easiest path to sign Trier is to convert his two-way contract into a standard NBA contract at the league minimum rate for the rest of the season, which coincides with the remaining length of his two-way contract. It is unclear if this is the path that Zagoria is reporting the Knicks will take.

If the Knicks want to sign Trier for more than the league minimum or for longer than the rest of this season, they have limited options since they are operating over the salary cap.

Their only option is to trade players to create cap space (unlikely) or use a salary cap exception to sign him. The salary cap exceptions available to them are as follows:

  • Minimum Salary Exception, pro-rated down from $838K for Trier this season, for up to two seasons.
  • Bi-Annual Exception, starting up to $3.4M, for up to two seasons
  • Mid-Level Exception, starting up to $655K this season, but for up to four seasons.

Since Trier has less than 3 years of service in the league, he would become a restricted free agent if signed for the rest of this season (or even if signed through next season).

Porzingis wanted Ntilikina in the starting lineup last season

Frank Ntilikina is in a battle with the current coaching staff over playing time, but apparently he had a high-ranking player fighting for when he should have played last season.

According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, Kristaps Porzingis was among a small group of players who asked Jeff Hornacek to start Ntilikina at point guard last season. Frank ended up only starting 9 games, and now Hornacek is gone.

Under new coach David Fizdale, despite his recent string of DNPs, Frank has started 14 games already. The French guard has nearly identical shooting numbers whether he starts or comes off the bench (~35%), but it’s his defensive prowess, and fit with Porzingis, that makes a difference.

The Knicks played to a +4.4 rating when Porzingis shared the court with Nitlikina last season, compared to a -1.6 rating when Porzingis played without the 2017 lottery pick. Knicks fans have missed the duo in the pick-and-roll defense this season.

Ntilikina finally found playing time against Brooklyn, after spending the last three games on the bench. He helped spur a Knicks comeback that fell short. When asked after the game if Frank would see more time against Charlotte, Fizdale indicated that he needed to watch the film before making a decision.

Lance Thomas talks Frank, Fizdale, and sneaker drive with Alan Hahn

MSG and ESPN Radio’s Alan Hahn had Lance Thomas on his show on Friday night and a number of things of note came out of it.

Regarding the topic of the moment, Lance pushed back against some of what’s being said, noting that Frank Ntilikina’s “approach every day has been great,” and adding that several key contributors have gotten a string of DNP-CD’s at times. He said he’s been working hard, and definitively added that “Frank can play.” Lance spoke about the fact that he’s in Frank’s ear “every day,” making sure his spirits are up, and noted that his time is going to come. He said he loves Frank’s approach to the game, and that if he had one message to fans concerned about the 20-year-old, it would be “don’t worry about Frank,” and that he’d be ready when his opportunity came.

Regarding the new head coach, Lance said that David Fizdale instills confidence in the players, makes sure guys are working hard, and that he’s direct and emphasizes development. Interestingly enough, when asked why this team is different from years past, Thomas pointed to the intensity of practices and how guys were ultra competitive during that time but that there was also a high level of camaraderie off of it.
He also noted how the team was in almost every game despite the fact that they haven’t been able to pull many out. He made sure to praise the coach’s approach of making every player on the roster earn their time. Lastly, Lance said he was getting closer to returning to the court himself.
Most importantly, Lance and Damyean Dotson are participating in a great event at Sneakers’N Stuff on Little West 12th Streeton Monday night from 6-8 pm where fans can come and get autographs and also help a great cause by donating lightly worn sneakers which will then be sent to the underprivileged.

Frank Ntilikina interview by Basket-Infos.com (TRANSLATED)

The following interview was conducted by Antoine Bancharel of Basket-Infos.com in Tarrytown (training center). It was translated to English by Mickael Collet. You can read the original interview in French here.


After three games without playing, Frank Ntilikina finds himself in an unknown and rare situation for the eighth draft pick the year before, which is more in a team not really cut to win – even if he surely pays his 0/3 and 0/5 in the last two games played (or 3/17 in the last four).

Basket-Infos went to see him to collect his impressions.* (Fizdale assured us that he didn’t want to put him in the garbage time on Thursday, but that he still saw him in his rotation otherwise)

QUESTION: Frank, the situation is quite unique, for an eighth pick in the Draft in general, and for you who has always been ahead, even if you remain one of the youngest players in the NBA (19th according to this criterion). Do you also live like that, or do you relate to something you have already experienced?

FRANK: When I was young in Strasbourg, and I didn’t play at first, it was the same thing. I had to fight to find playing time. The age for me didn’t really matter, I was a player in its own right. It was the same thing. Go to training to have some playing time, to try to have the trust of the coach and my teammates. And show everyone that I deserve to be on the ground. So that’s it, it wasn’t the age at that time, it’s not going to be it either now. Because the NBA is the NBA.

QUESTION: You still started the season more sure of you, the status of rookie in the rearview mirror, so we are entitled to say that you didn’t expect it …

FRANK: We must expect everything! We must expect everything. You have to be prepared for everything. Everything can happen in the NBA, so after that … I think especially that the situation is a little … super dramatized in the media. But that’s what happens every day in an athlete’s life.

QUESTION: Especially in New York.

FRANK: Yes that’s it. It’s the life of an athlete! There is good, & less good … But it’s not negative. Because these are experiences that help us to rebound and become stronger. This experience will help me to be stronger on the field. And mentally. It’s not … I’m not going to say it doesn’t matter. But that’s it, it happens. It happens ! It’s up to me to “bounce back” ( he smiles and then balances his arms in sign of motivation).

QUESTION: Your French agent, Olivier Mazet, was there this week (he comes regularly, about once a month, all the more they played Boston, where his other NBA player, Guerschon Yabusele is), while rumors of trade packed the machine. Have you spoken to it?

FRANK: We talk about it sometimes … But in general we are not the type to dwell on what we don’t control. The priority for me is to control what I can control, which is what happens in the court. What’s around me, in my entourage. And my entourage knows very well that we will not dwell on things we don’t control. Rumors of trade, there may be some. Rumors of … of I do not know what, of … (he hesitates) No matter the rumors! There are many, but I try to stay focused on the court.

QUESTION: We saw David Fizdale going to talk to you for a long time. Does he tell you things that are fairly classic or rather personal?

FRANK: Personal versus what?

QUESTION: These are generalities like “Frank, you have to keep pushing”, or rather specific things, like the fact that you’ve never experienced that …

FRANK: (He cuts in) I have already experienced this in fact! That’s what is misunderstood. This situation is the same as when you are young and you try to fight for a spot. We young people fighting for a spot, we don’t think “ah we are younger than others so it’s normal.” There is nothing normal! When one is a competitor, one wants to return to the court. When we are a competitors, we want to show in practice that we have our place in the court and here it’s the same thing. He didn’t make me play the last games, he wanted to test things, or he wanted to put me on the bench, no matter the reason. Me, my goal is to control what I can control. It’s going on the field in training and prove to everyone – including myself – that I deserve the time of play. And here, bounce! It’s not like I’ve never experienced that. The goal is the same. Today, we must forget what happened in the past, the last games. Today I am going to build on what will happen in the future. The next game. And if he doesn’t make me play for the next game, it’s going to be the same. Training. Next game. Training. Next game. That’s what we can control.

QUESTION: We talked to Courtney Lee, a veteran we’ve seen talk to you many times, especially from the beginning, who’s next to you in the locker room. Did he tell you anything about that?

FRANK: It happened in the career of a lot of players in our team. As you know, there are quite a few players on our team who …

QUESTION: These are the young people there for once …

FRANK: That’s it, the young people who were totally excluded from a team and who had the chance to bounce back here, with everything to prove (Trey Burke and Emmanuel Mudiay, on his position as leader in fact, recruited by Scott Perry , who wasn’t with the Knicks when Frank was drafted). It happens all the time in the NBA. There are very few players, just the superstars, who keep their playing time, their contract. But around that, players who are traded, players who change teams, players who are cut, players who don’t have much time to play … it varies! It’s not that we shouldn’t panic, but we have to take it on the right side of things. It’s a challenge that will make me better. Courtney is a person I talk to a lot about yes. It’s good to have a veteran who has had a career, solid, many years, who has lived a lot of things in his career. Who is there to talk a few times what!

QUESTION:His hardest moment must be match 2 of the 2009 finals, where he misses the alley-oop that can win and change the game … You talk about moments like this?

FRANK: We have not talk about that. But there he missed a lay-up not long ago (Monday against Washington, on his return), so there are some few who spoke about it quickly, but otherwise not.

QUESTION: If we go back to the young people, you had an attitude (translator means relationship) where it wasn’t an aggressive competition, you are pretty close and you encourage yourself …

FRANK: We didn’t say anything but I think it came naturally, with the people we are. After, we are competitors, so we will always have this sense on the ground where we will go to the bottom, against each other. But otherwise, outside we all get along, we are a good group … But on the ground we fight. We fight every day to show that we are the best, but it’s good competition precisely. We will push each other and in training, imagine that there is a player who is less good in the efforts, we will push, we will make ourselves better. Every day. It’s the right mentality to make the whole team better.

QUESTION: Do they suddenly come to see you and say to you: “You see, I too have had this kind of passage, you’ll get started again”, that kind of thing?

FRANK: I’m talking about it with Damyean Dotson, who had the same experience and was ready when he went back to the field. I’ll have my chance, I think. And if I continue to work like this … After, I can’t control (translator note on the bench.) But I will be able to control when I come back, what I will bring on the field, the energy, the defense … and that’s it.

QUESTION: There is the game against the Nets Saturday, then it will be the “French Night” Sunday against the Hornets. Even if it’s more around, for the (french) fans, on the pitch there will be Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum in front. Is this an element of context that you have in mind?

FRANK: Bah … I think a little, but in the sense that it would be nice to play against them, but in fact I’m just saying that I’d like to play all games in fact … But it’ll be a nice night!