You have to give the New York Knicks this at least: If they gave out a championship for amount of media generated, they’d contend for the title every single season.
After all, it was just under a month ago when the team, in the midst of a once promising season rapidly circling the drain, decided to part ways with head coach Derek Fisher. This, in and of itself, might not have been particularly noteworthy. Coaches get fired, after all, particularly when they amass a record of 40-96 in their first season and a half of duty. But Fisher’s firing quickly grew from a story into a story, thanks to speculation surrounding his shift from the Triangle Offense, rumors of continuing personal drama behind the scenes, and, because no Knicks story would be complete without it, a strange, new-agey Tweet from Team President Phil Jackson.
I am sad about D-Fish. However, I'm not discouraged. Here is some things pundits should know before assuming 'next'. pic.twitter.com/cFnA8TQAhx
— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) February 9, 2016
Of course, that wasn’t the weirdest #KnicksTwitter story to emerge in the past few weeks. Not even close. Because once long time Jackson lieutenant Kurt Rambis was named the interim head coach, a few nosy nellies couldn’t help but notice that the 4-time NBA Champion had some rather, well, interesting social media interests. Naturally, just as the sports blogosphere was finishing their latest round of chuckling at a coach liking pornographic images on Twitter like grade schoolers who found the stash of their dad’s Playboys under the bathroom sink, the team decided to prolong the story, blaming Rambis’ colorful menagerie of follows on the most benign (and hilarious!) hacker in the history of the internet.
And then came this past week, which saw Carmelo Anthony tell a rather rowdy fan, dissatisfied with the team’s effort in a 104-85 loss, “Look, the owner’s right there. Ask for your money back.” If Anthony was a stand up comic, he’d have been saluted for a rather ‘epic own’ of his heckler, but these are the Knicks, so instead, he was made apologize, issuing a statement through the team’s public relations arm that, “[W]e are all frustrated by the team’s recent results — everyone, including me, my teammates, coaches and the fans. Last night, a fan and I let those frustrations get the best of us. I should not have responded the way I did.”
The apology felt phony, forced, and utterly unnecessary, and so it made perfect sense when Anthony explained that it was team owner James Dolan’s idea to release it in the first place.
All of which is to say that, if you’re looking for actual, functional basketball, it’s probably best to look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for something to talk about, well, then there’s maybe no organization in sports that can generate more chatter from fewer wins. After all, is anybody talking about the Orlando Magic these days?
New York’s real problem, at the core, isn’t coaching gossip, it isn’t the Triangle, it isn’t Twitter favorites, and it isn’t the tenor of the conversation between star players and the Madison Square Garden crowd. No, the Knicks problem is that they aren’t very good at basketball, and amidst all the sideshows, it was that issue that finally manifested in some rather despondent comments that the Knicks’ superstar made prior to Friday’s matchup with the Boston Celtics.
“I do look at my peers and say ‘Damn, what am I doing wrong? I should be there’,” noted Anthony, in a moment of honest introspection, “There was one point in time where they were looking at me like that. Made [the playoffs] 10, 11 years straight. Right now it’s kind of a rough patch for me. I’m trying to figure out a way to get out of it.”
And here, Anthony words may have said far more than he ever intended, because it’s impossible to look at the Knicks roster, as it’s currently constituted, and not conclude that the only way out, for Melo, may be an escape from New York. Because as quickly as the basketball world learned that rookie Kristaps Porzingis was a real find, so too did it realize that he and the Knicks perennial All-Star were hardly on the same timeline. Now, the lineup seems caught between the past, the future, and an unsatisfying present, which has seen the team drop 16 of their last 20 games, and fall into a familiar place in the basement of the Eastern Conference.
That might be easier to swallow if there was some tangible benefit to the losing coming the Knicks way, some further light at the end of the tunnel. But the team’s 2016 first round draft pick? Well, that will be swapped with the Nuggets, a final condition of the 2011 trade that brought Anthony to town. And the “lesser” of the two picks? Well, the Knicks will be gift-wrapping that one as well, shipping it up north to Toronto as the last piece of… wait for it… the Andrea Bargnani trade! (This is the part of the piece where Knicks fans need to take a moment, and slowly count backwards from 100, in an attempt to control their blood pressure.)
There is nothing that better exemplifies New York’s organizational “strategy” more perfectly than being forced to turn over a Top-10 pick to a competitor, not once, but twice, in a single draft. This is a club that has spent more than a decade searching for shortcuts and quick fixes, rather than commit to the challenging, and time consuming work of a true rebuild. It’s a team that is more concerned with being talked about than with moving up the standings, something that’s quite evident whether we’re discussing the latest round of Gotham gossip, or the haphazard ways in which the team continues to approach roster building.
Despite the frustration that comes from watching his peers clinch playoff berths, and the new, younger generation chase championships, Carmelo Anthony has maintained, through it all, that he has no interest in waiving his no-trade clause. For what it’s worth, the Knicks have continued to insist that trading Anthony’s max-contract is still not a consideration. And so, the team’s hope for a turnaround continues to rest on an expanding salary cap, and the dream that Mike Conley, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, anyone really, will jump at the paycheck, the bright lights of the World’s Most Famous Arena, and the opportunity to be the man who finally leads New York back to playoff relevance. It’s not a plan per say, it’s more of a vague hope for salvation. Which is exactly what happens when a franchise is too busy navigating PR snafus to actually build a sustainable, repeatable, structure for success.
There are plenty more distractions on the horizon in the months ahead. Carmelo Anthony figures to be a key member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team in Rio de Janeiro, meaning more time spent around his championship peers, wondering why such success can not be replicated in his own NBA career. The Knicks, meanwhile, will go about the business of finding their next permanent head coach. (And perhaps a Twitter background check as part of the process.) Of course, looming over the whole operation is the very real concern that Phil Jackson won’t be around to see things through, with speculation continuing to run rampant that the Zen Master will be back in Los Angeles, if fiancee Jeanie Buss consolidates control of the purple and gold.
All of this, it goes without saying, could be a major problem for the bottom line of wins and losses, the hope of real revival for one of the league’s most frustrating franchises. But look on the brightside. At least, as ever, New York will provide plenty to write about.
It’s a tough time, in the media business, after all. Thank goodness the Knicks are willing to do their part.