Tuesday, February 08, 2005

State of the Knicks Address

Something seems to be plaguing the New York Knicks, and this time, it’s not Michael Jordan. It’s indifference. The state of the New York Knickerbockers is such that nobody even seems to care anymore, and I’m not just talking about the players. I’m talking about me. And you. And everybody else. And don’t forget about the players.

Six years ago, Madison Square Garden was the place to be for a Knicks’ game. I can still remember the scene when Larry Johnson got fouled after hitting that three-pointer in the playoffs, and the place simply erupted. People cared about this team back then. This year, halfway into the regular season, the Garden is a dark and cavernous arena, where opposing teams come to feast on a once-proud franchise, as G.M. Isiah Thomas stares blankly into a wasteland of immovable contracts and missed jump shots. If Larry Johnson were still around, he’d be shaking his head in disgust.

The Knicks are in a perpetual no-man’s land, and have been for some time now. When Isiah Thomas came on board one year ago, he made some waves by trading for Stephon Marbury, but in reality, that move simply guaranteed a deeper decent into the abyss of mediocrity. As usual, the Knicks are a team that, even with an 18-27 record and sole possession of last place in their division, MAY actually be good enough to make the playoffs, thanks in large part to a brutally terrible division. At the same time, they’re a team that doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of sniffing the NBA Finals. They’re in basketball purgatory, paying for the sins of former G.M. Scott Layden and others, while at the same time, trying to convince everyone that they’re just one step away from heaven. Even Phil Jackson couldn’t play savior here.

Where to begin with the problems surrounding this franchise? For starters, they’re so over the salary cap that it’s a virtual miracle that the team has enough funds to pay for their mascot, which is probably why they don’t have a mascot. Allan Houston, the $100 million man, hasn’t played in 12 years, and may be on the brink of retirement, thus transforming the phrase “take the money and run” to just “take the money.” The team itself is comprised of shoot-first players, who have no chemistry together, and quite simply, do not know how to win. They have no center. One of their tallest players, 6’11” Tim Thomas, wouldn’t go inside the paint on a dare. Luckily, he can shoot. Except that he can’t. In fact, the Knicks do not have one pure shooter. Not one. To say that the Knicks pride themselves on defense would be saying that the Knicks have no pride. Two weeks ago, they lost to the Phoenix Suns, at home, by a score of 133-118. They have no legitimate coach. In his one year on the job, Isiah Thomas is already on his third head coach, and that guy, Herb Williams, is an interim coach. And the funny thing is, amidst all of these problems, the biggest issue with the New York Knicks is that nobody is doing anything about it.

The biggest, or rather the ONLY, headlines the New York Knicks made this season was when Stephon Marbury laid claim to the title of “best point guard in the NBA,” which would have been a true statement, if there weren’t 29 other teams in the league. Marbury’s sound bite was the New York Knicks in a nutshell. Everybody seemed to realize the ridiculousness of that statement except the person who actually said it.

And nobody really cares. Even those “headlines” were barely that — the back pages of the Daily News and the New York Post had more important things to reveal, like how the Yankees are faring two months before the start of the baseball season. The fact that Stephon Marbury considers himself the best point guard in the NBA, especially when Suns’ point guard Steve Nash is the obvious front-runner for MVP, raised nary an eyebrow in a city that’s usually poised to jump on the tiniest perceived falsity, and tear it to shreds. Chalk it up to indifference, I guess.

The Knicks went to the NBA Finals in 1999, and when injuries, back-loaded contracts, and the resignation of then head coach Jeff Van Gundy began to weigh on the franchise in subsequent years, everybody was reluctant to start over. Owner Jim Dolan did not believe that the city of New York would accept a rebuilding phase, while at the same time, being asked to pay good money for tickets to a New York Knicks game. He underestimated the fans of this team, who would rather have watched a collection of youngsters go out and compete. Several years of losses would have been acceptable if there was even a hint that a championship-caliber team was under construction. As a result of these decisions, the Knicks are so far beyond the point of no return, that the legend of Patrick Ewing is growing by the second.

My own perception of this team is that everyone knows what’s wrong with it except the people who are on it, and responsible for it, because if they did, things certainly wouldn’t remain like this. Right? Either this franchise is in denial, or is completely inept, and I don’t know which is worse.

The basketball team that represents the greatest city in the world consists of a rent-a-coach overlooking a bunch of overpriced underachievers. It’s no wonder that nobody really seems to care anymore. No man’s land is a lonely place.

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