New York Knicks

Why time is a flat circle for the New York Knicks

Year after year the Knicks release a new album, but they’re just full of the greatest hits.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, a French critic and writer, said that in 1848, probably in reference to something French and philosophical. He also probably said it in reference to the 2019 New York Knicks.

The dawn of each new season brims with glimmers of hope for the hapless franchise, ushering in a fresh batch of coaches, players and inapt answers. Some even get sprinkled with team savior fairy dust and lull the New York faithful into chimeric delusions of glory. Just as quickly, those potential heroes get chased out of town. And therein lies the problem.

The Knicks, almost impressively, hit rock bottom then tumble to vaster depths. Just 22 games into his second season, they fired head coach David Fizdale. To borrow another relevant Francophile idiom, they’re what the French call, “les incompétents.”

The team perpetuates a false dichotomy of chasing the Next Big Thing (and failing), then signing the Next-Best Things to short-term deals in order to maintain cap flexibility. Obviously, planning ahead and fiscal prudence are tantamount to success, but this forward-looking fallacy undermines their present and keeps the maelstrom of terribleness swirling.

Back in May, before the draft bore the fruits of R.J. Barrett and Ignas Brazdeikis and the storm of free agency marshaled the power forward cabal, I met Walt Frazier. (At this moment in time, the lottery granted New York the third pick while Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving teaming up with them was a “done deal.”) I asked if he’d rather see the Knicks develop their young talent or sign marquee free agents.

“I think develop the younger players. Too many times we sold the farm trying to get guys that never lived up to their expectations,” Frazier said. “We’ve seen that the fans are loyal. The Knicks have been terrible for the last five, 10 years. Fans still come every night, they sell out. So the fans are going to be patient. I think the best way to improve the team is through the draft and not trying to do it instantaneously with free agents.”

While there’s no singular correct way to flourish in the NBA, consistency is the best starting point. It provides a base of stability, aids development and allows chemistry to build. Teams steadier in their plans and personnel unsurprisingly do better over time.

Kristaps Porzingis, former white knight and false franchise savior, reached his breaking point after three seasons in New York and asked out. If we’re being honest, it’s hard to totally blame him. His trade to Dallas last year came seemingly out of nowhere and materialized in what felt like a dizzying series of seconds. Porzingis’ recent comments nailed the Knicks’ overarching issue.

Durant (after signing with cross-borough rival Brooklyn Nets) hit on another, saying no one wants to come to the Knicks because they’re not cool.

Until New York changes the chaotic environment it festers in, they need to give up the mirage of being a top free-agent destination. It’s counter-intuitive, but they should treat themselves as a small market team, putting the emphasis on culture instead of possibility. There’s no deus ex machina at the end of the movie. This lifeboat’s adrift at sea and their only choice is to survive together.

The Knicks’ atrocious start this season puts them behind last year’s 17-win pace. You’ll be shocked to know a straight line can be drawn from a .167 winning percentage to an ill-fitting roster turned over 62 percent from the season prior. They only stand above the Warriors in continuity — a team gutted by injury and basically forced to roll out an entirely new lineup.

As awful as it’s been, the inverse would be truly magnificent. The players who eventually bring a banner to the Madison Square Garden rafters will be living legends. Frazier is one of those legends. He fully understands how precious winning is and the delicate balance in which each title hangs. He sighed nostalgically about how another championship could have come their way with better health luck during their heyday. He spoke about the team’s past grandeur and how he wears both championship rings every day with tremendous pride. He then offered up this gem:

“I don’t know if you remember the “Willis Reed Game” where he came out and inspired the team… I tell everybody that was bullshit. I had 36 points, 19 assists, seven rebounds, four steals, I sold hot dogs at halftime…And they gave him the MVP award! But if Willis didn’t do what he did, I would not have had that game,” Frazier said. “People thought it was premeditated that when Willis came on the court, we knew about it. We left the locker room and had no idea if Willis would play. So we were just as flabbergasted as the audience. And then he makes the first two shots and those shots set the tempo of the game. The Lakers got psyched out. I saw Wilt Chamberlain, I saw Elgin Baylor, I saw Jerry West, three of the greatest players to ever play the game, lose their cool. And the Knick crowd became so vociferous, they kept yelling and screaming, I just thought I could do anything in that game.”

A return to greatness would require emulating the most successful franchises in sports. Inserting a revolving door at the coaching ranks and constantly churning the roster creates an apathetic, transient team, devoid of chemistry. Just like any workplace with high turnover, it couples with low morale and poor results.

Additional turnover among the scrutiny is inevitable. Some of the veterans will surely be traded to contenders in the coming months. In that wake, the remaining group needs to band together and embrace the current scrutiny. Hopefully, it’ll be this group that builds a base of competency.

Barrett shows the makings of a centerpiece. Mitchell Robinson destroys worlds. Frank Ntilikina, the most beautiful boy, finally unlocked his offensive viability to pair with being a lockdown defender. And so far this season, Kevin Knox has improved every aspect of his game.

The Garden’s soil ran barren for so long, it’s been impossible for winning to take root and grab ahold of the fans growing more numb and indifferent by the day.

They definitely need change. But change for the Knicks will come by staying the same.

Next: 5 head coaching options to replace David Fizdale

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