By Jason Keidel
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It’s no secret that Mike Francesa, like many New York sports devotees, likes to flash a sarcastic side. Among several targets, he tweaks Jets fans with a televised smirk from his studio.
And I do likewise with Knicks fans, whose team was just vaporized by the Miami Heat.
Putting a springtime postmortem on the Knicks has become as natural as the Asters popping pink down the block in Bryant Park. And just like the grotesque vanity flaring out of Fashion Week – replete with bulimic ghouls who model dresses no woman over 80 lbs. can wear – the Knicks have also embodied style over substance, equally malnourished on the hardwood.
All the famous people preen from courtside like a roll call from the red carpet. They deserve to be duped because they only attend to be trendy. But the old salt, from Spike Lee to Woody Allen to Walt Frazier have witnessed some ugly play since Clyde himself led the franchise to its last two titles, when Richard Nixon dapped his drenched brow in the White House.
Like the Jets, the Knicks find new ways to sell us an old habit: defeat. The defining difference, however, between the two teams and their respective fans is that the Jets fan admits his team often stinks and has been pungent for decades. The Knicks and their fans regard the franchise with surreal reverence, an awestruck stance normally reserved for dynasties.
They say the first step to solving your problem is admitting you have one. Therein lies the problem with the Knicks fan, who is always imbued with a pipe dream: the idea that they are one bounce, whistle, or healed wound away from a cruise along Canyon of Heroes.
In truth, the Knicks are galaxies away from the Larry O’Brien Trophy. And everyone seems to know that except the Knicks and New Yorkers. The Dolans must think you find this failure enjoyable because you keep stuffing MSG to the gills every night, blowing obscene bank on a product New Yorkers normally find deplorable. Out of nine local teams, eight suffer at the box office when they fail. The Knicks, the ninth, actually prosper when pungent.
No one is prouder to be a New Yorker than yours truly. One reason is we have perfectly designed and finely tuned BS detectors. Bring it strong or don’t bring it at all. Except when it comes to the Knicks, where my people find solace in half-truths and moral victories. After this season, like all the others, the Book of Excuses was recited chapter and verse, in public, like a Def Poetry Jam.
There were two ways to watch the game Wednesday night – on MSG or TNT. I chose the latter because I didn’t have to hear the company men – like Al Trautwig, Bernard King and Kelly Tripucka – shill for a shoddy performance. Say what you like about the row of rotund, retired players on TNT, they give it to you straight.
“Carmelo Anthony is the best offensive player in the NBA,” Charles Barkley asserted. Though that’s a bit of a stretch, his overarching point that Carmelo is a sublime scorer is correct. “But he doesn’t make his teammates better. He just scores.”
Which is what I’ve been saying since the Knicks traded for him a year ago. Carmelo can drop 25 or 35 in his sleep, with an electric array of post plays and jump shots. One of his more profound (and unstoppable) moves is his stutter step, jab toward the hoop, and then pulls up from 15 while the defender stumbles backward. If only winning were that facile.
Then Kenny Smith chimed in. “Carmelo and Amar’e aren’t great defenders, and they never will be,” Smith said, stating the obvious. “But they can be better passers. They can improve on involving their teammates.” Again, Smith echoed my thesis that the two alpha males need to feed the ball to their teammates, if not each other, with much greater regularity. It’s no secret or coincidence that the Knicks prosper with one or the other on the court, but not both. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Knicks are a wretched 31-40 when both All-Stars start together.
Even Michael Jordan, who’s better than ‘Melo and Amar’e combined, needed to trust Steve Kerr and John Paxson to put the ball in the hoop when His Airness was swarmed by several defenders.
Kenny then passed the pill to Shaquille O’Neal, who concurred. “There’s too much one-on-one basketball with the Knicks,” Shaq said. “They just stop and watch Carmelo,” which, again, I’ve been saying for a year.
Then Shaq, in stern monotone, added the pièce de résistance, saying that “there’s too much giggling,” around the Knicks no matter the score, “and it needs to stop.” After jawing with his colleagues, Diesel put a pristine bow on the hardwood disease that has defined the Knicks. “There’s nothing funny about losing.”
So don’t take my word for it. Just listen to the two guys with six rings (O’Neal and Smith) and the greatest player in history without one (Barkley).
Lost in the glitter of the Game 4 win was the fact that Miami mailed it in and still could have won on the game’s last play. And, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Knicks were outscored by 60 points over the first three games: the largest aggregate gap in playoff history. Over the four defeats, Miami outscored the New York by an average of 14 points, the second worst playoff performance in Knicks history (also according to Elias).
The moment I disagreed with the Carmelo trade I was dismissed as a hater, which is fine. You can keep the insults, labels, and the misguided fury. And I’ll lean on facts. If the testimony of two Hall-of-Famers doesn’t move you, perhaps these fun, Knick factoids will…
They haven’t won a title since 1973.
They haven’t won a playoff series since Y2K.
They’ve actually gone longer without winning a playoff series, from 1954-’68.
They just snapped the longest playoff losing streak in NBA history (13).
They are 1-8 in the playoffs since Carmelo Anthony arrived in New York.
They had just 62 assists the entire series. Think about that.
The Denver Nuggets, who had no problem shipping their first-team All-Star to New York, have a better record than the Knicks since the Anthony trade, while playing in a far more competitive conference. Denver also saved the $100 million Carmelo demanded, and still beat the Lakers last night, forcing a Game 7.
Only with the Knicks is the torn ACL of their fourth or fifth best player (Shumpert) a reason to fly the white flag. Only with Knicks fans would Tyson Chandler’s sniffles stifle the team’s chemistry. (By the way, has Chandler ever committed a foul? Last night he slapped the snot out of a player yet he practically collapsed when the ref had the audacity to reach for his whistle.) Only with Knicks fans is losing a geriatric Baron Davis a big deal. Only with Knicks fans is Wait Until Next Year an acceptable siren song.
Here’s the reality.
This series was a distillation of the Decision. Yes, LeBron’s noxious announcement to take his “talents to South Beach” was repugnant, but Knicks fans should find it equally nauseating for another reason: He didn’t come to New York. Miami got James; New York got ‘Melo. And each team has played accordingly.
Despite my disdain for Carmelo’s game, I actually think he has the talent to win a title. I just don’t think he has the temerity to lead them there. You get no sense that Carmelo inhales victory and suffocates from defeat, in the Pat Riley refrain. There’s winning and there’s misery, said the man New York so fondly refers to as Pat the Rat. No matter what you think about the Armani-clad carpetbagger who left the Knicks in the lurch back in the day, he has a Lombardi-like obsession with wins and tends to sign coaches and players of similar disposition.
The Knicks’ most glaring hole, of course, is at point guard. But when you pay two players $20 million apiece, it’s hard to sign a Chris Paul clone without bumping your head against the salary cap.
The Knicks and New Yorkers pray that the answer was wearing a suit at the end of the bench last night. We must determine if Linsanity can double as Winsanity. You can’t question the toughness or intelligence of someone like Lin, who walked on vocational coals just to get a roster spot before becoming America’s media darling and left scalding footprints on our frostbitten streets. But the honeymoon is long over, and now Lin must show you that he can ball on a regular basis. If not, the Knicks will be the same squad next year – just a little older, a little slower, and just as pricey.
And one, final fact should shake even the most jaded Knicks fan to the bone. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade are young and aren’t going anywhere. Which means the Knicks are trudging uphill to start every season. And even if Wade (who is often injured) goes on the shelf, Miami is 14-1 without him.
This stat is so stunning I must repeat it: the Knicks had just 62 assists for the entire series – for the entire team! The number is more numbing when you see they also had 93 turnovers. Jim Dolan thought he could just wave a wand over a free agent and let the faerie dust lead his team to a title. Despite 20 years of failure, he still hasn’t changed his approach of trying to simply overwhelm the world with stars – running down the court or coaching the team. Unless we’re in Barcelona circa ’92, Dream Teams have a way with wayward play. (Just ask the Philadelphia Eagles.)
Then there’s the matter of Mike Woodson, who stewarded the Knicks to an 18-6 finish and doubled as an attitudinal mouthwash, wiping the foul taste of Mike D’Antoni from your mouth. Does Woodson’s quick dismissal from the playoffs hurt his chances of returning? It shouldn’t. He earned another turn at the helm, a full season to stamp his strict ethos on an overly carefree club. Only Phil Jackson has the gravitas to nudge Woodson off the bench. And why would the Zen Master want a team with all the trappings of Western culture?
As the Big Aristotle said, the Knicks need to stop laughing. There’s nothing funny about losing or making your fans pay two grand to watch it live. Chuckle after a championship. In a league proud of its parity, the Knicks are just a parody. And New Yorkers aren’t laughing.
Feel free to email me: Keidel.Jason@gmail.com
What has to change for the Knicks to actually get somewhere in the playoffs? Be heard in the comments below…