By John Schmeelk
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Since the early 1990s, Knicks fans have been through a lot of heartache and sorrow, but nothing quite like what happened to the team this season. Knicks fans go to the games, win or lose, while paying the highest prices in the league. They deserve better than what they’ve gotten.
Last year proved to be nothing more than a tease to the fan base. It was a ruse to do nothing more than raise hopes so high that crushing them this season would be even more painful. There’s been plenty of hurt over the years, but this year’s was of a different variety.
The Charles Smith missed layups (and uncalled fouls) in Game 5 against the Bulls in 1993 still make me cringe. The missed opportunity to win an NBA championship against the Rockets the following season is still a black mark on the Patrick Ewing era. Ewing’s missed finger roll against the Pacers the following year was perhaps the most painful moment of my sports adolescence.
Jumping ahead to 1997, the Knicks won 57 games and had played the 70-win Bulls extremely tough during the regular season. The Knicks never had a chance to see if they could beat Michael Jordan one more time because of the suspensions resulting from the P.J. Brown-Charlie Ward brawl in Game 5 of the second round of the playoffs against the Heat. It would be the last time the Knicks would have a healthy Ewing in his prime to go along with Allan Houston, Larry Johnson and Charles Oakley. The following season, Ewing would break his wrist after Andrew Lang pushed him out of bounds. Ewing would never be the same.
The magical run to the finals in 1999 was ruined when Ewing tore his Achilles tendon in the playoffs against Indiana, leaving the Knicks with a one-legged Johnson and Chris Dudley to deal with David Robinson and Tim Duncan. The final run for that group was disappointing as well, a first-round loss to the Raptors in five games. It was an early signal of what a huge mistake the Ewing trade truly was.
All of the above featured a lot of winning, but disappointment at the end. It was something Knicks fans would miss for the next 10 years when the team bottomed out into disaster.
There was a decade of being awful thanks to Scott Layden, Isiah Thomas, James Dolan, Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry. At least the expectations were always low, spare perhaps for the one season where the appearance of Larry Brown brought disaster rather than success. Until this year, there was never a season where everyone expected the team to be a good Eastern Conference playoff team.
But the team fell well short of those expectations. The fact that this team managed something that might have been worse than anything a Knicks fan has seen in 20 years is quite amazing.
Coming off a 54-win season and not losing significant talent, spare a few veteran pieces, the Knicks will win no more than 37 games. Carmelo Anthony was on the court all year. Tyson Chandler and Ray Felton missed some time early in the year but nothing that should have short circuited the season. Andrea Bargnani was an added piece that missed time, but he often hurt as much as he helped. Kenyon Martin was a legitimate loss on the defensive end. But if you put all those injuries together, nothing justifies a 17+ drop-off.
The team was put together poorly in the offseason, coached terribly by Mike Woodson and the players failed to put forth an honest effort from night to night.
The team’s defense collapsed for long stretches of the season, and the backcourt played worse than any other set of guards in the league for much of the season. No one is blameless in this mess of a season.
Oh, and by the way, Iman Shumpert regressed. The team has no draft picks (or a first rounder in 2016 due to the Bargnani trade), they might lose Carmelo Anthony for nothing in free agency and they have no cap room to improve in the offseason. The only silver lining is that the failure prompted the addition of Phil Jackson, the latest savior to arrive at 2 Penn Plaza.
High expectations followed by low output is the worst thing that can happen to a fan base, and this group of Knicks managed to pull off just that this year. It was nice for the franchise to pull off the one type of pain their fans hadn’t felt yet. Perhaps now, Jackson can pull this franchise out of the pit. Knicks fans have earned it.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and the world of sports.
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