By John Schmeelk
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The old adage is that you can’t rebuild a franchise in New York. It’s a lie.
The fact that the Knicks have continued to pack Madison Square Garden over the last 15 years despite playing terrible basketball should prove that fans will stay loyal, especially if there is hope and a plan. The Mets, Rangers, and Yankees have all rebuilt to a certain extent over the last 20 years and the fans always eventually show up.
Unfortunately for Knicks fans, refusing to believe you can tear things down and build them back up is a lie that James Dolan believes. It’s the reason this team has embarked upon a series of quick fixes by trading future draft picks and young players, rather than letting a young team organically grow together into something. It’s why the Knicks are in the mess they’re in.
The only thing besides Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez that Knicks fans should truly be thankful to Phil Jackson for is his reluctance to trade future draft picks. It has given the Knicks a chance at a real future, despite his failures in the free agent and trade markets. Jackson has tried his best to win quickly here, but has still managed to finish with 32 or fewer wins and land in the bottom seven of the league, record-wise, for three straight seasons.
Jackson has been so bad at trying to make the team a winner, he has inadvertently put the Knicks in position to rebuild. If Jackson had accepted the fact that the Knicks needed to be built from the ground up three years ago, they would be in a much better situation than they are today.
Carmelo Anthony could have been a big part of accelerating the rebuild if Jackson had signed and traded him when he became a free agent three summers ago. He had way more value then. Now, assuming Jackson does move him, Melo will bring back pennies on the dollar. He has a no-trade clause and will soon be 33 years old, so finding a match for him will not be easy.
If recent reports were correct Jackson could have gotten a first-round pick for Iman Shumpert, but instead he “forced” the Cavaliers to take J.R. Smith (both of whom were a big part of Cleveland’s title run last year). Jackson failed to get one meaningful future asset for Tyson Chandler. After a wise move trading Tim Hardaway, Jr. for a first-round pick that became Jerian Grant, Jackson traded Grant and Robin Lopez (a starting center on a good contract) for a one-year rental in Derrick Rose. He then gave a four-year 72 million deal to a dilapidated Joakim Noah.
Yet somehow, despite all those mistakes, the Knicks future is much brighter than it was at the end of the Isiah Thomas regime. In some ways the Knicks are better off in the long term because the Noah and Rose moves were so bad. Think about it. They only won 31 games. Imagine if they had won 38 or 39? The franchise has a much better chance to find a true wing man for Porzingis in the situation they are currently in.
This is not meant to give Jackson a pass or a lot of credit. Not trading future first-round picks for a team like the Knicks is common sense, and should not be lauded. It should be a minimum standard of competence. Just because Jackson wasn’t as inept as Thomas, he is not deserving of praise.
But the Knicks should be much further along in this process. They should be entering their fourth season of a rebuild, but the reality is it will be more like their first or second. After this year’s draft they should have three significant pieces in Porzingis, Hernangomez and whoever the Knicks pick in the first round. Jackson should also be able to bring back at least one piece in whatever trade materializes for Anthony. They could get lucky with a second-round pick or sign someone in free agency.
Of course, none of this matters if Jackson doesn’t embrace the position he has inadvertently put the franchise in. He could still blow it if he doesn’t accept the fact that the best thing he can do now is put the team in a position to win significantly after his contract is up. He shouldn’t sign anyone older than 27 or 28 years old. He should trade any older players with value (like Courtney Lee) for young players or draft picks.
If he does those things the franchise has a chance. If his micro-managing and undermining of Jeff Hornacek gets the team another good draft pick over the next year or two, so be it. Knicks fans are going to have to accept the pain of losing for two more years for the hope of a greater good later on. It’s already been 17 years of bad basketball, so what’s two more? Jackson has the chance to inadvertently prove to Dolan that the Knicks can rebuild in New York and it all happened by accident.
- It was good to see Porzingis tell Marc Berman of the New York Post that he still wants to be a member of the Knicks. It’s not like the Latvian big man has any way out for three more seasons, but if he doesn’t sign a long-term rookie extension with the Knicks it would be a real surprise.
- On Friday, Steve Lichtenstein and I will have another City Game Podcast, this time featuring Steve Popper, beat writer for The Record.
For everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk