By John Schmeelk
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When the Knicks played the Nets on Tuesday night, the place was half empty when the game started. There was no extra fire in the building or in the streets about the battle for New York. Both teams are not playing well, with the Knicks much closer to winning the draft lottery than making the playoffs. With LeBron James coming to town on Thursday night, the Knicks made the back page of the New York Daily News, but not the New York Post. The latter chose to feature Matt Harvey, in the middle of December, instead.

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Phil Jackson coming to the Knicks was supposed to be the start of a new era that would bring excitement back to the Garden. All that has changed is who has to explain all the team’s problems to Knicks fans after losses. Anyone that understood this roster knew this year would feature plenty of losing, and was merely a stepping stone to a rebuilding process that would begin next season. This isn’t Jackson’s fault, nor is it Derek Fisher’s fault, though he is making some expected rookie mistakes while learning on the job.

But the fact remains that just under 20 percent of the way through the season, the Knicks are on pace for 17 wins and the third-worst record in basketball. Their superstar — recently re-signed to a five-year, $124 million contract — is dealing with back and knee injuries. If the constant ads during their broadcasts are an indicator, the Knicks are struggling to sell their Sky Bridge tickets. As of Thursday morning, on Ticketmaster there were well over 100 tickets still available for purchase all over the arena, and that’s not even including the tickets on the secondary market.

Things are bad, and usually these types of circumstances prompt James Dolan to swoop in and do something ill-conceived. The next few weeks and months will determine whether or not the entry of the Zen Master into the Madison Square Garden equation will change those habits. December 15 will be a very important day, because that’s when this season’s free-agent acquisitions can be traded. It’s the unofficial start of the NBA trade season, and the Knicks expect to be active as Jackson and Fisher decide who can play for them and who can’t.

The test is going to be what kind of trades they decide to make. The only trades they should even consider are ones that remove salary from the payroll next year. (Any takers for J.R. Smith? Seriously, anyone?) They should also look to bring in a future draft pick — no first-round pick in 2016; thanks, Andrea Bargnani — or acquire a young and inexpensive two-way player. The team should even consider trading someone like Jose Calderon if it can get back a pick. He is already 33, and will be even less effective when the Knicks are ready to win in a couple of years. In the meantime, he is taking up valuable salary-cap space.

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Iman Shumpert is another person the Knicks can consider moving if they can get back a future asset of any kind. He is a free agent after the season, and might be difficult to re-sign based on how he plays this year. If the Knicks can get back a pick or someone else they can control for the next few years, they need to make that trade.

The only thing that should concern the Knicks is the 2015 season and beyond. There’s also a fair argument to be made that making the team as bad as possible this year is in the best interest of the franchise. You can only tank so much with Carmelo Anthony on the team — and he will not be traded — but the quickest way to turn around the Knicks would be to draft a young big man like Jahlil Okafor from Duke or Karl Towns from Kentucky.

It’s December, and there’s already talk about the offseason and draft. It’s a bad sign of the times for the Knicks, but it’s the only recourse that Knicks fans have. That’s where the hope lies, because the current players on this roster have given them very little reason to believe. December 15 can bring some change, but nothing that can save this season. It’s going to be a long, long year.

You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports. 

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