By John Schmeelk
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As the fans with the paper bags on their heads indicated on Thursday night, the Knicks’ season is over in terms of being a winning or successful team. That’s no surprise to anyone. What I don’t understand is why fans — who are often called the most intelligent in the NBA — are so angry about the direction the Knicks are headed in.
The Knicks have been trying to turn things around for the last 15 years in all the wrong ways. They dealt Patrick Ewing for bad contracts and declining players instead of letting his contract expire. They traded for Antonio McDyess. They gave Allan Houston $100 million. They took on awful contracts (Penny Hardaway) for the pleasure of getting Stephon Marbury. They traded two first-round picks for Eddy Curry. They traded for Steve Francis right as his career plummeted into oblivion. They panicked when LeBron James passed on them and gave $100 million to a no-knee Amar’e Stoudemire. They traded for Carmelo Anthony and lost a lot of assets instead of patiently waiting for him to hit free agency.
It brings to mind a quote by the great philosopher Homer J. Simpson: “After years of disappointment with get-rich-quick schemes, I know I’m going to get rich with this scheme, and quick!”
Much like Homer, the Knicks and Knicks fans never learned. The team never hit rock bottom to try to rebuild. Since Ewing left the Knicks, the team has only picked in the top 10 (or been in the lottery) five times. FIVE! One of those five picks was Nene Hilario, who they quickly traded away. The other picks were Michael Sweetney (ninth in 2003), Channing Frye (eighth in 2005), Danilo Gallinari (sixth in 2008) and Jordan Hill (eighth in 2009).
In that same time, between 2000 and 2015, the Knicks didn’t make the playoffs nine times. So how were they only in the lottery five times? Dumb trades, or in more normal terms, get-rich-quick schemes. The Knicks were always looking for ways to game the system and get ahead. They never took their lumps, rebuilt with young players and built something slowly and responsibly.
There is no guarantee of success by building through the draft. Teams like the Kings and Timberwolves have been trying to do it for years with little success. But they lack the Knicks’ financial strength and big-city lure to free agents.
Phil Jackson has finally decided — even if he was forced into it by the team’s complete ineptness this year — to tear things down around Anthony and build. For the first time since they took Kenny Walker in 1986, the Knicks should have a top-five pick. It could be their first top-three pick since Ewing in 1985. That’s how a team gets difference-making players. If not for the Curry trade, the Knicks could have drafted LaMarcus Aldridge. Wouldn’t that be nice?
With Anthony already on the roster — and a young big man like Jahlil Okafor or Karl Towns or a big athletic guard like Emmanuel Mudiay — combined with whatever they get out of $30 million in cap space, the Knicks could be back on the winning path in a couple of years. Not having a first-round pick in 2016 (but we have Andrea Bargnani!) makes it a little tougher, but the Knicks will actually be able to build a team with some purpose. They have options and flexibility.
It remains to be seen whether Jackson is capable of doing that, or if his triangle system will fit in today’s NBA, but he will have a chance to prove that it can. He can build this team up ANY WAY he wants. He can use that $30 million on two players, three players or even five. He can bring in scorers, defenders, stars, role players or anything else his heart desires. He can even decide to be patient and leave some money available for the 2016 free-agent class if he doesn’t like the pieces available this offseason. This is a good thing and Knicks fans should be legitimately excited about it, as painful as this season might be.
Aside from the one 50-win season in 2012-2013, the Knicks have been an embarrassment for 15 seasons. It’s like they have been operating with bags on their heads and they couldn’t see straight. They’ve only won more than 40 games three times since Ewing left. For the first time in a decade-and-a-half, they are actually trying to build something the right way, with youth AND free agency. The paper bags should be coming off, not going on.
The Knicks are actually operating in a logical way for the first time in a long time. Knicks fans should show some appreciation for that.
– I will not jump the shark after a couple of games, but it looks like Langston Galloway might be able to play a little bit and could be a long-term bench piece on the Knicks’ roster.
His offense was fine, but I was more impressed with the couple of times I saw him match up one-on-one with James Harden. He played him fairly well without fouling. There will be a lot of young guys playing the next few weeks, at least giving Knicks fans some modicum of pleasure.
You can follow me on Twitter @for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports.
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