By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
In a turbulent town, where not even the weather can be predicted with any accuracy, the one bedrock certainty is the New York Knickerbockers are guaranteed to be god-awful.
Almost as certain is a frothing fan base that still convinces itself — despite the avalanche of evidence to the contrary — that the Knicks are going to turn it around, to have that moment of singular glory.
But there are no corporate awakenings in Madison Square Garden, the World’s Most Overrated Arena.
The latest scapegoat, Derek Fisher, was just shoved out the door. But he was Phil Jackson’s dude. So what does that say about Jackson’s ability to evaluate the very position he turned into a throne?
Of course, Fisher wasn’t Jackson’s first choice. That would be Steve Kerr, who despite having no NBA coaching experience, rejected Jackson’s offer to coach the Knicks, and instead went to Oakland, an outpost without a title since 1975. Kerr had the prescience to stay 2,500 miles west of the World’s Most Overrated Arena, and instead led the Warriors to the world title, and is well on his way to another.
Jackson has largely whiffed as the Knicks’ boss. His first splash was making it rain on Carmelo Anthony, to the tune of nearly $120 million. He gave all that to an aging gunner who has an abject history of improving basketball clubs, paid him like a franchise player who does nothing to get the franchise anywhere near a Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Just look at the fortunes of two franchises since Melo became a Knick.
Anthony was traded to the Knicks from the Denver Nuggets on Feb. 21, 2011. The Knicks finished that season 42-40; Denver finished 50-32. Over the next 4 1/2 years, the Knicks’ record has been 167-199. The Nuggets are 182-183.
And the Nuggets haven’t paid one player roughly $110 million for their mediocrity. (That’s about how much the Knicks have paid Anthony since the trade, including this full season.)
Now the Knicks have this financial anvil around their neck, and still owe Anthony $78.73 million over the next three seasons. They can’t trade the decaying scorer because no one wants to pay $26 million per year for a 31-year-old allergic to passing and defense and has averaged 59 games a year over the last four seasons.
In Phil’s first full season as personnel czar, the Knicks went 17-65, their worst record in franchise history, which is saying a lot on the heels of the horrific Isiah Thomas epoch. This season, he fired the coach he hired to turn things around. There’s been no palpable personnel improvements, with one exception.
Jackson drafted a skinny 7-footer from Latvia, whom we’d never seen, who inspired that youngster at the NBA Draft to cry 30 feet from the stage. Kristaps Porzingis has turned out to be a beast, an athletic freak with small forward skills inside a center’s dimensions. It gave Phil a PR bump and cloaked the meat-hook realities of a team that has done nothing and will likely do nothing.
Jackson’s other draft picks? Cleanthony Early, who has shuttled between MSG and Westchester. He has started seven games for the NBA club, averaging 5.4 points and 2.5 rebounds. Jackson’s third pick is a constellation of consonants named Thanasis Antetokounmpo, who bounced around the D-League and was released by the team in February 2015.
The Knicks gave Jackson cash for his cachet, his professional magnetism, and his ability to attract high-end free agents. We’re still waiting for that splash. Does anyone see LeBron James or Kevin Durant hopping the Hudson to play for a team with no titles since 1973?
As Craig Carton said Tuesday morning, the Knicks have had seven winning seasons in 20 years. Since 2000, the they’ve won one playoff series. One. And they have made five playoff appearances in that span.
For this, you pay the highest prices in the NBA. According to Statista and Business Wire, an average ticket to see the Knicks costs $123.38. Add to that the cost of lodging, should you book a room around MSG, and the total cost for a couple to watch the Knicks play is approximately $430. (The Lakers are a distant second, at $377.)
Add to that the fact that the Knicks don’t have a first-round draft pick this year.
Knicks fans tell us to be patient. Phil knows what he’s doing. They’re retooling. Forget that they’re in year 42 of this biblical rebuilding process.
There’s nothing you can do about this, of course. But you can decide not to put yourself through this spin cycle of yearly defeat. Or at least hold the Knicks to account.
When the Mets lose, we call them out. When the Jets lose, we call them out. When the Knicks lose, you double-down on season tickets, run to eBay for another John Starks jersey, grab your ‘Melo Snuggie, and sob before your flatscreen.
Maybe the only one who gets it is interim coach Kurt Rambis, who said the process won’t be complete with him, or perhaps the next two coaches. He seems to realize what the rest of the Gotham doesn’t.
You should feel despair because the Knicks are broken beyond repair.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel