By Jason Keidel
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No matter when, how or why it began, the idea of Rajon Rondo coming to the Knicks is a sportswriter’s dream.
It frames the entire dysfunction of a franchise that perfected it.
On paper, Rondo fills the Knicks’ chasm at point guard. Depending on the person or pundit you ask, the Knicks haven’t had a point guard of any heft since Chauncey Billups, at best; Rod Strickland or Stephon Marbury, at worst. But as with everything the Knicks do, the incompetence simmers under the surface.
Remember when Allen Iverson landed in Denver? It was the rage on every page of the sports section. The deal made no sense to anyone except Fan Guy, the Jersey and Sneaker dude who makes it work on “NBA 2K,” who loves the optics of several scoring champs on one team.
To all those who thought this Carmelo Anthony experiment would fly, who hounded just about the only two local writers who called its demise the day it happened — Peter Vecsey and yours truly — we still await our apologies.
We the few who saw this play out exactly as it happened aren’t clairvoyant or heroic or have some Bill James database buried in our brains. It’s just obvious, the aggregate experience of a sport. Nothing has happened since Dr. James Naismith scratched the rules onto paper to suggest that scorers who make no one but themselves better, who merely live and love the life and the brand, don’t win rings. The real winners, from Bill Russell to Magic Johnson to Larry Bird to Tim Duncan, can play with the binary sight that personal glory is only gained by collective success.
So while it’s an inexact analogy, the principle applies. Rondo and Melo are a toxic mix. And, with that in mind, it makes perfect sense that Melo wants Rondo on his team.
Anthony is not the team plague that Rondo clearly is. Melo has matured in New York. Telling a fan to request a refund is hardly blasphemous. Of all the things players can, and have, said to fans — not to mention lunging into the stands to slug them — Melo’s malfeasance is microscopic.
He hated on Jeremy Lin, which was childish. He griped about the contract Lin got from Houston, yet Melo has made $200 million with no rings or even an NBA Finals appearance to show for it. He didn’t want Kristaps Porzingis, under the guise of nursing yet another project into Broadway form. But by and large, Anthony has been a company man, despite his employer’s colossal incompetence.
He just doesn’t have the game to lead an NBA team to an NBA title. And he never has.
Rondo only won when he had several veteran, alpha males to check him at the locker room door. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce had the name and game to lecture a gifted neophyte like Rondo in 2008. Once Rondo didn’t have to walk the tightrope of their standards, he was free to be foul.
Put Rondo on the Knicks, a headless corporate snake twisting its way up the stream of contention, and you have a recipe for failure. Who’s going to keep him in check? Kurt Rambis, who has a laughable coaching record? Melo, who’s interest in winning is oblique, at best? Phil Jackson, who is running this team like a man who can’t wait to cash his check and bolt back to Los Angeles?
Maybe a few years ago, when Tyson Chandler, Billups or Jason Kidd brought a stout and steady presence to the team, then sure. But the last thing this asylum needs is another miscreant.
But who cares. Right? What matters is you got an All-Star on the team, his actual fit be damned!
It didn’t work in Denver because a team can barely handle one me-fist gunner who has an epic allergy to defense and the team ethic.
So what would the Knicks do? Double down on the same disaster by teaming up Melo with a fellow gunner with a similar allergy to defense — Rondo knows how to play it, just stopped doing so a while back — and a noted team killer who sprinkles his histrionics with a dash of homophobic slurs. (Surely you remember his tirade two years ago at referee Bill Kennedy, who had just announced he was gay.)
In an article on CBSSports.com, Rondo also once proudly declared: “I haven’t played defense in a couple of years.” Just what the Knicks need. Add to that that he’s on the wrong side of 30 for a point guard, and you’ve got a hardwood tinder box.
His stats are decent, if you can ignore the 11.7 points per game and his grade-school free-throw shooting (57.9 percent) and admire his career-best 11.8 assists per game, which lead the NBA. The Knicks desperately need a player with those numbers. Just not the person behind them.
Rondo is absolutely wrong for this team, which makes him absolutely perfect for the rest of us, who don’t watch the Knicks through the orange and blue hue of preteen optimism.
How the Knicks still have you spellbound, how they have you every year in their pockets and are deeper into yours, is beyond understanding. Despite the 43 years sans a world title. Despite chasing Pat Riley from the Big Apple. Despite Jeff Van Gundy jumping ship from his dream job. Despite Allen Houston’s contract. Despite Jerome James and Eddy Curry and Michael Sweetney and Frederic Weis and Stephon Marbury … and despite Isiah Lord Thomas … you still flood the aisles of the World’s Most Overrated Arena.
The Knicks do everything they can to ruin their business, and in return, you give them more business. This is co-dependency at its best. This is you showing up at work with a black eye and telling your friend that you fell down the steps. The first rule of Fight Club …
And only the Knicks have this singular hold on Gotham. We pride ourselves on our collective sports intellect, yet we are hardwood cavemen when we enter MSG.
When the Nets are rancid — which is just about every year — you keep away from Brooklyn. When the Mets stink — which was every year before last — you cancel your ticket package. When the Jets stink — most of the last 45 years — they must beg you to buy tickets. Yet the Knicks have this hypnotic grip on the masses that defies logic.
The Celtics reached two NBA Finals with some of Rondo’s talent, and despite all his torment. There’s a reason someone as gifted as Rondo continues to pinball around the league, each experience exponentially worse than the last. It’s fitting he plays for Sacramento, where the inmates clearly run the building.
The civil war between DeMarcus Cousins and management rivals the Hatfields and McCoys. And then they pour some gasoline like Rondo on the fire. And you wonder why the Kings always dwell in the lower rungs of the league. In 68 years, the franchise has a .459 winning percentage, and have now gone 11 years without a playoff berth in a league that all but ensures one. Very few teams match Sacramento’s sad resume. And one happens to play in the middle of Manhattan.
Welcome, Rajon Rondo. Please. Come here. Come home. The World’s Most Overrated Arena awaits.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel