By Jason Keidel
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If consistent winning requires an amalgam of effort, timing and talent, does losing require just as much?
If the Lakers and Celtics, the NBA’s two monoliths, were consistently epic over decades, dynasties spawning dynasties, a product of smart people making smarter moves, then what spawns the stupidity and solemn decades of a forlorn franchise?
The Knicks are the most valuable team in the NBA, the most expensive ticket and the biggest draw. Yet they are woefully inept. They have been. They are. And they will be.
Larry Brown was a magician wherever he went. Except with the Knicks. Lenny Wilkens was successful wherever he went. Except with the Knicks. Phil Jackson won wherever he went. Except with the Knicks.
New York had three eminently qualified, gifted and eager men ready to roll, yet none were considered for head coach this time around.
Patrick Ewing, the prodigal son who has toiled on endless benches, paying his dues, pining for a piece of the NBA dream, didn’t get a sniff.
Mark Jackson, native Knick and native New Yorker, who has won 50 games in an NBA season as a coach, doesn’t appear to be a candidate.
Tom Thibodeau, widely regarded as a hardwood guru who can map out more defenses than Tom Landry, was not interviewed for the gig.
Was Ewing not hired because he hasn’t already been employed as a head coach? Of course not. No one has put in more time, paid more dues or shown more interest in the vocation than Ewing. And for a team that plants a turnstile at the head coaching door, they could surely have given the big guy a shot.
Was Mark Jackson otherwise spoken for? Of course not. He’s squatting courtside for ESPN, calling games until his cellphone trembles. He was canned by the Golden State Warriors just before they were about to take off into history. And while Steve Kerr will beam from the banners, Jackson played no small part in this budding dynasty.
Was Thibodeau employed? Of course not. Like Mark Jackson, he was fired by the very team he took to contention. The Bulls floundered without their leader and are not even in the playoffs in a league that all but begs the bottom-feeders to participate.
The Knicks had a great plan, of course. After admitting and then fixing the galling mistake of hiring neophyte Derek Fisher — your first NBA head coaching gig shouldn’t be in America’s media vortex — they hired the guy sitting next to him. An interim is fine. But at the end of the season, you rip off the Band-Aid and start again.
Thibodeau did everything but beg Jackson for an interview. Instead, in Jackson’s infinite wisdom, he appears to be giving serious thought to removing the “interim” from Rambis’ job title. Despite the disaster that was the Knicks’ season, Jackson insists Rambis is the king hypotenuse of his triangle offense. Rambis followed Fisher with a stellar 9-19 record. This is what moved the “Zen Master” to show such faith in his coaching wares.
While Rambis will likely return to Madison Square Garden to run the Knicks deeper into the NBA graveyard, Thibodeau was just hired by Minnesota, a roster bubbling with young talent, from last year’s Rookie of the Year (Andrew Wiggins) to this year’s likely winner (Karl-Anthony Towns), along with fellow skywalker Zach LaVine. Turns out the best career move in the NBA is not being hired by the Knicks. Just ask Steve Kerr, who spurned his mentor, Jackson, and won the NBA title last year and 73 games this year.
Jackson had never run an NBA franchise before arriving in New York, which is why I always wondered why you were so frothing over his hiring. Donnie Walsh has been the best Knicks GM over the last 20 years, yet no one cared when he left. Jackson got a brief P.R. reprieve for drafting Kristaps Porzingis, but his subsequent moves prove that draft pick was more aberrant than prescient.
Maybe Knicks fans are so jaded, so singularly brainwashed by all the losing, they don’t know what winning looks or feels like. Maybe in this warped world you actually think the Knicks are good. I’ve actually heard Knicks devotees sing the praises of a 32-50 season simply because it’s better than their all-time worst of 17-65 last season — the first under Jackson, of course. A 50-loss season is saluted simply because it’s not 60.
It’s now four-plus decades since the Knicks hoisted a championship trophy. James Dolan wasn’t here for all of it, but he was around for half of it. Is it a coincidence that the Knicks were the best team in town right before he took over then slowly slid into darkness after Daddy — cable magnate Charles Dolan — handed him the remote?
Who lets Pat Riley leave? Who gives a man who’s never been GM $60 million to become one? Who gives Carmelo Anthony a no-trade clause? Who hires Isiah Thomas, fires him, then, after he costs you $11 million in sexual harassment lawsuits, tries to hire him to run your women’s basketball team? That’s kind of like putting Dracula in charge of your blood bank.
And the Knicks wonder why this marks 43 years since their last title. Or maybe they don’t. Takes a special talent to be this bad for this long.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel