By Jason Keidel
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The Knicks have become the chum of NBA trade waters, which is an odd landing spot for a team that never wins.
With the molars of rumor grinding away at the club, which is already in its textbook plunge, the future is as grim as the view from your window, gazing at the snow-coated streets. It has become quite a sight for Knicks fans, New Yorkers and the whole nation, which understands in some oblique way that the Knicks aren’t particularly good. But now the nation sees the club in full, dysfunctional bloom.
This was the year the Knicks would at least climb the rungs of respectability, with veteran additions like the athletic Brandon Jennings and former league MVP Derrick Rose. And the blue-collar ethic of Joakim Noah would surely rub off on a team known for tanking well before April.
Yet here we are, still before the All-Star Game, and the Knicks are layered in apathy, their yearly playoff grave dug, the headstone carved and the eulogies in final rewrite.
Surely this is what you, the Knicks fan, had in mind when James Dolan cracked open the vault and made it rain on Phil Jackson. The resident NBA shaman, the Zen Master, would stroll in with his scepter and wave it upon this forlorn franchise, his absurdly long arms spread upon the city, ready to revive basketball in the sport’s ancestral home.
You couldn’t find a more perfect emblem of the club’s soap operatic bent than this year, Jackson’s third as hardwood czar. He treats the job with overt scorn, sarcasm and petulance. He doesn’t even care anymore that this was a money grab, or that we all know it. He smirks and quips his way through these appalling years. As a man who loves to write books, he has no issue penning another chapter in this horror novel of the 21st century — Stephen King’s version of “Basketball Diaries.”
Now Jackson has continued his crusade to insult his star player, Carmelo Anthony. In his latest Zen tweet, Jackson implied that Anthony doesn’t really want to win. Like a move in the paint, Jackson made a quick pivot off a piece from Bleacher Report, in which Melo was shredded for placing his plush lifestyle and “MTV Cribs” before championship bling.
During an interview on ESPN on Wednesday morning, Charles Barkley said Jackson is trying to dig so deep under Melo’s skin that he will take a trade to Cambodia, if that works fiscally for the Knicks. That has now become the prevailing logic among players and pundits.
But Jackson is being specious, at best. With his moonwalk from Melo, it presupposes he was never an Anthony guy to begin with. We all know, however, that Jackson is the one who signed Anthony to that absurd deal in the first place — upward of $130 million for an aging scorer with an epic allergy to defense who averages fewer than four assists per game. If that weren’t woeful enough, Jackson stamped the deal with a no-trade clause.
Then, of course, you had that abject eyesore this week, a loss to the Lakers, who hadn’t won a road game in two months (Dec 15, 2016). Coaches and players were calling out their own team, with rally cries like, “You can’t coach effort” or “We’re paid millions of dollars. The least we can do is play hard.” Some truths should be self-evident, like effort and hustle and passion — unless you play pro ball in Gotham.
Then the Magnum Opus.
On Wednesday night, Charles Oakley was arrested, inside the very arena he once made essential. Oakley would never play with the abject apathy the team is showing these days. Nor would he allow it to happen. Yet here was the most glaring contrast in the Big Apple. The only time the Knicks, their brass or their minions show any chutzpah, it’s to toss one of their icons out of the building. The only reason there are any lingering Knicks fans out there is because of Oakley, Pat Riley and the hardwood Band of Brothers that made Madison Square Garden the most important real estate in the sport.
What’s next? Patrick Ewing sued for sweating too much?
All this under Jackson, who is supposed to have the collective pulse of MSG, NYC and the NYK. Yet he didn’t pound the pavement looking to unearth young talent. While active, avid GMs mine the nation for those hidden, gifted players that freckle the NBA ever year, Jackson was lounging in some log cabin, doing his “River Runs Through It” meditations out in Big Sky Country. According to Stephen A Smith, native New Yorker and NBA insider nonpareil, Jackson literally laughed at the amount of money Dolan hurled his way, until the number just became too monstrous and preposterous to reject.
Jackson duped the Knicks. He punked the Knicks. He scammed the Knicks. Jackson may not be a native New Yorker, but he can hustle with the best of them, on any street corner in Gotham. Whether they’re selling bogus bags, fake watches or phony NBA rosters, this feels awfully familiar.
The record says the Knicks could still technically qualify for the NBA playoffs. But anyone who remotely follows the Knicks knows they barely qualify as an NBA team.
Just ask Charles Oakley.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel