The New York Knicks have long been considered one of the greatest franchises in sports. Madison Square Garden is a legendary stage that has hosted a number of historical performances. Forbes lists them as the fifth richest franchise in sports at $4 billion dollars. The Lakers are the next closest NBA team in eighth place. Playing at the Garden is an honor. The Knicks have been in the league since its formation in 1946 and claim a storied history.
But are they really all that they claim to be?
Since 2000, the Knicks have only had 4 seasons with winning records out of the 20 they played (we are counting this season with the assumption that there is no way they end with a winning record). They have qualified for the playoffs 5 times during that same span, and only made it to the semifinals once in 2013. Their all-time record is 2782-2961, which equates to a 48.4% win rate. That puts them at 18th amongst the other active teams in the league, which is average at best. They won 2 championships, both in the 70’s (1970 and 1973).
The Knicks did have a 14 year long playoff streak that is worth noting, including Finals appearances in 1994 and 1999. Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing was a perennial All-Star and All-NBA talent Carmelo Anthony, in his time in New York in the 2010s, was one of the league’s premier scorers. They were entertaining to watch.
In recent years, however, the Knicks have been blah. They are en route to a seven season playoff drought where their highest win total during that time was 37 for a single season. They’ve gone through 5 head coaches during that period and that number will reach 6 now that David Fizdale has been fired.
Carmelo Anthony was a 7 time All-Star and scoring champ during his stint in New York.
I think Kevin Durant summed up the Knicks recent woes perfectly. He and Kyrie Irving were touted as two of the top free agents in the summer of 2019, and the New York Knicks were tossed around as a likely landing point for the soon to be duo. They shocked the organization by instead going across town to the Brooklyn Nets, leaving the Knicks high and dry who resorted to signing the likes of Julius Randle and Marcus Morris Sr. instead. While on a New York City radio station Durant was asked about the decision, and he suggested that the Knicks just aren’t cool anymore and that they are not going to be able to attract free agents like they used to.
“I think a lot of fans look at the Knicks as a brand and expect these younger players, who in their lifetime don’t remember the Knicks being good,” he said. “I didn’t grow up with the Knicks being good. Well, I remember the Knicks being in the Finals, but the kids after me didn’t see that. So the brand of the Knicks isn’t as cool to them as, let’s say, the Golden State Warriors or even the Lakers or the Nets now. The cool thing right now is not the Knicks.”
I agree with what KD says here; the Knicks are no longer the team that the younger generation idolizes. Years of mediocrity have turned them into a perennial lottery team, which is not the kind of team a young player fantasizes playing for. The dysfunction of the front office is also turning potential free agents away, the lure of New York City is not enough to win them over anymore.
To make matters worse, Richard Jefferson recently claimed that he opted to retire instead of play for the Knicks who were allegedly the only team to make an offer to him in free agency in 2018. While the Knicks deny that they reached out to Jefferson, his comments add to the criticism that the franchise has received in bulk in recent years. The idea that retirement is better than playing for the Knicks is laughable and humiliating for their image.
So what can they do to become a relevant organization again? They certainly have the money and the destination. Many clamor for the dismissal of President Steve Mills and owner James Dolan. May I remind you that the Knicks fan base booed lottery pick Kristaps Porzingis on draft night, who ended up being named to the All-Rookie team and selected as an All-Star in 2018. That kind of behavior isn’t exactly appealing for players that are considering playing for the team. Fans might need to make more of an effort at rebuilding the Madison Square Garden appeal. A few smart trades using their endless supply of power forwards might help shape their future.
Knicks fans boo their team’s selection of Kristaps Porzingis at the 2015 draft.
Maybe RJ Barrett will turn the franchise around. 14.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.3 assists along with 1.4 steals through 21 games is pretty solid for a rookie playing on a team with no clear identity. His dreadful 39% shooting percentage should improve. The Knicks have a lot of young players including Mitchell Robinson who has shown promise. The young core of him, Frank Ntilikina, Damyean Dotson, Allonzo Trier, and mid-season acquisition Dennis Smith Jr. averaged just over 62 points per game combined over the course of the season. That same group is only putting up 42.5 points per game so far this season. That is a terrifying drop for a team banking on player development to be a major part of their future, and a large part of their free agent pitch. Maybe a new coach will help with that, maybe it won’t.
In short, the Knicks are far from a model franchise. In order to become relevant again they are going to need to be smart, and not reliant on their name alone. It could be many years before we see them in contention again, and the coming years could prove detrimental to their fortune.
Image credits: SB Nation, Clutch Points, New York Times
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