The largest sports market in North America is unquestionably New York City and whether or not the many sports teams that play there are good or not, they are always in the spotlight. The basketball team that has called that city home and plays in “The World’s Most Famous Arena”, Madison Square Garden, has always been NBA relevant, but unfortunately for them, not always for positive reasons. The last time the New York Knicks won an NBA Championship was in 1970, but to their credit, the team was a consistent contender for the majority of the 90s. They had a proven winner as a coach in Pat Riley followed by Jeff Van Gundy and they had legitimate, recognized top-flight players like Patrick Ewing, Allen Houston, and Latrell Sprewell. In their defense, the primary reason they weren’t able to get over the hump during that time was the dominant excellence of Michael Jordan’s Bulls, Hakeem Olajuwon’s Rockets and a young Tim Duncan’s Spurs. No shame in losing to any of those teams.
In 2001, this sustained success came to an end and the culture made a change for the worst. A team that had gotten out of the first round for 10 straight years was beaten, at home, in a series deciding Game five by an upstart Toronto Raptors team that the Knicks had swept just a year earlier. No one knew it at the time, but that loss, would start a new, much more dubious streak that would see the Knicks make the playoffs only once in the subsequent 10 seasons. How did the team that plays in the biggest sports market in the country, in the most iconic building, with a tradition that rivals the best teams in history, go from perennial contender to abject disaster? It took a lot of work, but the organization had enough sour juice to make it happen.
Primarily, whenever you see the kind of downward culture shift the Knicks went through in the 2000s, you only have to look at the top of the organization to see where the problems were created. James Dolan, the uber rich, non-trustworthy owner of the second most valuable NBA franchise (The Lakers are number 1) has proven himself to be a Jerry Jones-like, meddlesome owner who thinks he knows everything. It’s never a good sign when the guy with the most money doesn’t know his limitations. Who’s gonna say “No” to the guy who signs the checks? Evidently, the answer is no one. So this team went from Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy patrolling the sidelines, to a mish-mosh of Don Chaney, Herb Williams, Lenny Wikins on his last legs, Herb Williams (again), Larry Brown, Isiah Thomas, Mike D’Antoni and now Mike Woodson. Not one of these coaches, up until Woodson, was able to amass a record that was over .500.
Now with all the money this franchise has, and they have never been shy about spending it, one would think that they would have at least been able to have real stars out on the court. Who wouldn’t want to play under the lights in that incredible market? Unfortunately for them, the amount of personnel mistakes this franchise has made is too many to count. Not only did they fail to bring in the kind of talent you need to succeed in this league, but they also made the terrible mistake (over and over again) of overpaying these players and putting themselves in horrible situations in terms of the salary cap and roster flexibility. These players were almost always either past their prime or, quite simply, just not good. From Antonio McDyess, Stephon Marbury, Jerome James and Eddy Curry, to Antonio Davis, Steve Francis, Jamal Crawford and Al Harrington, the various General Managers employed by Dolan all failed miserably. To add insult to injury, there was also a sexual harassment suit filed by a female former Knicks Executive against both Isiah Tomas and Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks did start to turn things around once the decade ended. Heading into the off-season following the 2009-2010 season, the Knicks, along with about 10 other teams in the league tried to set themselves up to make a run at the best free agent class in the history of the league highlighted by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Knicks faithful were very confident that the allure of NYC would land them the superstar that would lead them to bigger and better days, but when Lebron and company took their talents to South Beach, the Knicks settled on a max contract for Amare Stoudemire. In a vacuum, this wasn’t a bad signing, and early on, Amare played up to it, but with chronically bad knees and no insurance on the contract, it was always a risk. Nevertheless, Stoudemire led the Knicks to a 28-26 record at the All-Star break which was their best record in a decade. Now because they lost out on the LeBron sweepstakes, the Knicks then decided to go all in on acquiring Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets. Great idea, but they gutted a very competitive team in order to get him. The positive is that the Knicks were able to make it back to the playoffs in 2011 even though they got swept by the Celtics in the first round.
The following season, after bringing in center Tyson Chandler from the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, the Knicks were solid but not great, until lightning struck when an Asian call-up from the Developmental League named Jeremy Lin came in and took the team and the entire NBA by storm. “Linsanity” as the phenomenon was called, was the most hyped period in New York for many many years and later that season, even though coach Mike D’Anatoni ended up stepping down, the Knicks won their first playoff game as they lost 4-1 to the Heat in the first round. They then made the inexplicable decision to let the catalyst of their exciting season to leave and go to the Houston Rockets. Current GM Glen Grunwald then brought in a bunch of veterans to give the team some stability and it led to an amazing 54 wins which was good enough for 2nd in the Eastern Conference. Although they ended up losing in the conference semis to the 3rd seeded Pacers, this was the most successful Knicks season since 2000.
So, all they had to do was continue building on that positive momentum. Even their owner came out and “guaranteed” a championship in pre-season. That was a little ambitious for sure, but not totally unrealistic considering the previous year right? Wrong. This season has been such an underachieving, embarrassing failure that the future of the Knicks looks murky once again. They acquired the enigmatic Italian Andrea Bargnani from Toronto and for some reason gave up a first round draft pick in the deal. JR Smith, last season’s 6th Man of the Year has reverted to his immature untrustworthy ways and the team has been flat out awful. They can’t play defense, have no chemistry and with 25 games left in the season, they’re 5-and-a-half games out of the last playoff spot. At least with this incredible draft they’ll be able to add a young impact player though right? Wrong. Their draft pick goes to Denver as continued compensation for Carmelo. OMG. To add insult to injury once again, their starting point guard (the one they chose over Jeremy Lin) Raymond Felton, was just arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm and there have been rumblings that Anthony might leave this debacle as a free agent after the season. SMH. And now they have a cross town rival in the Brooklyn Nets that are a lock to make the playoffs could even conceivably make some noise. Oh you sad sad Knickerbockers, what has happened to you? It’s hard to put your finger on one specific reason, but it sure doesn’t look like things will get better any time soon.
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