Mon, Dec 9, 2019

The New York Knicks, who fell to 2-8 after a 21-point loss to the Cavs on Sunday, are arguably the worst team in the NBA. Entering Sunday, they had the worst offense in the league. The worst net rating. The worst field goal percentage. And a bottom-10 defense. All of those numbers got worse against Cleveland, which is clearly no juggernaut itself. 

So the Knicks stink. Everyone knows this. 

Except, apparently, THE KNICKS. 

After the pummeling on Sunday, team president Steve Mills, with general manager Scott Perry at his side, took to the podium for an impromptu press conference in which Mills made it clear he and Perry expected this rag-tag Knicks team THEY put together would be better than it has been 10 games into the season. Who knows what possibly could’ve led them to believing this, but they believed it all right. And now they’re frustrated. And clearly not above throwing coach David Fizdale directly under the bus for what are largely their sins. 

“Obviously Scott and I are not happy with where [the team’s] at right now,” Mills told reporters. “We think the team’s not performing to the level we anticipated or expected, and it’s something we think we collectively have to do a better job of delivering the product on the floor that we said we would do at the start of the season. 

“We still believe in our coaching staff,” Mills continued. “We believe in the plan Scott and I put together, and the players that we’ve assembled. But we also have to acknowledge that we haven’t played at the level we expected to play at. We’ve seen glimpses of how we can play as a team when everything comes together, but we’ve got to find a way to play complete games at the level we expect our team to play at. That’s a responsibility we take collectively, but I also think it’s important for us to communicate to our fans that we’re not happy where we are right now. … We have to, as a group, come together and be more consistent in terms of how we play.”

Again, this statement serves zero purpose other than to establish Fizdale as a proper scapegoat. Mills can say he and Perry “still believe” in Fizdale, but if they really believed in him they would let him do his job. Spewing coach speak about “consistency” and having to “find a way to play complete games” is, in fact, COACH SPEAK. 

A few weeks ago I asked another league GM about a particularly puzzling defensive lineup his team had deployed in the final seconds of a close game, and his response was: “You’d have to ask [Coach] about that.”

That’s how this is done. To say it is unusual for a team president and GM to go directly to the media with these concerns, a few minutes after a loss, 10 games into the season, would be an understatement. They have the right to do whatever they want, of course. They’re Fizdale’s bosses. But Mills and Perry have a boss, too. His name is James Dolan. He’s his own kind of mess, but he’s still the boss. And everyone is covering their own backside here. 

Will it do any good? On Sunday, SNY.tv’s Ian Begley reported that while no major in-season coaching or management changes are imminent, “nothing had been ruled out.” So we’ll see. 

Fizdale, for his part, said he accepts “full responsibility” for any and all Knicks shortcomings, and indeed this isn’t to suggest that Fizdale couldn’t have the Knicks playing better, or harder, or more consistently, or however you want to frame it. When you beat a good Dallas team, and lose by two to a really good Celtics team, you’re clearly capable, on some level, of playing some pretty solid basketball. 

But every team in the NBA is capable of playing solid basketball on a given night. That’s why they’re an NBA team. If Mills and Perry were under the impression they had built a team that was going to play CONSISTENTLY good basketball and actually win a lot of games, well, they were delusional. 

So it goes with the Knicks, who continue to think they’re something they’re not. They thought they had a shot to trade for Anthony Davis even though their package wasn’t anywhere near what the Lakers had to offer. Last summer, when the Knicks were so positive they were going to get Kevin Durant that they all but announced it as a foregone conclusion, I talked with an executive who had been with the Knicks back in the summer of 2010 when they were just SO SURE they were going to get LeBron James. 

“Obviously that didn’t work out,” the exec laughed. 

No. It didn’t. And yet the Knicks just keep thinking the big names are going to eventually flock their way to rescue them from their years of ineptitude. But Durant said it himself. The Knicks are not “cool.” They had over $70 million in cap space this past summer, but when they didn’t hit the home run of signing Durant and Kyrie Irving, they chose not to commit any guaranteed money to any free agents beyond the summer of 2020. 

Why? Clearly they think that’s when they’re going to be in the running to sign Giannis Antetokounmpo, or LeBron James, or Kawhi Leonard, or Paul George, or one or two of the other huge names set to come on the market. Hilarious. The Knicks luring a player of this caliber, at this point, would qualify as a full-blown miracle. 

It’s not to suggest the Knicks absolutely should’ve ponied up for some second-tier stars this summer. That’s not necessarily true. I’ve had conversations with two GMs in the past few weeks, and both of them said one of the biggest mistakes teams make is overpaying good-but-not-great free agents just because you have cap space. You can use that space to take on other teams’ bad contracts, for instance, and get some quality draft picks out of the deal. 

The Knicks choosing not to sign a good, long-term crop of second-tier free agents this past summer wasn’t crazy. What IS crazy is not signing good players and then expecting to be good. Last I checked, the Knicks had more than enough money, even if they had to overpay, to sign BOTH Bojan Bogdanovic and Malcolm Brogdon, just as an example. Both those guys are killing it with their new teams and together, with R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, would’ve made the Knicks an almost surefire playoff team. 

On a smaller level they could’ve inked a second go-round with Derrick Rose. They could’ve signed J.J. Redick and/or Ricky Rubio. They had a lot of options to turn themselves into a good team, but they wanted to be great or nothing. And now they’re surprised –after forgoing opportunities to go after one, or two, or even three of the aforementioned players to instead bring in Julius Randle, Taj Gibson and Elfrid Payton — that they’re not a good team? 

Come on, man. The root of frustration lies in outsized expectations. If you’re an ugly dude thinking you’re going to get a date with a supermodel, you’re setting yourself up to be frustrated. The Knicks are an ugly dude. Have been for a long time. They had a chance to get a decent makeover and make themselves presentable, but they didn’t want to do that. That’s on them. Ultimately, that’s on Mills and Perry, and of course the perpetually culpable Dolan. They’re the ones who have to look in the mirror. 

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