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Opinion

The Knicks are back… for now

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28th May, 2021
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It’s hard to hate something that’s so unfortunate.

While the New York Knicks may have been the team you loved to hate, to the new generations they’re just the team that loves to shoot themselves in the foot once things get going. But that pity party is over unless they do the common Knicks blunder yet again.

Knicks fans thrived on thinking they were hated because they were great. They were in the richest sports market, played in MSG and had a slew of A+ celebrities rocking the orange and white. To everyone else, they have the worst owner in the league, five head coaches in five seasons and hadn’t made the playoffs in 2933 days.

ESPN predicted the Knicks had a two per cent chance of making the playoffs and would only win 25 games all season. But they went from being in the bottom half in defence to the best in basketball, transforming Julius Randle from laughable consolation prize to a playmaking All Star and developing one of the best young cores in the league. This is all thanks to coach of the year candidate, Tom Thibodeau.

Now they battle a Hawks team that was only predicted to win 36 games by those same ESPN rankings, while both teams are fighting for the exact same prize and avoiding the exact same stigma. The team that wins the series will have ultimately defined the season as a whopping success, even if they are swept in Round 2. They will have completely resurrected their giant fan-bases who have been cheerlessly deprived for one too many years. The team that loses are labeled overachievers of the regular seasons and head into a off-season tagged overrated.

wo hands compete for a basketball at tip off

(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

But this new-found progression could cease at any moment if they do the common Knicks blunder. This is not just the bad draft selections like Frank Ntilikina or Jordan Hill, forcing the triangle down the Knicks’ throats for four seasons too long, or signing players who physically fought their coaches, prematurely using the amnesty cause, kicking out past legends from the arena, kicking out their own Knicks fans for saying ‘sell the team’, trading away a superstar for pennies to the dollar or really anything with Isiah Thomas.

The common Knicks blunder is to overpay for your team’s star, misjudging that it’s the depth of the team that counts. Seriously, the similarities of this happening over and over are unparalleled. The 1999 finals-contending Knicks were coached by a defensive-minded coach in Jeff Van Gundy and stacked with hard-nosed grinders like Allan Houston, Larry Johnson and Latrell Sprewell. Sound familiar? But they overpaid for Patrick Ewing, who wasn’t even on that finals run, forcing the team to collapse. Patrick Ewing didn’t even finish his contract in New York.

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Or in 2013, the Knicks won 54 games with prime defensive Tyson Chandler and prime JR Smith along with many old heads that needed replacing like Jason Kidd or Amar’e Stoudemire. Instead they added Carmelo Anthony in the league’s top five biggest contracts list right with Amar’e Stoudemire. Don’t get me wrong, you have to pay your stars, even sometimes if they’re not worth it, because this can build a culture of winning.

But right now the 2021 Knicks have the most cap space in the league with more than US$9 million (A$11.6m) under the cap limit. This is by a tremendous margin. The closest team is the Thunder with over US$4m (A$5m) less to play with. So they have wiggle room. But the 2022 free agency pool includes Kawhi Leonard, the big three in Brooklyn, Julius Randle, Zach Lavine, Chris Paul, Kemba Walker, Bradley Beal, Terry Rozier, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and that is the order they should target their attention to. I hate to break it to you, Knicks fans, but Julius Randle is not taking the Knicks to any conference finals if he’s the best player.

But the Knicks will still always be the one team thinking they will have any free agent they want. They will still always claim to be one of the most storied franchises in basketball despite only having two championships since 1946. Of course that’s still there. They won one playoff game then celebrated on the streets like it was a championship, screaming ‘we want Brooklyn’. But with owner James Dolan behind the wheel, this could sink at any moment, so let’s just let them have it.

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