When he was talking about his rise from the streets of New York, where he was a drug dealer, and street hustler, to climbing to the top of the rap game, the late great Brooklyn born, and arguably greatest rapper of all time Biggie Smalls, once said in his hit song Juicy, “it was all a dream”.
As a New York Knicks fan for the last twenty plus years, things have been well, mostly a nightmare.
From horrible free agent signings, failed draft picks, to numerous bad trades, and even a sexual harassment lawsuit, the franchise has been not only been a mess, but they turned into the laughingstock of the NBA, for the majority of that time.
If you had to pick a place, of exactly where all the Knicks’ problems start, look no further than at the top, with James Dolan. Although he technically doesn’t own the team, he is the executive chairman and CEO of the Madison Square Garden Company, and the executive chairman of the MSG Network. Both of those companies own the team, hence making Dolan, the defacto owner of the franchise.
Not all of the blame falls on the shoulders of Dolan. Over the last two plus decades, there have been many people, and moments to choose from, that serve as a catalyst as to why this once proud organization is where it is today. For the sake of time, and not wanting to turn the article into a novel, I am sticking with the major ones.
The trading of Patrick Ewing – Taken with the first overall pick of the 1985 NBA Draft, Patrick Ewing, became the heart and soul of the Knicks, and the city, in his fifteen seasons in the Big Apple.
With his nasty facial expressions, toughness, physical style of play, take no prisoners attitude, his will to win, and the ability to make those around him better, Ewing, won over the fans almost immediately.
Through the thrill and excitement of finally making it to his first NBA Finals appearance, but than the heartbreak of losing in seven games to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets, the legendary playoff battles with Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, Alonzo Mourning’s Miami Heat, and Reggie Miller’s Indiana Pacers, to his final act of power, in pushing his worn down and beaten body to help lead the Knicks to the Finals against the San Antonio Spurs in 1999, only to have his body betray him, (an Achilles injury) forced him to miss the series, Ewing, bled orange, white, and blue.
Two years later, after the team refused to extend his contract, the team’s all-time leader in points, rebounds, blocks, and games played, was traded to the Seattle Super Sonics, in a 3-way deal with the Phoenix Suns.
To put the organizational dysfunction into its proper perspective, more than nineteen years since his final game as a Knick, Ewing, remains the only player in franchise history to play one thousand or more games for the franchise (1,039), and the team, has only won one playoff series since saying goodbye to number 33.
One of the main reasons the Knicks find themselves in the spot they are in right now, is the fact that no matter how many big name players they have brought to NY, in the nearly twenty years since he played his last game as a member of the team, no one has even come close to replacing The Hall-Of-Fame Center.
The Isiah Thomas era – In 2003, Dolan, decided to hire Isiah Thomas, as the President of Basketball Operations. This, despite the fact that just two years earlier, the former Detroit Pistons Point Guard, who had bought the Continental Basketball Association in 1998, which was seen as an NBA development league, saw the CBA go bankrupt and fold in 2001.
Naturally, Thomas’ time with the Knicks, ended up even worse, as he orchestrated several horrible trades that backfired tremendous (see Curry, Eddy and Marbury, Stephon), and made more than a few free agent signings – most notably Jared Jefferies, and Jerome James – that would cripple the franchise for years.
Despite all that, the marquee moment of his tenure, came in June 2006, when Thomas, along with MSG, and Dolan, were named as defendants, and successfully sued in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought on by former Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders, who had been fired by the organization just a few days before.
In October of 2007, a jury found Thomas, and MSG, liable for sexual harassment, and ordered the company to pay $ 11.6 million dollars to Browne Sanders.
After initially saying they would appeal the verdict, in December of 2007, the Knicks settled the lawsuit with Browne Sanders, for $11.5 million dollars.
Not surprisingly because we are talking about the Knicks, Thomas, didn’t get fired. In fact, he would stay on the job for nearly another two years. Yeah…
Don’t get me wrong, there have been a few glimmers of hope over the past two mostly miserable decades, but just like the career of Biggie Smalls, they were tragically short-lived.
The first example of that, was the signing of former six-time All-Star Power Forward Amar’e Stoudemire, via free agency in the summer of 2010. The arrival of the man nicknamed Stat, was met with mixed emotions, as the athletic big man, had already missed significant time during his first few seasons in the league with the Phoenix Suns, due to a series of injuries, one of which caused him to have to undergo micro fracture knee surgery.
Instead of saving their money, after striking out in free agency that summer with bigger names like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh, the Knicks, gave Stoudemire, a 5-year $100 million dollar deal, that left many fans, and people in the league scratching their heads, due to the player’s aforementioned wonky knees.
As a Knick, Stoudemire, was reunited with former Phoenix Suns Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, who popularized the seven seconds or less offense in the desert with the help of Stat, and Hall of Fame Point Guard Steve Nash.
Even without Nash, the reunion paid immediate dividends, as Stoudemire, seemingly laughed in the face of doubters, as he averaged a near career-high in points with 25.3 per game, was named an All-Star for the sixth and final time, placed himself in the conversation for league MVP, and helped lead the Knicks to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Stoudemire, would have a solid second season in New York, but then the good times came to an end, as multiple knee injuries, and a bulging disk in his back, limited him to just seventy-six games over the next two seasons.
The Knicks and Stoudemire, ended their relationship in February 2015, when they agreed to a contract buyout.
Carmelo Anthony – In the Knicks defense (I promise this will be the only time I say that) Anthony, was a superstar player, who wanted to come to play for his hometown team.
During the 2010-2011 season, rumors began swirling around the NBA, that Anthony, had demanded a trade from the Denver Nuggets, after the native New Yorker, refused to sign a contract extension with the team from the Mile High City.
In typical James Dolan fashion, he interfered in front office affairs, and according to the New York Daily News, overruled team President, and General Manager, Donnie Walsh, and orchestrated the trade himself.
That February, the Knicks, took part in a three-way trade with the Nuggets, and Minnesota Timberwolves, that saw New York send three starters in Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Center Timofey Mozgov, and 2014 first round draft pick (Dario Šarić), along with second round picks in both 2012 and 2013 to Denver, for Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Shelden Williams, Ronaldo Balkman.
The addition of Anthony, was looked at as big news for a franchise, that hadn’t made the playoffs since the 2003-2004 season. The only problem for the Knicks, is that instead of giving up so much in the trade, including Galinari, who just two years earlier, was the sixth overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, a fan favorite, and was starting to really come into his own as a player, they could have gotten Melo, for nothing in free agency, had they waited just five more months.
Anthony, one of the best pure scorers in the history of the game came delivered as promised, as he was named an All-Star all seven years he was a Knick, and won the 2013 NBA scoring title.
Unfortunately, for the team, his rep came with him to the Big Apple as well. That of course, was one of hogging the rock, slowing down the offense to play isolation ball, being allergic to playing defense, and worst of all, not making any of his teammates better.
Melo’s tenure in NY, lasted nearly seven seasons, before he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. It included three playoff appearances, and only one series win.
Jeremy Lin – Undrafted out of Harvard, and languishing in the D-League, Point Guard Jeremy Lin, was claimed off of waivers by the Knicks, after the team dealt with a rash of injuries to Guards Baron Davis, and Iman Shumpert, and were (8-15) at the time.
Initially, Lin, was buried on the bench after playing a grand total of 55 minutes through his first 23 games as a Knick. His fortunes started to change in a game against the New Jersey Nets, when in his first extensive playing time, he scored 25 points, in a (99-92) New York win.
After the Nets game, Lin was given the start against the Utah Jazz. The ex Crimson didn’t disappoint, as he scored 28 points, and added 8 assists, in a (99-88) Knicks victory.
In a short amount of time, Lin put his name in the record books, as he became the first NBA player to score least 20 points, and collect seven assists in the league’s history.
After taking over the starting job permanently, Lin, would lead the Knicks to seven straight wins, and ten of thirteen overall.
His fast play, ability to seemingly score at will, and infectious smile, was a breathe of fresh air for a team that looked stale, appeared to be missing the playoffs, and had lost 11 of 13 games before letting him play.
Lin started to generate a lot of attention around the league, and with the media. So much so, that not only was he a late addition to the NBA’s annual Rising Star Challenge at the NBA All-Star Weekend, but he was dubbed “Linsanity”.
In typical Knicks fashion, the team fired Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, and replaced him with Assistant Coach Mike Woodson. Woodson, changed around the entire offense, and centered it on isolation one-on-one basketball, (presumably to appease Carmelo Anthony), and away from the ball movement, and pick and roll game, that Lin thrived in under D’Antoni.
Lin, who had averaged (24.6) points a game under his former Head Coach, would score less than twenty (18.6) with Woodson in charge.
After playing through a meniscus tear in his left knee, Lin, would opt to have surgery. He would miss the Knicks final sixteen regular season contests, and all five of the team’s playoffs games.
That off-season, Lin, who was a restricted free agent, signed a three-year $25 million dollar deal with the Houston Rockets. Many assumed, that the Knicks would match the offer, given the popularity, and production of the Point Guard.
The third year of the Rockets’ deal included a “poison pill” that was designed to keep the Knicks from matching their offer, as it would pay Lin, nearly $15 million dollars. His salary, combined with it pushing the franchise further into the luxury tax penalty (familiar territory for the team at the time), would mean that the Knicks, would have had to pay over $40 million dollars to keep Lin. Surprisingly still, New York declined to match the offer.
At the end of it all, Lin, would play 26 games for the Knicks, and help them reach the playoffs. And just like that, Linsanity was gone.
Andrea Bargnani – I honestly almost forgot this one, mainly because I tried to block it for so long, due to the stupidity of it all. Sigh…here we go.
Taken with first overall pickup of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors, Andrea Bargnani, was a 7 foot shooter from Italy, who was supposed to be the second coming of Dirk Nowitzki.
The comparisons, were totally off the mark, as while the Forward did put up decent numbers in Toronto, including a career-high (21.4) points per game during the 2010-2011 season, inconsistent shooting, soft play, and multiple injuries during his final three seasons with the franchise, which caused him to miss 114 games, sealed his fate with the Raps.
Naturally, the Knicks, decided to take a chance on Bargnani. The franchise acquired the big man in the summer of 2013, when they traded Marcus Camby, Quentin Richardson, Steve Novak, a 2016 first round pick, and a second round choice in both the 2014, and 2017 draft.
In two years as a Knick, Bargnani, would average 14.3 points a game. That’s not bad, except for the fact that he played in only seventy-one out of a total of one hundred and sixty-four games.
Don’t worry, it gets better. If the Knicks had avoided the disastrous trade and hung on their even just their 2016 first round pick, which ended up being ninth overall, they could’ve drafted the likes of Pascal Siakam, Malcolm Brogdan, Fred Van Vleet, Caris Levert, or Domantas Dabonis.
Phil Jackson – Looking to emulate the Los Angeles Lakers (who up until Magic Johnson’s ill-fated two year run as President) always turned back to their past to right the ship, James Dolan, decided to do the same, by bringing in Phil Jackson, who had helped lead the Knickerbockers to two NBA titles as a player, in 1970 and 1973. Dolan, named him President and gave him a 5-year $60 million dollar deal, despite the fact that the Hall-of-Fame Head Coach, had zero front office experience.
The Zen-master himself, who had won another eleven championships as a Head Coach with the Lakers, and Chicago Bulls, immediately cleaned house, by getting rid of Mike Woodson, and his entire staff. In Woodson’s place, Jackson named former Laker Point Guard Derek Fisher, as the Knicks new bench boss, despite the fact that Fisher had never coached at any level.
Not surprisingly, the move was a complete failure, as the Knicks, finished with their worst record in franchise history, at (17-65).
Looking for his next bench boss, Jackson, hired former Phoenix Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek. The Utah Jazz Guard was seen as an offensive-minded coach, but he was immediately hamstrung by Jackson, who wanted Hornacek, to implement his famed Triangle Offense, that was successful with Michael Jordan’s Bulls, and the Shaq and Kobe led Lakers. The problem of course for the Knicks, was that none of those players were walking through the Madison Square Garden doors.
After winning sixty games over two seasons, Hornacek was fired.
In June of 2017, the Knicks, announced that they had mutually agreed to part ways with Jackson, not before the Zen Master tried several times to force Carmelo Anthony to accept a buyout, and engaging in a public feud with the team’s young Latvian superstar.
Kristaps Prozingis – The Unicorn himself, selected with the 4th overall pick, and nearly booed out of the Barclays Center at the 2015 NBA draft, Prozingis, represented hope for Knicks fans, including yours truly, due to the fact that he looked like a star from the beginning, as his combination of size, athleticism, and shooting, had never been seen in the NBA, from someone who stood 7 foot 3.
After a great debut season that saw him finish runner up in NBA Rookie of the Year voting, and second campaign that saw him make an increase in points, blocks, and assists per game, Prozingis, came out on fire to start his third year, as he became the first Knick to ever score 300 points in their first ten games, and was voted an Eastern Conference All-Star.
Unfortunately, for the Latvian and the Knicks, Prozingis, would tear his left ACL, in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in February, and was lost for the season. Little did everybody know, that would be the last time the Unicorn, would suit up for New York, as he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in January, reportedly because he wasn’t happy with the direction of the franchise, who minus their star Forward, ware using this season to tank for a lottery pick.
Honorable mentions include: the trading of fan favorites Latrell Sprewell, Marcus Camby, Anthony Mason, and John Starks.
Bad drafting has also plagued the franchise. While they definitely hit on names like Trevor Ariza, David Lee, Tim Hardaway Jr, and the aforementioned trio of Prozingis, Chandler, and Galinari, (2018 rookies Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox and Allonzo Trier, showed a lot of promise this year) the amount of draft busts have been epic, as they include names like Jordan Hill, Renaldo Balkman, Channing Frye, Michael Sweetney, John Wallace, and of course, Frédéric Weis.
Enter Zion Williamson.
The Freshmen Phenom, who was the face of college basketball this past season, helped Duke capture the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) title, and advance to the Elite 8 round in the March Madness Tournament.
The Power Forward, would also be named the ACC Rookie of the Year, ACC Player of the Year, and Associated Press Player of the Year, among a host of other awards.
Accolades aside, the 6 foot 7 285 pounder, is a beast. His ability to combine power, finesse, touch, and speed, to get to the rim with ease, and throw down thunderous slams, deliver soul-crushing blocks, be ferocious on the glass, the hops to nearly jump out the gym, and even hit the three ball, is unprecedented.
Perhaps his most important attributes however, are his ability to raise his compete level the bigger the game gets, and to make sure those in attendance, get their money’s worth.
In his one year at Duke, Zion proved that he is capable of dominating a game on both ends of the court, from the opening tip, to the final whistle. He did so at the NCAA level, and as the soon to be 19 year-old continues to mature and work on his craft, there should be no reason why he can’t eventually do the same at the NBA level.
After years of bad teams, and having players who failed to meet expectations, or simply just went through the motions, the Knicks, and their fans, deserve someone to cheer and get excited about. That person is Williamson.
The last time the city had a player who could impose their will on both sides of the court, take on all comers, and engage not only the fan base, but the entire city, was the aforementioned Patrick Ewing.
As fate would have it, this past year in which the Knicks were purposely trying to tank, the NBA changed the draft lottery rules.
Previously, the team that finished with the worst record would automatically get the first overall pick in the draft. With the new change, the league’s bottom three teams, now all have a 14% chance of getting the top selection, meaning that even though New York finished with a (17-65) record, the Phoenix Suns (19-63), and Cleveland Cavaliers (19-63), have just as good a chance of getting Zion.
If there’s one thing in pro sports that you can bet on, it is that is no place for fairness. If we are keeping score however, keep in mind that the Cavs had LeBron James twice, and chances are LBJ, will have a third tour in “The Land” before he hang up his LeBrons.
The Suns, had the first overall pick last year, and they used on solid big man DeAndre Ayton.
They also have the criminally underrated – because he plays in the desert, and the Point Guard superstar Western Conference – franchise player Devin Booker.
The Knicks, have, well, themselves. For all the rumors that Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving (why?) will be joining the Knickerbockers this summer via free agency, people must realize that those are exactly that until either one, or both of those players sign with New York. Even if they do, (I would choose Kemba Walker over Irving in a heartbeat, and I am a Duke fan), the true path to greatness, is through drafting and developing your own players.
Look no further than the two-time defending champs, the Golden State Warriors. Yes, getting Durant, helped them win their last two titles, but, they won one, and if it wasn’t for Draymond Green, getting suspended for Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals, they in all likelihood would have won another without KD.
Much like Durant, James, Jordan, Ewing, and Miller, Zion, is not just a franchise player, but rather a generational one, who can shape the present and future of the team, both on and off the court.
For a franchise that hasn’t won a championship since 1973, has failed to make the playoffs for six years and counting, and has had more then their fair share of bad trades, failed draft picks, and public relations disasters, they are attempting to reach back to the past, to change their future, as Ewing, will represent the Knicks at the upcoming NBA draft lottery.
How fitting would it be for arguably the greatest Knick ever, to welcome what could potentially be the heir to the title, thirty-four years after he was in the same position?
Even after surprisingly staying true to his word, and remaining relatively quiet over the last few years (he vowed this during the press conference to announce the Jackson hiring), Dolan, still made headlines earlier this season, when after a (102-94) loss to the Sacramento Kings, he had a Knicks fan removed from MSG, and then banned for life, after he yelled “sell the team” to Dolan, a scenario NYK fans everywhere, have been dreaming about for years.
Regardless, of whether or not Dolan ever sells the team, the drafting Zion, wouldn’t only help take attention away from yet just the latest embarrassment, but it would also wash away the stench of the last two plus decades.
More importantly, it would lead to a much-needed cultural change for the franchise, and allow the dreams that Biggie alluded to in Juicy, to become a reality for the long-suffering Knicks, and their fans.