As we kick off another season of Knicks basketball tonight, there are surely reasons to be optimistic: After 12 long years in the wilderness, the Knicks have assembled what, on paper, looks like a solid playoff team. On paper, this team doesn’t look likely to be an expensive colossal mistake, like some of the teams of the past decade, or even appear to be similar to the topsy-turvy model from last season that ultimately righted itself and cruised into the playoffs before being summarily dismissed by the eventual champion. No, this team looks capable of a steady 50 wins, a mid-tier playoff seed, and perhaps getting through a round or two of the playoffs. If that’s how it goes, it will obviously be a vast improvement over the steaming pile of crap the Garden has served fans over the course of Jim Dolan’s tyrannical reign.
The Garden, though, appears to be far more optimistic about the season than that, and I don’t think it’s the false optimism we often see and hear franchises exude during the preseason when everyone is undefeated and, therefore, everything remains possible. Rather, based on their comments (also here) it appears they believe they’ve constructed a roster that, come playoff time, is meant to exploit some unique opportunity in the landscape of contenders that’s specially reserved for veteran players. That’s a roundabout way of saying that they’ve gone all-in assembling an inferior team (relative to other supposed championship contenders, I mean) and are counting on their veteran smarts and know-how to propel them past better ones. This seems an improbable premise to me, and even if you could (arguably) find some basis in history to support it (the Knicks would point to the 2011 Mavs I’m sure; I’d argue that the teams are not comparable), I’m certain that examples of this strategy succeeding, if any, are few and far between.
And even if there’s a needle to be thread here, the eye is so small that you’d have to put it under a microscope to find it. Entering the season, I count four teams that are inarguably better than the Knicks and at least five others for whom you could easily make that case. The Knicks should be a very good team, and a team we’ll enjoy watching all season, but they’re a longshot to win the title (presently going off at 35-1 on Bovada). And the biggest problem with an expensive, aging team is that, if the Knicks don’t get it done now, they’re only headed downhill from here.
I’m certain that a lot of what I’ve written above includes ideas you’ve already thought of or heard and considered before. It’s not exactly news that the Knicks built a veteran team with a small window to win. And I think a great many fans already understand that it’s fairly unlikely that they’re going to succeed in their quest. That’s fine.
But here is my point:
I find it troubling, after so many years of mindlessly assembling expensive rosters, followed by a complete tear-down and blank canvas, that the Knicks would so capriciously cast their lot with a roster that’s, at best, a gut-shot straight looking for a card on the river. Some will argue that the Knicks were inexorably headed down this road the moment they committed to Amar’e and Melo, but I disagree. I think that’s a rationalization.
Clear-eyed, intelligent management derives from the ability to dispassionately and realistically assess a situation and make reasonable decisions in light of the facts as they are. And as they always have since Dolan has owned the team, this is where the Knicks failed. Once the Knicks committed to their two superstars (and even to Chandler), they were clearly on a path, but they weren’t so far down that path that they couldn’t, at least, veer off somewhat, or try to hedge against it. Smarter, more sober managers would have looked at their “win-now” roster and concluded that they weren’t likely to win now and, consequently, would have considered the future even while embracing the present. Instead, the Knicks did what they’ve always done. They decided to live only in this moment and worry about what happens later, later.
Alas, it seems that this is our lot in life as Knicks fans. So even though this post is a total downer, I’m not actually down about the season. I’m letting all of this go. I’m embracing this small window and very much hoping that the Knicks take us on an improbable, magical ride like the one we enjoyed the last time Marcus Camby was patrolling the Garden’s baselines. As we all saw then, and saw last February, there’s no better place than MSG for a team on an improbable run.
So I say let’s have fun and root for this team like there’s no tomorrow, because, once again, that’s what the Knicks have compelled us to do.