This past Sunday, the Knicks hosted the all-star game at Madison Square Garden . The game was a gaudy offensive display, setting an NBA record with a combined 321 points scored. Besides hosting the current generation of basketball’s best, MSG also housed a myriad of entertainment impresarios, like Jay Z and Sean “Puffy?” Combs. Even former President Bill Clinton was seen courtside, chatting it up with NBA great/ great humanitarian, Dikembe Mutombo. When the Knicks return to MSG on Friday to begin the second half of the season, the glitzy milieu of that night will be fully faded.
The Knicks have been the worst team in the league –10-43– , losing 81 percent of their games thus far. And when juxtaposed with the luminous talents of all-star weekend; the the lineup that the Knicks will trot out in Midtown this Friday, is as starless as the night sky appears there.
Carmelo Anthony, the franchise face of the team, is shutdown for the season, awaiting surgery. Just prior to that –anticipated– news, the Knicks allowed A’mare Stodumire — the only other player with all-star appearances– to walk as part of a contract buyout –a contract that statistics-site FiveThirtyEight.com rates as the worst-contract-ever– . While Knicks fans were hoping to be placated with a trade-deadline acquisition of either Goran Dragic –PHX– or Reggie Jackson –OKC–, fans instead saw further cap-paring, with the trade of the ever-hustling, fan favorite, Pablo Prigioni to Houston for Alexey Shved and future second round picks.
The Knicks are left with a paltry lineup of players who are currently unknown and untested at the highest level. There’s absolutely no one left with enough juice to light up the marquee of “The World’s Most Famous Arena”
While gloom and doom may be purveyed by drive-time AM radio, there is a definitive upside to this currently pitiable scenario. At least this time it’s on purpose.
The Knicks have been a bad team for a long time. But this year is different. Yes, they’re worse than ever statistically. But the salary-scalping strategy of Phil Jackson differs pointedly from the days of Isaiah Thomas. This time they’re bad and way under the salary cap, not way over. This time it’s because they’re testing youngsters, not overpaying for old brand names. This is at least a strategy, not a result of systematic and exponentially decaying mismanagement. This time, Phil Jackson, and not James Dolan, seems to be the one with his hands on the wheel.
The season is lost for the Knicks in terms of tangible rewards. But it’s possible the Knicks are following the pattern of success that has turned basement-dwelling teams like Golden State, Toronto, Washington, Portland, and others, into rising contenders. Perhaps the hurt incurred from shedding salary, playing rookies, and putting yourself in prime draft position is ultimately the best way in the NBA.