This season wasn’t supposed to be a tank job for the New York Knicks.
Last summer, Carmelo Anthony spurned the Chicago Bulls in favor of the ‘Bockers because he wanted to win in New York. In September, just a month before the season, team president Phil Jackson insisted the Knicks were a playoff team. The team even started 2-1 and picked up a win against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on the second night of the season! These were (kind of) good times for the Knicks.
Obviously, the good times didn’t last, and eventually, even the Zen Master himself had to face the reality of this season for New York. After their 2-1 start, the Knicks went 4-35 in their next 39 games, and Jackson shifted into rebuilding mode.
Jackson’s start as the president of basketball operations in New York didn’t get off to a great start, from his inability to lure Steve Kerr for the Knicks’ head-coaching job to his scapegoating Tyson Chandler before foolishly trading him to Dallas. Unfortunately, his luck hasn’t changed much since then, even as he has attempted to make a very aware shift to rebuilding mode for this franchise.
While the J.R. Smith/Iman Shumpert trade was good for the Knicks’ cap sheet, the pair has played well in Cleveland, and New York only netted a second-round pick and a couple trade exceptions in the deal. That’s not a bad return, but given the way the pair have performed for the Cavaliers, it probably tastes a bit more bitter at this point.
Even after all the missteps, bad luck and general #knickstape-ness during the last few months, the fact that Jackson had latched on to the possibility of an earnest tank job was a silver lining for the Knicks. If the team could suffer through one bad season, they’d still have a rehabbed Carmelo, a much cleaner cap sheet, the benefits of being the resident NBA team in New York City, and, hopefully, a top four draft pick.
Of course, the Knicks might have managed to mess that up as well. New York was the worst team in the NBA with three games to play, a mark that would have guaranteed a top four pick and the highest chance of winning the NBA Draft Lottery, should they have simply lost out. Instead, the Knicks won consecutive games for just the third time all season, and now find themselves one game ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves with just a game to play.
If the Knicks can lose to the Detroit Pistons and the Timberwolves beat the OKC Thunder, they’ll be tied at the top of the lottery, at best. But New York needs Minnesota to win to have any chance at a tie, and a Timberwolves win is never something to count on. Despite running out a NBDL team for the last two months, the Knicks may have still found a way to muck up their tanking attempts.
The best thing New York can do is simply lose its final game to Detroit on Wednesday. If they succeed in doing so, they’ll be guaranteed the league’s second-worst record, as the Philadelphia 76ers have 18 wins, one more than the Knicks, and have to hope for a Knicks win to have the second-best chance of winning the lottery.
In any case, it has been hilarious to see the about-face that the Knicks’ front office has done after all the horn-tooting they did at the beginning of the season. It has been even more hilarious to watch the team screw that up by winning two, potentially three, games in a row at the worst possible time.
This is a team that has an aging superstar and not a ton of young talent––they need this pick. Maybe Phil should happen to tell the team bus to take them to the wrong stadium. He needs to do everything he can to keep them from winning this last one.
After trying to resurrect an aging core, now we get to see Jackson try to build a core of his own. Let’s hope it’ll be as entertaining as the tear-down has been.