While every NBA fanbase has their fair share of disagreements when it comes to the team they’re emotionally invested in, few fan bases tend to be further apart than that of the New York Knicks.
From blockbuster trades to draft picks, Summer League invites to decisions on the final roster spots, there’s always an abundance of bickering being broadcasted on #KnicksTwitter, which is understandable for a team that’s won nine playoff games since the start of the 2000-01 season, and has the third-most losses in the league over that time span (per Basketball Reference).
Even when a team struggles there are going to be fans that remain patient and optimistic, which is the essence of why sports are so great. With every new season comes a chance for things to be different, even if it feels like things stay relatively similar regardless of changing rosters and leadership regimes.
For the Knicks, this is going to be year three of the Phil Jackson era. And with a new look roster that features players like Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Brandon Jennings just to name a few, this is the highest we’ve seen expectations for the team in several years.
— Today's Fastbreak (@TodaysFastbreak) October 24, 2016
However, while a portion of the fanbase thinks the team has a legitimate shot at competing for the top of the Eastern Conference, there are still plenty of people (both Knicks fans and NBA observers) who feel they’re not even a lock for a playoff spot. So how do we arrive at this kind of variance?
Let’s start with the believers. When the Knicks traded for Carmelo Anthony back in the 2010-11 season, this group of people felt the franchise finally got that star player it had been chasing after since Patrick Ewing’s knees, Achilles tendon, and wrist gave out on him more than 15 years ago. Whether it was Jason Kidd, Andrea Bargnani, or even Arron Afflalo, this group never waivers on the “finally, Melo has help, and the Knicks can win” trope, and that group couldn’t be more enamored with the three bigger name additions to this team.
— The Crossover (@si_nba) October 25, 2016
We switch over to the non-believers side, where despite a clear upgrade in talent across the roster, there are people who aren’t thrilled with what might be Phil Jackson’s master plan that they waited patiently to see. After two years of seemingly committing to building through the draft and not offering out bad contracts, Jackson traded for a declining Rose, and gave Noah – who’s coming off of a season that he only played in 29 games, and at 31-years old has a history of knee and ankle injuries – a four-year deal, hoping that both players will come out with a lot to prove this season.
While both of these players were crucial to the success of the Chicago Bulls, Rose hasn’t had a positive impact on the court, even when healthy, for the last four seasons, and Noah found himself benched due to a lack of production before his season-ending shoulder injury last season. Then there’s Jennings, who suffered a torn Achilles injury back in the 2014-15 season and is still working his way back into shape, but as a career 39-percent shooter who was never known for his ability to facilitate for others isn’t a slam-dunk option at point guard either.
A portion of the Knicks fanbase eats up these nostalgic pick-ups. They fully believe that these three players will turn into the best versions of themselves for reasons like “they have a lot to prove” and “Madison Square Garden will motivate them more than anywhere else they played.” Which is understandable given the notion that Rose may have been held back by Jimmy Butler, as well as comments made by both Noah and Jennings about playing in New York.
As tough as it is to ignore what’s gone on off the court with Rose, objectively speaking this is the most exciting roster the Knicks have put together since they won 54 games during the 2012-13 season. As a Knick, Anthony honestly hasn’t played with a point guard who can create his own offense and attack the rim the way Rose is still capable of doing, and if Noah can prove that the last two seasons were outliers in his career, then he and second-year sensation Kristaps Porzingis will be quite a formidable frontcourt defensively.
But here’s where the critical differences between both sides of the Knicks fan base are displayed. The portion that’s hyper-aware that the organization has won one playoff series since getting to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2000 can’t get too excited about the “reward” upside of these risk-reward players, while the other side of the fence is just excited to get these bigger name players, regardless of why they were available in the first place.
Without shaming the side that continues to get excited about the Knicks chasing after big-name players, to be able to get a 28-year old former MVP to take over point guard duties from the immobile Jose Calderon should be more fun to watch.
And taking a flyer on Noah, who’s really only a year or two removed from being one of the best defensive big men in the league, could wind up paying dividends.
Jennings is in a decent place to succeed as the first scoring guard off of the bench, and rounding out the starting five with Courtney Lee, who’s going to be the team’s best perimeter defender while being able to hit open shots and not command the ball on offense, looks better than what the Knicks had on paper just a year ago.
Excitement for this team is understandable, and should even be encouraged. They should definitely be better than 32-50. The question is how much better than that will they realistically be? And did going in this direction hurt the potential for the team to finally build a team capable of sustainable success?
For the crowd that doesn’t think they’re going to be drastically better, it’s hard to rationalize fighting for a playoff spot instead of sucking up another losing season that would potentially lead to a high-end lottery pick to pair with Porzingis for the foreseeable future.
This is a group that had been begging for a clean rebuild for over a decade, and it seemed like they were going to get one with Jackson before this summer. Unfortunately, they’ve given up on the hope of building a winner around Anthony, and at this point, they just want to see the organization make smart decisions that lead to team-friendly contracts and roster continuity.
On the contrary, hell it might even be the majority of the fanbase, there’s a group that still feels Anthony is good enough to be an MVP candidate. They’ve been waiting patiently for Jackson to bring in that second star to do what Amar’e Stoudemire was incapable of doing and help take away the burden of Anthony having to carry a team. They think Rose can be that guy, and a supporting cast of Noah, Lee, Jennings and Porzingis can help these two stars get past a “weak” Eastern Conference outside of the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
The truth probably meets somewhere in the middle, but it’s the approach that makes this either a gloom OR doom season for a collectively tortured fanbase. Regardless of where they stand on day one of the 2016-17 season, they both know that winning cures all.
Will this be just another year of underachieving and disappointment with big name players on the roster? Or did Jackson put together a winner over the last few months?
We’re about to find out one way or the other.