With their 90-87 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, the Knicks are off to their worst start in franchise history. New York is just 4-16 and holds a measly two-game lead on Philadelphia, a team that was built to fail. The Knicks are essentially rivals with the modern day version of the Washington Generals.
We throw shade at the Sixers for purposefully throwing away entire seasons -- and rightfully so -- but isn't accidentally squandering them even worse? At least things are going to plan for 76ers GM Sam Hinkie. As for Knicks president Phil Jackson? Things haven't been this bad for him since Michael Jordan was a Birmingham Baron. No one expected New York to win a title this season, but winning five of its first 20 games seemed within the realm of reason.
All Jackson can do is shrug his broad shoulders and stare stoically into the distance as he watches the Knicks suffer one head-scratching loss after another.
Yes, there's futility and then there's the Knicks. The team's new triangle offense is more confounding than Taylor Swift’s ambassadorship of New York City. Its offense consists of players in love with their jumpers who would be better off driving to the rim. The Knicks average the fewest points per game on drives (6.9) in the league. The 76ers, by comparison, average a league-leading 21.3.
New York's offense toes respectability in transition, but things turn disastrous in half-court sets when it attempts to run its newfangled offense. The Knicks rank in the bottom third of the league in half-court offense, signaling that the triangle has yet to take shape (sorry).
The Knicks’ defense, somehow, offers even less hope. New York is fourth worst in the league in defensive rating (107.2). And without a dependable defender on the roster, the Knicks rank dead-last in isolation defense and second-to-last in defending jump shots, according to Synergy Sports.
To Derek Fisher's credit, and also likely to his dismay, he's tried just about everything. The Knicks trotted out their 10th different starting lineup in 20 games Thursday, but the latest iteration produced similar results. When your roster has the chemistry of oil and water, it’s tough to find a winning combination. The team’s dearth of two-way players leads to uneven lineups that put one-dimensional players in all-too-frequent awkward positions.
Things are so bad in New York that even the notoriously ruthless media has started to feel bad for the team. In Fisher's postgame press conference Thursday, the Knicks coach was asked four questions: one about Shane Larkin missing a late floater, one about Pablo Prigioni’s health, one about Quincy Acy's defense and one about Fisher trying to call a timeout at the end of the game (something he's oddly struggled with).
No questions about the 4-16 start. No questions about squandering a double-digit lead. No questions about letting Kyrie Irving explode for a season-high 37 points. No questions about how New York is going to turn things around. No questions about whether he regrets coming to the Knicks.
Thanks to the free-agent era, we know it's possible for an NBA team to transform into a contender in just one offseason. The Cavaliers went 33-49 last year, but are genuine title contenders this year after winning the free-agent jackpot of all jackpots. The Knicks are poised to have oodles of cap room this summer and happen to play in the NBA’s biggest media market. They have a superstar to build around and a team president with 11 rings to woo free agents.
But what they won’t have is an excuse. Nor do they now. How is it possible that the Knicks are 4-16 when we’ve seen them go toe-to-toe with the Cavaliers twice and beat them in their home opener? How can this team only have four wins when rebuilding squads like Milwaukee (10), Orlando (seven) and Utah (five) have more?
“It’s early,” Knicks forward Acy said after the game. “New offense, new coaching staff, everything. We are still trying to figure it out and grow together as a team on the court.”
“Early” won’t be an excuse for much longer. New York is almost a fourth of the way through the regular season.
The Knicks are better than this. Or at least, they should be better than this. Better than their record. Better than being grouped in with the tanking 76ers. Better than being a punch line -- or worse, an afterthought -- in the world's basketball Mecca.
This season is quickly slipping away from New York, and there might not be anyone to save it.