Someone Tell The Knicks About Tanking, Please

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Wednesday March 8th, 2017

You can add “tanking” to the list of things the Knicks can’t do properly.

Everyone knows the Knicks aren’t going anywhere this year. Sitting six back in the loss column with just 18 games remaining, they’d need to miraculously leapfrog four (objectively better) teams just to reach the postseason. And even if they did grab the eighth spot in the East, they’d have a better shot at convincing LeBron to shave his head than they would stealing one game from him in a best-of-seven series.

While the entire world has accepted the fact that the Knicks aren’t very good, there's one group that stubbornly refuses to believe: the Knicks themselves. The embattled franchise—which is about as self-aware as Magic Johnson composing a tweet—still thinks it has a fighting chance. It refuses to aim for the bottom of the Eastern Conference and yank the throttle in hopes of landing a top-five pick in the upcoming draft.

Following a 112–105 loss to the Warriors on Sunday, a game which the Knicks never should have even come close to winning (and featured a controversy, per usual), coach Jeff Hornacek said he wouldn’t be resting his veterans anytime soon.

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“I think we’ll look at it when that time comes. I don’t think anybody thinks now’s the time,” he said. “Our guys are still playing as hard as they can, and if it gets to a point when we look at it and say, ‘You know what, let’s start getting these young guys more looks and opportunities then we’ll do that, but for now we’re trying to win any game we can.”

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It’s one thing for Hornacek to say the team is trying to win, but it’s another for them to actually try to win. In one of the most competitive tanking seasons in recent memory—after the Nets, the next 10 worst teams have between 19 and 26 wins—the Knicks are still trotting out Kristaps Porzingis, Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose for 30 minutes per game. While the three aren't good enough for the Knicks to win 12 of their next 18 games, they’re good enough to win them at least six, which is potentially destructive to their long-term future.

With every win, the Knicks are bringing themselves to the brink of a lottery disaster, something they’ve experienced before. In 2008, they missed out on Russell Westbrook by two selections and Kevin Love by one. In 2009, Stephen Curry was chosen at No. 7 before New York’s turn at No. 8. Even the 2015 lottery, which eventually netted them Kristaps Porzingis, didn’t quite go as planned. While the Sixers, Lakers and Timberwolves went a combined 1–23 that April, the Knicks likely forfeited the No. 1 pick by winning three of eight games to finish one game ahead of Minnesota.

History has repeated itself time and time again for the Knicks, and the franchise has yet to learn from it.

It’s common tanking practice to shut down, trade or buy out your best players in February and March, something the Knicks have been reluctant to do this season. After shopping Brandon Jennings and Rose at the deadline to no avail, they decided to waive Jennings, but keep Rose, whose contract will expire after this season. Porzingis has dealt with an Achilles injury all season, but rather than give him time to rest, he returned last week. Carmelo Anthony was held out of Monday’s game with knee soreness, but is expected back soon.

If the Knicks want to improve their chances in the lottery, there are two easy solutions—waive Rose and rest Anthony and Porzingis—that seem to make sense. Then again, nothing with the Knicks ever makes sense. They seem content with throwing ping pong balls in the trash.

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