For two-and-a-half seasons, Knicks fans heard Kristaps Porzingis express a lot of feelings.
On Wednesday, they heard a new one.
“I remember when I was there, the expectation was always high for us,” Porzingis told reporters from the NBPA practice floor in midtown Manhattan. “It’s a city hungry for success in basketball. For them, and for the fans, and for the city to be going through this year after year, it’s got to be tough.”
Porzingis will make his return to Madison Square Garden on Thursday. He’s healthy, courtesy of a 20-month layoff spent recovering from a torn ACL. He’s happy, with a five-year, $158 million extension in his pocket. The Knicks did a nice job selling the fan base on the idea that Porzingis wouldn’t have signed that extension in New York. Porzingis won’t engage on what-if’s (“It’s in the past now,” Porzingis said) but it’s worth noting there has never been a player in the current contract model who has turned down a max extension on his rookie deal.
He’s also productive. Porzingis put up a stinker in Boston on Monday, but he’s averaging 18.3 points. He’s pulling down a career-best 7.9 rebounds. He’s connecting on 37.5% of his three’s. He’s good, really good, and he will only get better. On Monday, Mark Cuban was borderline giggly talking about the Mavs Porzingis/Luka Doncic led future.
The Knicks? Well … what’s the opposite of all that?
The Knicks are bad, again. Tuesday’s 18-point loss to the Bulls dropped them to 2-9. They are dysfunctional .. again. After Sunday’s 21-point MSG drubbing by Cleveland, team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry preempted David Fizdale’s post game press conference with a presser of their own. After reportedly getting chewed out by owner James Dolan in private, Mills and Perry were apparently ordered to take a public flogging.
Knicks fans hate the constant criticism leveled at the franchise. But honestly—what are media members supposed to do? This team is like a hamster wheel you can’t get off. They have six playoff appearances since the turn of the century. They haven’s sniffed the postseason since 2013. Their win totals in recent years look like locker combinations. Brewster burned through cash more shrewdly than the Knicks do.
They ask you to believe things that are frankly unbelievable. Take Porzinigis. Was Porzingis unhappy in New York? Definitely. Would he have turned down a $158 million contract a year-plus removed from a major knee injury in favor of the one-year qualifying offer? That’s asking a lot. The Knicks want you to believe that they cancelled a meeting with Kawhi Leonard. If they did, it’s the sports equivalent of walking up to Camille Kostek and saying, yeah, you know what, I’ll pass on a date with you.
It’s not about blame anymore, either. Is this mess Fizdale’s fault? The team got tattooed in the second half of its home opener and has been blown out in two straight games against likely lottery teams. Some of this is his fault. They could replace him. They will replace him. Internally, Keith Smart has been a head coach. Kaleb Canales has been an interim head coach. Mike Miller has been a G-League Coach of the Year. Mark Jackson, a Perry favorite, could be in the mix. But a new voice won’t change the team’s direction.
Is this Mills and Perry’s fault? Of course it is. The Knicks basketball brass traded Porzingis for spare parts and then whiffed in free agency. They rallied by signing half a dozen power forwards. The only thing they did right was not killing the teams cap flexibility in the process.
But you can’t even blame Mills. He’s trying. He’s just in a job he is wholly unqualified to be in. Mills is a terrific guy. He is, by many accounts, a savvy businessman. But there is not a team in the league that would put Mills in charge of basketball operations—or even consider him. Perry is well liked, but he was part of a deserved purge in Orlando and thought it was a good idea to give Zach Randolph a two-year, $24 million contract during a brief stint in Sacramento.
Is this James Dolan’s fault? Dolan is easily the Knicks biggest problem. The NBA’s flagship franchise is basketball’s Titanic and Dolan’s solution is to hire people who play nice with him to fix it. He has shown the basketball savvy of a tuba. The Nets have developed a reputation for treating players and ex-players with enormous respect. Dolan once had Charles Oakley physically removed from the arena. If you think that stuff doesn’t resonate with players, you’re crazy.
But why get worked up over it? Dolan isn’t selling the team. Forbes values the Knicks at $4 billion. On the open market, they might fetch $6 billion. The NBA can’t force Dolan to sell and the 64-year old billionaire has shown no inkling that he’s interested in doing so. The hot take now is that Dolan will make a run at Masai Ujiri, the Raptors GM. Ujiri is exactly what the Knicks need. He has an excellent draft record, and has proven shrewd in trades and free agency. But Ujiri wouldn’t touch the job without the power to shred the basketball operations staff down to the office assistants. Dolan isn’t giving that to him.
So what’s the solution? There isn’t one. The Knicks are bad and will continue to be. RJ Barrett is a promising young player, but he might have three coaches before he reaches the end of his first contract. Mills could get reassigned next summer, but hell, Isaiah Thomas might be the man who replaces him. Free agency will come and the Knicks will be the team used as leverage. Ping pong balls won’t bail them out. There is no end to this rabbit hole.
Past, for the Knicks is prologue. So boo Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks fans. He’s expecting it. He’s read the tweets. He knows what’s coming. He wanted out, and he got what he wanted. But then ask yourself: If you were Porzingis, would you do anything different?