The more things change, the more they stay the same. This seems to be the case with our beloved New York Knicks who, despite being the most valuable sports franchise in the world, continue to shoot themselves in the foot. This past year, as you all know, was no different.
It started with the false hope that all Knicks fans have now accepted as our playoffs, the offseason. Each executive that has had James Dolan as a boss, has either tried or has been forced to put a band-aid on this failing franchise. Ever since Patrick Ewing was traded away, the Knicks formula for success has been signing or trading away valuable young players and draft picks for washed up veterans, who were once prominent stars. As faithful fans, we bought into the hype every year — only to be let down.
We all know how this past off-season started. Derrick Rose was acquired from the Chicago Bulls for first year point guard, Jerian Grant, and the NBA’s offensive rebound leader, Robin Lopez. To replace Lopez, Joakim Noah was signed to a ridiculous $72 million four year contract, arguably the worst contract the Knicks have given out since Eddy Curry. Despite a promising start (14-10 good enough for third in the east before Christmas Day), this version of the Knicks eventually succumbed to the inevitable drama, that seems to only happen to this team. Rose pulled a Houdini, disappearing for a game (for reasons still unknown to this day), Charles Oakley was shown to the door of MSG by an owner who’s too addicted to the limelight, and Carmelo Anthony took more shots from Phil Jackson then Mike Tyson took punches to the face. So much for the Garden being the “Mecca of Basketball.”
Hindsight is 20-20, something that Knicks fans have too much familiarity with. Looking back at past off-seasons has always garnered the question, “what if?” and in this most recent summer, the choices put in front of Phil Jackson might have conjured the greatest “what if” to Knicks fans in recent memory. Flashback to when Derrick Rose was first traded to the Knicks, Joakim Noah was seemingly trying to force his way onto the roster to play with Rose, being former teammates. Noah had been recovering from a shoulder injury and had met with Phil Jackson to show off how “healthy” he was. Every NBA scout, and their mother, could tell you that Noah was past his prime years. Chicago had run him to the ground, and to his credit, he gave every ounce of his blood, sweat, and tears to that city and became one of the best defensive centers in recent league history before eventually giving way to injuries.
As Noah was clamoring to be in the orange and blue, the Miami Heat were unwilling to make star guard Dwyane Wade their highest paid player. A disgruntled Wade, whom everyone assumed would be on the Heat for the entirety of his career, surprisingly began looking elsewhere, and one of the teams on his radar was New York. Jackson knew this and had contacted Wade, but this was in the aftermath of Noah already committing to sign with the Knicks. Noah was also actively recruiting shooting guard Courtney Lee, who eventually agreed to join the team. In the end, the Knicks didn’t have any salary cap space left, and Wade went to his hometown Chicago Bulls. The Bulls went on to almost upset the #1 seeded Celtics in the first round of this year’s playoffs and had there not been an injury to point guard, Rajon Rondo, they probably would’ve done just that.
So what if Phil decided to abandon “Noah’s Ark” and jump on the opportunity to sign one of the greatest shooting guards of all time? Yes, Wade was a fraction of his former self, but he still averaged 19 points a game and provided tutorage to star guard Jimmy Butler. In the end, the Knicks would probably be sitting here today in the very same position Chicago found themselves in: a competitive team to root for that could do some damage in the early rounds of the playoffs. Something the Garden faithful would much rather have than this years number eight pick in the upcoming draft.
If that isn’t enough to get you to shed a tear, then consider this. Had Wade signed, New York would probably be going into this off-season as a major player for a marquee free agent. That means there would be a very real opportunity to sign star point guard Chris Paul, completing three-quarters of what this writer likes to call, the “Banana Boat-kateers.” Paul is a close friend of both Wade and Carmelo Anthony, and along with Lebron James, this quartet of superstars consider each other family — famously going on vacations together in the off-season — and as they have all openly said, each of them would love the opportunity to play on the same team together before their careers are all set and done. With New York unlikely to re-sign Derrick Rose, freeing up more cap space, the opportunity for Paul to play with two of his closest friends — and the likelihood of going deeper into the playoffs than he could with the Los Angeles Clippers — would seemingly be too enticing for the star to turn down. The result would see the Knicks entering 2017-18 season as a contender in the east. This means a possible Eastern Conference Finals showdown between James’s Cavs, and a Knicks team featuring Anthony, Paul, Wade, and phenom Kristaps Porzingis. The match-up would not only be likely, it would make the Eastern Conference entertaining again and bring the Knicks back to their former glory.
So again, as fans of a team whose glory days seem long behind them, we continue to intensely anticipate the off-season — hoping that one day, the right group of players will come along and take the Knicks back to what we all hope for them to be. Every decision that they make in recent memory makes it hard for us to have any sort of optimism, and with each passing year, more and more fans flirt with the idea of abandoning the blue and orange for another team — just to know what it feels like to root for a winning organization. We never know if the days of being a struggling franchise are numbered, but one thing we have gotten good at is looking back at the past, and wondering, what if…