Let me begin by saying, nuff respect to the God Lester Freamon, but with the Knicks, if you start following the money, you know just where the f*ck it's gonna take take you. A Billionaire with a blues band. Now that's rich. But I'm not even mad at Dolan anymore. We're way past that point. I believe dude wants to win. He just doesn't know how. You see, relentlessly f*cking up without consequence, is a common side effect of inheriting wealth. (I'm looking at you Jim Buss.) At this point, all we can hope for is somebody to come along with a little basketball gravitas (and preferably some jewelry) and take away his toy. But that ain't about to happen.
So, this is what we're left with.
The whole program is a careening flameball of a trainwreck and Mike Woodson is on the hot seat? I get the scapegoat thing, but if you think Woody's the only problem, Steve Mills would like to trade you his 2014 unprotected 1st round pick. (More on that later.) Then again, what's the point of sh*tting on the organization? They're already swimming in enough raw sewage. (And they love it!)
I won't attempt stir any false optimism either. I have no "five point plan" that can fix the Knicks or a magical trade that will turn the season. @ZachLowe isn't about to drop a contrarian perspective usage chart that will paint a prettier picture. You just can't polish a turd.
Confession: I'm a big Carmelo Anthony supporter. Melo's my dude.The man was placed on God's blue earth to get buckets. His stroke is clean, he has range, and he's a rabid bull on the offensive glass. At this moment, he is, arguably, the best pure scorer on the planet. (Some might take Durant, others Lebron but Melo is unquestionably in the conversation.) And if you dig even deeper, you find Melo is also thee most "clutch" player on the planet, which is a particularly useful skill if you can get to June. Do I like the way he's handled himself (pause) since training camp? Of course not. Can he be a lip-licking assclown? Absolutely. Should he shut the f*ck up about free agency? Obviously. But he's not the problem either. He's still in his prime and anyone who believes he's incapable of leading a team to a championship... I got Jim Boeheim on the other line.
The problem with Melo isn't actually Melo's problem. Let's unpack that using Chris Paul and the LA Clips as a parallel. Similar situation: He forces his way out of a smaller market, ends up in a big city with a bad owner and a gimpy but athletic power forward. Sound familiar? Now, consider CP3... his position on the court, how he plays, the influence he wields, the vocal leadership he displays. He's a natural facilitator. He's a cerebral, thoughtful dude. He plays defense. He makes his teammates better. He commands your attention. Mercifully, Donald Sterling stepped out of the way and the Clippers, wisely, signed him to a max extension and gave him the keys to the franchise. Dr. Paul then handpicked Doctor Rivers, a coach with a championship pedigree, and (from all indications) he weighs in on personnel decisions. Together, they are building something. Even if the pieces don't quite fit, the future is bright because the people in charge are competent.
The Knicks have loosely done the same thing, except Melo is not Chris Paul. He's not a facilitator. He's not a floor leader. He's not a two-way player. He's not an efficient scorer. He's a dead-to-rights chucker. A volume shooter that needs 25 touches a night to be effective. He's temperamental. His game is self-centered. This all bleeds into his personality. Can you build a championship team around him? No doubt. Can he lead that team? Still yes. Should you hand him your entire franchise? Absolutely not.
Think about it like this: Chris Paul is like Cliff. Not that Cliff. This Cliff. Melo is more like the Fresh Prince of Park Ave and the Knicks left the keys to the brand new Porsche...
Except in this scenario, New York brass actually wouldn't mind if he took it for a spin around the neighborhood and maybe showed it off to a couple of friends. Since arriving in NY nearly three years ago, Melo has essentially dictated terms. His handpicked coach gives him carte blanche with the ball. That's Woody's primary offense. And Melo has invited some of his best buds from Denver to his Garden Party. I can't blame dude for wanting to work with his friends, King James does it. Problem is, Melo's friends are the brothers JR Smith and K-Mart.
Carmelo needs someone he reveres to tell him what to do (other than Lala.) But neither Dolan nor Woodson nor Mills nor World Wide Wes (or anybody from the "Indiana University mafia" or the "CAA cartel") commands enough of his attention. That's the problem. The Knicks spoil Melo, hoping he won't leave, and Melo isn't sure he likes the direction of the franchise. Go figure.
So this is what we're left with.
The Knicks are in unintentional tank mode right now and it's the best draft class in 15 years. (And you know Adam Silver has one of those slickly sanded golf balls waiting in David Stern's old safe at NBA HQ, just in case the Knicks ever make the lottery.) But the bitter irony is that the Knicks potential unprotected lottery pick belongs to Denver from -- yup, you guessed it -- the Melo trade. So when I hear Melo talking about "testing the market" this off season, it drives me completely Lohan. This is not some fan-scorn "lack of loyalty" bullsh*t. This is bad for Melo. The looming lure of free agency is almost always an unwelcome distraction, that only intensifies as the weather warms. If he's a serious competitor, which I believe him to be, he would have been wise to defer the issue until after the season. This wouldn't change any of the facts on the ground, but it would reduce the rampant speculation and incessant tabloid clatter. Instead, he chose to sprinkle gas on the fire. He knows he's put up Hall of Fame-type numbers for 10+ years and has never even been to the Conference finals. He knows he steamrolled his way to his native New York City and called it "a dream come true." He knows the scrutiny he's under. He knows New York's proud basketball history and its long championship drought. He knows he's not Charles Barkley, who is beloved by the NBA establishment, despite empty fingers. He knows that only the Knicks can offer him that extra year, which will be worth somewhere between $20-30 million. Yet, he acts like he's still joyriding the Porsche around the neighborhood and won't say if he's coming home for dinner. And his team, that he helped assemble, is winning 30% of its games, with his coach on the hotseat, playing in one of the worst conferences in the history of roundball.
Even last year, with the stars in the East properly aligned, when Melo led the #KnicksTape to 54 wins, a 2 seed and finished 3rd in MVP voting, NYK was still no better than a second round exit. Which is apparently acceptable, since The Garden had already celebrated a championship when they beat the Celtics in Round 1.
In the off season, the cream of the East coagulated at the top and everything else turned to buttermilk. The Bulls are washed. Brooklyn is done. The Celtics are just learning how to walk again. Detroit can't shoot. The Cavs went in on Mike Brown. Everyone else is jabbing for Jabari. It's a slow race to the bottom and the Knicks are leading the pack, with the NBA's 2nd highest payroll, a slew of un-tradeable contracts, no real prospects, no draft picks, no significant assets and its spoiled superstar threatening to leave town. All this, all this, is the net result of trying everything to get Lebron and settling for Melo.
Speaking of Lebron, the Miami Heat (a completely cohesive organization) will be on auto-pilot to 58 wins. They'll wake up sometime in late May and rev up the engine. But the Pacers... the Indiana motherf*cking Pacers are balling outrageous. They are the picture of cohesion. Actually, considering their market size and resources, they are one of the best run franchises in all of sports. So it's not just luck that Paul George "fell" to them at #10 in the 2010 draft and has become the best two-way player outside of King James. It's not random fortune Frank Vogel turned out to be one of brightest young minds in the game. It's no accident they snagged Lance Stevenson in the 2nd round and developed him into a borderline all-star role player. It's not happenstance they traded for Roy Hibbert, effectively the 17th pick, and have molded him into an all-star center. (By the way, the Knicks passed on Hibbert and Stevenson, both of whom grew up in New York City.)
I want to be clear about something: The Knicks are a poorly run franchise. However, if we look at some of their major decisions in a vacuum, I have been mostly supportive. Let's go to the highlights:
I loved replacing Isiah with Donnie "Basketball" Walsh in 2008. Although I didn't like Walsh's D'Antoni hire, I loved the salary dumping and cap clearing. I loved the Amar'e signing. They needed bait for Lebron, and I'd still take STAT over Boozer. I loved going after Melo. They had to. He was the best alternative. I didn't like using the amnesty on Chauncey but I loved overpaying for Tyson Chandler. He's worth every dime (when he's on the floor.) I loved Linsanity. I was cool replacing D'Antoni with Woody. I was okay letting Lin walk. I liked bringing back Felton. I liked signing JR Smith and K-Mart. The point is, it's been almost six years of rebuilding, the Knicks have made a ton of moves and still have no clue who they are or who they want to be. There's no plan, no cohesion, no consistency. They keep trying to plug holes with bad contracts and when it doesn't work, they shuffle the deck at the top. (And when Donnie Basketball was ushered out, he caught the next trolly back to Indianapolis, where he remains a consultant with the Pacers.)
Okay, after all this reflection and catharsis, I do have one suggestion:
Push the panic button now. Clean house. Empower Allan Houston. He's the only symbol of consistency within the organization. Let Houston install his own head coach. (There's already a natural synergy between Houston and Jeff Van Gundy, I'm just saying.) Then, immediately arrange a sit down with Melo. It's critical to begin building a system, where everyone is on the same page, from the front court to the front office. If Melo wants to be part of that, he will opt out and re-sign for a max five. If not, we move on and find, sign, draft, trade and develop players who will buy into that system.
At the very least, this will keep ultra-thirsty Knicks fans, like yours truly, from ranting on the Internets. For now, I need to blow out these candles in my four cornered room and get some sleep.