The time is rapidly approaching for the Knicks’ honchos to decide if they will dismantle the team or keep the current roster intact and fight for a low playoff seed.
The Knicks faced the Dallas Mavericks on the road last night (Wednesday) positioned 11th in the Eastern Conference, still very much in contention for one of the eight playoff openings. They were 20-26 and only three games behind the 23-23 Chicago Bulls and the 22-22 Indiana Pacers, who were tied for the eighth spot. Furthermore, the Knicks trailed the sixth place 23-22 Charlotte Hornets, who they will host tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden.
But with 36 games remaining before facing the Mavericks, the Knicks’ honchos, with team president Phil Jackson sitting at the head of the table, must determine the best course of action for the franchise’s future. Even if they somehow find consistency and end the season playing .500 basketball, meaning they would go 18-18 over the 36 game period and finish the regular season 38-44, their chances of securing the eigth seed would still be dubious.
Last season, the sixth, seventh and eighth place Eastern Conference playoff teams, the Hornets, Pacers and Detroit Pistons were 48-34, 45-37 and 44-38, respectively. Even the ninth and 10th place teams, which didn’t make it to the postseason, the Bulls and Washington Wizards, were above and at .500 with marks of 42-40 and 41-41.
But this season seems to be aligned with the 2012, 2013 and 2014 campaigns in which the eighth place team in the East made the playoffs with a 38-44 record. However, given the Knicks’ struggles over the past five weeks, during which they have gone from 16-13 on Dec. 22 to six games under .500, it would be a dramatic and unforeseen turnaround for them to win 18 of their last 36 games.
Monday’s impressive 109-103 road win against the Pacers, a game in which the Knicks nearly relinquished a 17-point second-half lead, seemingly kept them in a collective optimistic frame of mind and staved off a feeling of hopelessness among a group that has experienced a plethora of disheartening losses this season.
“I don’t even want to think about that if this one had gotten away,” said Carmelo Anthony of the impact another tough defeat could have had on the team’s chemistry and spirit.
“We’ve been losing close games,” said head coach Jeff Hornacek. “We lose another one like that, guys probably would’ve quit, called it a year probably.” Hornacek was not engaging in hyperbole. Human nature dictates that a plurality of the players would have abandoned the thought of making the playoffs and begun assessing their individual goals, which for some is procuring a lucrative contract in free-agency this upcoming summer.
The Knicks may still be only three or four disappointing losses from that stage anyway. That is why Jackson and his advisors must think long and hard at trade options as the Feb. 23 trade deadline draws near. They may have already come to terms with what this team is and can be. Or perhaps they have dissected the schedule and determined that if the Knicks aren’t in the seventh or eighth spot in the conference after playing five straight home games from Feb. 4 to Feb. 12 and before that stretch a date with the Nets in Brooklyn Feb. 1, they will tear out the frame and start to rebuild once again.