The Knicks were granted the gift of spending Christmas with their loved ones. Now they can give their fans a belated present of growth and stability.
The NBA’s schedule makers determined the Knicks wouldn’t help with the sport’s declining television ratings with which the league and their network partners are deeply concerned. After playing on Christmas Day nine of the past 10 seasons, the Knicks were excluded from the annual slate in no small part because they have been one of National Basketball Association’s lowest performing teams for most of the last decade.
They went into Monday’s game at Madison Square Garden versus the Washington Wizards 7-23, at the time one game ahead of the 6-24 Atlanta Hawks for the worst record in the 15-team Eastern Conference. Despite the Knicks name still having global resonance, the size of the New York television market––the largest in the United States––and the aura of the Madison Square Garden brand, those factors couldn’t offset the raw numbers: the Knicks haven’t been a playoff contender for seven consecutive seasons, including the current season, and haven’t reached 35 wins in a single season since the 2013-14 schedule.
Additionally, and perhaps most critically, the Knicks lack a single marquee player, which is a defining aspect of attracting a national audience. After missing out on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free-agency last summer, the Knicks likely will have to develop a star who they acquire via the draft.
Last June at the introductory press conference for R.J. Barrett and Ignas Brazdeikis, the Knicks’ top two picks in the 2019 draft, team president Steve Mills reiterated his vision for building a winning team.
“I think we’re asking [the fans] to continue to be patient,’’ said Mills. “We laid out a plan when [general manager] Scott [Perry] came on board and then [former head coach] David [Fizdale] joined us that we were gonna build this team the right way.
“We’re going to draft well and we’re gonna be diligent about how we make this team and not take any shortcuts. And follow a path. We believe these two guys are part of that process [and] the young guys that we added over the last two years.’’
Mills’ plan was sound and endorsed by much of the Knicks fanbase but hasn’t produced positive results in a results driven business. It was conceptually and decidedly dependent on the Knicks signing a major free agent or two to be the foundation as the young players grew.
However, free agency was a disappointment and last year’s promising rookie group––Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier––have not taken significant steps forward. Barrett, who thus far debatably projects to be a solid rotation player, has been inconsistent and Brazdeikis has appeared in only seven games as of Monday. Fizdale was one of the casualties of the plan not coming to fruition quickly enough as he was fired on Dec. 6 only 22 games into the season with the Knicks 4-18.
Yet juxtapose the Knicks’ young players with the Miami Heat’s for instance, who have given the Heat tangibly high production this season, and the Knicks’ scouting, drafting and player development, and not just coaching, has to come into question.