The Knicks’ season ended on Sunday at Madison Square Garden versus the Toronto Raptors much sooner than what they had expected. They began the dissatisfying journey in October with an optimistic vision of not only making the playoffs, but going further than the opening round, in which they were eliminated 4-1 to the Atlanta Hawks late last spring.
But after a 41-31 record a season ago and the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Knicks’ 105-94 victory over the Raptors gave them a record of 37-45, last place in the Atlantic Division and No. 11 in the East. It was a resounding regression and signal the Knicks’ front office led by team president Leon Rose has a challenging charge in front of them to assess why the team took a significant step backwards, address the evident weaknesses and execute the inevitable changes.
In an interview with MSG Network’s Mike Breen that aired on Sunday prior to the game, Rose, who was hired as the Knicks’ president in March of 2020 by the franchise’s owner James Dolan, offered his view of the past seven months.
“I feel as though it’s been a disappointing season from the standpoint of wins and losses,’’ said Rose, who rarely speaks in public. “We’ll take a good hard look at it after the season in evaluating everybody. The first year things clicked. This year, from the beginning, things didn’t click. We faced adversity. We had some tough stretches.’’
The Knicks’ season was lost over a stretch from Jan. 24 when the Knicks were 23-25 through March 4 when they fell to 25-38. Their 2-13 mark over this period put them in a deep deficit and precluded them from being a credible contender for the Play-In Tournament, which began on Tuesday.
Naturally, Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau was the target of many fans’ ire and was deemed most accountable for the team’s shortcomings. There was a reactionary chorus for him to be let go by Rose and Dolam during the frequent losing. However, Rose, who signed last season’s NBA Coach of the Year to a five-year deal when he took over running the Knicks’ basketball operations, was pragmatic in evaluating Thibodeau’s work.
“…I mean he’s one of the best coaches in the NBA,” maintained Rose. “So obviously, none of us are happy with the results this year. But he’s a guy who prepares our team better than anybody. I feel that he’s done a good job under the circumstances.’’
Earlier in the one-on-one sit down with longtime Knicks Basketball Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer Breen, Rose said forward Julius Randle, who had a trying season which included impassioned conflicts with the Knicks’ fervent fan base, said Randle’s frustrations were understandable but misplaced.
“This year, things didn’t go right,” the former influential agent of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Joel Embiid among others explained. “Things happened on the court, we saw some emotion coming out, saw some things happening. I think it affected [Julius’] play at times. He felt remorseful for some of those things as he expressed to the fans in his letter he sent.”
Randle led the Knicks in points (20.1), rebounds (9.9) and assists (5.1) for the second straight season but did not approach the high level of play he displayed last season which earned him All- NBA Second Team honors.
One of the positive takeaways from this season was the play of rookies Quentin Grimes and Jericho Sims. With the potential departure of starting center Mitchell Robinson in free-agency, Sims’ continued improvement will be critically important to the Knicks elevating to a playoff contender.