Monday, February 27, 2017

N.Y. Knicks: Where's That Confounded Plan?

From the desk of:  DUTCH PANTS CAN'T JUMP

NEW YORK KNICKS: Carmelo Anthony said he has no clue what the plan is.

Yeah well, welcome to the club.  We've been trying to figure that out for eighteen years.

Missed it by that much ...

I'm a Knickerbocker fan since 1974-1975, which makes me too young to have remembered their last championship.  But that also qualifies me as one of the oldest fans to never to have seen them hoist a trophy.

They've provided several memorable and lasting moments along the way, though.

I'm thankful that at least I got to see a few remaining 1973 champs play together (Bill Bradley, Earl the Pearl Monroe, Phil Jackson, Walt Frazier) along with coach Red Holzman.  Bob McAdoo also fast became a fan favorite.  Meanwhile, a string of incoming rookies (Lonnie Shelton, Michael Ray Richardson, Ray Williams, and Bill Cartwright) all had me feeling positive heading into a new decade in which I would be living out my teens.

The early 1980s gave us Bernard King and an uplifting 1984 playoff run.  During the latter part of the decade, drafting Patrick Ewing and Mark Jackson, acquiring Charles Oakley, and signing head coach Rick Pitino, were key in forming a solid foundation from which the Knicks would continue a prolonged run of success.

Bittersweet as one might find the 1990s, the 'Bockers were nevertheless a perennial playoff contender.  Year in, and year out, we enjoyed fun times (to a point) usually lasting into deep Spring.

But make no mistake, my first 25 years being a Knicks fan were quite obviously filled with hardship as well.

For instance, how the hell could they trade Clyde Frazier?

Michael Ray Richardson was a huge favorite of mine when he burst on the scene, but just as quickly became one of the initial major disappointments of my early sports fandom.

Bernard King blowing out his knee was devastating, and set the organization back several years.  A few short years later chants of "Fire Bianci! Fire Bianci!" (former general manager Al Bianci) would thunder throughout the Garden.

We were later forced to reconcile trading away Mark Jackson, in addition to such colossal failures as the finger roll against the Indiana Pacers, Charles Smith against the Chicago Bulls, and BenchGate versus the Miami Heat, just to name a few.  Quite obviously, though, there were no more depressing times than during their pair of NBA Final losses.

But, who am I telling ... another Knicks fan?

My point is, till that stage of my life it can be said the Knicks had undergone the typical ups and downs of an average NBA franchise.  They've been both outstanding at times and underwhelming during others.  That's neither a rebuke or an endorsement.

By the of 1998-1999 season, the Knicks were obviously a transitioning team, but still in an agreeable condition.

However, the same can not be said of the new millennium Knicks.

Late 1999 is also when Jim Dolan arrived on the scene, ushering in a wholly different approach to Knicks operations.

Like Dave Checketts, Ernie Grunfeld, and Pat Riley before him, Jeff Van Gundy was a member of the old guard.  He saw exactly where this organization was headed under Dolan and his new general manager Scott Layden.  Between the embarrassing trade of Patrick Ewing and the ludicrous contract extended to Allan Houston, etc., Gundy knew Layden had committed the club to inescapable salary cap hell.  Meanwhile, piss-poor drafting was only making matters worse.  And so I never begrudged JVG for abruptly submitting his resignation in Dec. 2001.

Scott Layden on the other hand was only getting started.  More bad drafting and unpopular trades lay ahead.  He ponderously shipped Marcus Camby to Denver for an irreparably broken(!) Antonio McDyess, and in one of his final acts in office, traded Latrell Sprewell whom still had two years remaining on his contract.

But just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, they did.  Layden was finally relieved of his general manager duties in Dec. 2003, thus inaugurating the Isiah Thomas Era.

All I can say is ... Wow!

There's really no need getting into that beyond labeling the era spanning Dec. 2003 through April 2008 an unmitigated disaster.

That being said, Dolan's unyielding support of Thomas might never be fully understood.  Not only did he let Thomas create at the time the worst performing, highest paid team in the NBA, but also supported him unfailingly during a rather infamous lawsuit brought against Dolan and MSG resulting in a $13 million payout settlement.

Then again, money was obviously never an issue ... was it?

There was plenty of cash to make several head coaches very rich.  But even Hall of Fame coaches Lenny Wilkens and Larry Brown proved helpless against the institutionalized dysfunction plaguing the Knicks organization.

It ultimately took the strong insistence of Commissioner Stern in order for Dolan to finally part ways with Isiah Thomas.

Next up, Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni.  And at long last, I was thinking progress.  A genuine rebuilding would actually take place.

Or would it?

Walsh indeed accomplished a near miracle by ridding the team of bad contracts and getting the Knicks under the salary cap with astonishing haste.  Meanwhile on the court, lets just say coach Mike D'Antoni was busy deregulating Isiah Thomas' delusional leftover point guard, Stephon Marbury.

Again I thought, Donnie Walsh and D'Antoni were administering exactly the kind of grassroots deconstruction and eventual reconstruction process this team has long needed.

Great!  Except for one small problem.  Donnie Walsh becoming general manager of the Knicks was likewise due primarily to Commissioner Stern's strong-arming.  In plain English, Walsh was not a Dolan guy which meant his days at MSG were numbered.

Either dismayed with the process, or simply impatient, Dolan reemerged three years after Commissioner Stern's admonishing more petulant than ever.

It's now February 2011 ... and both the Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are in hot pursuit of Carmelo Anthony - with the key word here being Brooklyn.  Because for the first time in Knicks history, (they) Jim Dolan was dealing with direct and legitimate competition from within the city limits in the form of Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov.

Dolan ultimately won the Melo sweepstakes, but not before trampling all over Donnie Walsh and his process, much less his opinion or position.  Dolan took the lead at the ensuing press conference as well.  Meanwhile, the looks on the faces of Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni whom were seated nearby said it all.

Donnie Walsh handed in his resignation four short months later.  D'Antoni, meanwhile, knew the Knicks were acquiring a player who would not buy into his system.  Sure enough, one year with Melo proved one too many, prompting D'Antoni to likewise hand in his resignation in March 2012.

This blog has made no secret of its dislike of Carmelo Anthony (the player).  I've made my position known since day one, and am yet to waiver from that opinion.

I digress ...

After three seasons spent in Glen Grunwald/Steve Mills purgatory, we finally arrive at Phil Jackson.

I had no qualms with this front office selection.  In fact, it seemed like a neat fit at the time.  Phil Jackson had won a ring with the Knicks as a player back in 1972-1973, and was a championship coach with the Chicago Bulls and L.A. Lakers.  The legitimate criticism against hiring Phil Jackson was his lack of executive experience.  But that made him no less intriguing.

So much for being curious ...

Here we are two inconsequential years later, and the Knicks are nearly ten games below .500 with just over 20 games left in the season.  After remaining idle through the NBA trade deadline, everyone wants to know where the future direction of the club is heading.  The problem is other than belittling Carmelo Anthony on Twitter, no one really knows what Phil Jackson is doing or thinking.

His greatest and only accomplishment to date is having Kristaps Pozingis fall into his lap.

His mistakes, meanwhile, are becoming numerous.  His biggest to date is perhaps extending Carmelo Anthony's contract and giving him a no-trade clause to boot.  Phil knew full well he faced the same dilemma Mike D'Antoni faced, insofar as Melo not buying into the triangle system.

Now what?

No one really knows.  We fans have been trying to figure this out for 18 years now.  But apparently Melo is just now receiving the memo.

This much I do know: Carmelo Anthony represents Jim Dolan's stamp on the team.

Having now watched the mismanagement of this product for the last 18 years, there's only one conclusion to which I can arrive: for the entirety of this new millennium, the one constant variable plaguing Knicks basketball has been its overseer.

Think about it.

Since taking over, does the organization have even one quantifiable defining moment to speak of?

Do they?

Not under Dolan ... not unless you include countless feats of astonishing executive buffoonery.

I mean, really ... every time you think this team has reached the pinnacle of dysfunction, they go ahead and raise the bar another level.

It is therefore rather sad pondering how the Knicks are an NBA charter member club and represent the league's and nation's largest market, but yet have continually existed in this dysfunctional state throughout Dolan's regime.

Dolan recently stated on local NYC radio that he will, and must honor the full length of Phil Jackson's contract.  Doing so he said will help lure any future potential executives to New York with an expectation of receiving a fair shot at implementing their respective plan.

That circles us back to the beginning of this quandary.

What plan?

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