After Failing To Land Stars In Free Agency And Firing David Fizdale, The New York Knicks Are Again At Rock Bottom

Updated: December 13, 2019
David Fizdale Pic

In a league where stars have so much of a say in where they play and who they play with, it continues to be baffling that the New York Knicks are one of the worst organizations in sports.

A generation of talent grew up knowing the legend of Willis Reed. How he willed himself from injury to bring an NBA title to New York. In the 1980s, it was the rise of Patrick Ewing. Then the fierce playoff battles between the Knicks and Chicago, Miami, and Indiana throughout the 1990s. The cast of characters on the big stage included Ewing, John Starks, Charles Oakley, Larry Johnson, Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Reggie Miller, Alonzo Mourning, and so many other role players. You even had charismatic coaches like Pat Riley (on the Knicks and Heat), Jeff Van Gundy, Phil Jackson, and Larry Brown.

What player wouldn’t want to be in that spotlight every spring? Playing in the largest city (and media market in the country) and at Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena.

The downfall began in December 2001, when Van Gundy unexpectedly resigned (a decision Van Gundy has since said that he regrets). Two years later, Isiah Thomas was hired as team president – a move that led to zero playoff wins in five sub-.500 seasons with the ex-Pistons star as president and, for three of those seasons, head coach.

Many big names that followed came and went over the next ten years, with very little to show for it: Mike D’Antoni, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah, Phil Jackson, Derek Fisher.

One big name that has been around since 1999 is controlling owner James Dolan. In that time span, the Knicks have the worst winning percentage in the NBA. Twelve head coaches and six general managers/team presidents have been dismissed under Dolan’s watch.

Another telling sign – a lack of major free agents in recent years signing to play in New York. LeBron James was salivating every time he played in MSG during his first run with the Cavs, but the Knicks never seemed serious contenders to land him in the three times that James was an unrestricted free agent throughout his career.

After hiring Fizdale, with a promising top of the 2019 draft class, (Zion Williamson), a large crop of free agents (Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Kyrie Irving), and stars open to be traded (Anthony Davis and – as it turned out – Paul George), the Knicks appeared to go into tanking mode last season. That included trading the best player they had (Kristaps Porzingis).

In typical Knicks fashion, they did not win the draft lottery. They ended up third and took Williamson’s teammate at Duke, R.J. Barrett. To be fair, Barrett is turning in a solid rookie season thus far, as he’s averaging a healthy 14.3 points per game only a quarter of the way through the season.

Then, not only did the Knicks strike out in landing a top star in free agency, they watched as the crosstown Nets landed both Durant and Irving. It was so bad that team president Steve Mills had to issue a press release, stating in part, “While we understand that some Knicks fans could be disappointed with tonight’s news, we continue to be upbeat and confident in our plans to rebuild the Knicks to compete or championships in the future.”

Following that statement up by signing free agents Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Reggie Bullock, and Taj Gibson didn’t make most long-suffering Knicks fans feel any better.

Ten games into this season, the Knicks were 2-8 following a 21-point loss to lowly Cleveland. Mills and general manager Scott Perry held an impromptu news conference saying that they talked to Dolan during the game and he wanted better results on the floor.

At that point, the “Fizdale watch” was on, and he was gone 26 days later.

Now, the question is where do the Knicks go from here, as the alleged tanking of 2019 and the subsequent free agent class paid little to no dividends? The team still lacks a superstar and it is again directionless without a head coach. Who knows what the futures of Perry and Mills are.

Is the next great head coach out there? And would he want to come to Manhattan to deal with all this drama? Is an executive (like Toronto’s Masai Ujiri) willing to steer the ship without having total control due to Dolan’s looming presence?

Until Dolan can honestly assess that he has been the one constant in these two decades of futility for a once-great franchise, expect the Knicks to continue to wander without direction in the current NBA landscape.

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