It’s that time of year again Knicks fans. Once again the team has nosedived in January after showing promise in the opening months of the season. Last year the team was 22-22 before firing Derek Fisher and tanking under Kurt Rambis. Much like Fisher last year, head coach Jeff Hornacek is far from the problem. The team started 16-13 before nosediving in embarrassing fashion, going 2-10 since then. During that 2-10 stretch the starting unit is -13.6 per 100 possessions.
Once Jackson appointed associate head coach Kurt Rambis in charge of the defense in November it was only a matter of time until everything blew up. Everything went south some time after Christmas and the aftermath has been gross to watch. The team currently ranks in the bottom of the league in defensive rating (25th) and allow the second most second-chance points in the league at 14.6 per game. Defenders constantly look for help and rotations are either sloppy or nonexistent.
The obvious course of action would be to fire Kurt Rambis who should have never been within 100 yards of the Knicks bench to begin with. (The guy is a loser and the only reason he remains with the team is because he is a close friend of Jackson.) Next would be to deal with Derrick Rose. The offseason additions of Joakim Noah and Rose have been a subtraction by addition. Noah has been the shell of himself everyone feared while Rose regained his offensive game and the jock mentality that comes with it.
As always the defense has been the catalyst to the team’s demise. In their last eight games opponents have scored 100 points in six of them. The only two games the Knicks didn’t allow 100 points the beat a Jimmy Butler-less Bulls team and a collapse in Philadelphia to the 76ers that ended like this:
T.J. McConnell hitting his first ever game-winner over the outstretched arm of Porzingis and bewildered face of Melo was just the zenith of a peak Knicks week. Derrick Rose set the tone for such an odd week at Madison Square Garden I thought Isaiah and Marbury were back in town.
The fact that Rose was MIA for Monday night’s game was weird in itself. The fact the Knicks had no idea where he was is an embarrassment and an ode to the dysfunction in the building. The team found out Rose went to Chicago to be with his mother in what he called a “family issue”. The point guard had grown frustrated with his roles late in games with rookie Ron Baker getting the nod down the stretch. Rose was not suspended, but fined, and allowed to start the next game against the 76ers which the team lost. Phil Jackson has yet to say a word a week later.
His bad play has not stopped him from being vocal about the team’s issues. Here is what he had to say about the Knicks’ current struggles.
“I just told him (Jeff Hornacek), it’s defense. Our defense triggers a lot of things. And I told him he has to be on us hard about defense every day. Like, beat it in our heads where we get tired of hearing him talking about it.”
Right message, wrong messenger. If anyone on the team has to commit to defense it would be Rose. He and Carmelo are the two most commonly seen closing out late at the 3-point line or simply losing their man on a switch. Couple that with Noah’s nonexistent rim presence–although he is cleaning the glass–and you’re left with Courtney Lee and Porzingis to fend for themselves. Porzingis has the potential to be that rim protector, but it’s clear he is still having trouble on rotations himself.
If it weren’t painfully clear at the start of the season, it is clear now–the Knicks will never win a title with Carmelo as the centerpiece. Porzingis is the present and future of the club. Every move should be made with the intention of making life easier for the 21-year-old phenom. This would mean the team would have to do something they have put off doing since the Patrick Ewing era was over–properly rebuild.
“Grow or die” is a phrase Nike founder Phil Knight harps on in his memoir Shoe Dog. If you apply that to the Knicks then they have been dead for some time. You can look back at any Knicks team or headline about the team the past five years and they will all look the same. It has been the never-ending cycle of the James Dolan Knicks. The last true rebuild in New York was centered around a frozen envelope and Patrick Ewing. That was in 1985. It is now 2017.
The disposition of the Dolan Knicks have been that of a person that wants to do the right thing, but halfway through looks for the nearest shortcut to the desired result. If James Dolan has any plans of leaving a legacy he will have to be the first to buy-in doing things the hard way. No more flashy executive hires, no more pipedreams about free agents that will not even give the Knicks a meeting. It’s time to put in the work.