“You can’t rebuild in New York.”
A saying seemingly as old as time itself, the idea that you can’t build from the ground up in the Greatest City in the World has been floated forever, based on the logic that red-faced mouth-breathers calling Mike Francesca to scream their guts out on their lunch break are somehow the baseline metric for fans in New York.
The Knicks had seemingly subscribed to this theory for years—dating all the way back to the Scott Layden years in the early 2000s, the Knicks attempted to never let the magic of the 1990s fade away, failing spectacularly every time.
First, there was the Patrick Ewing trade. Later, the Eddy Curry trade. Melo, Bargnani, Noah, Rose, and a whole bunch in between—the list overfloweth with moves the Knicks have made in an attempt to be good right just now.
So, obviously, it’s been refreshing in the young Scott Perry era to see this team looking towards the future — and, no, not five days into the future, or a month, or a year, but like, many years into the future. But then you read things like this, from a column by the NY Daily News’ Stefan Bondy last week:
Indeed, it’s a long road back to respectability for the Knicks. They became the laughingstock under Phil Jackson, ridiculed at the NBA awards show and plastered across a New York subway as “Hopeless.” Perry, armed with the security of a five-year contract, wants to buck the trend of the Knicks swinging for the fences (and missing).The Michigan product is testing the theory that you can’t rebuild in New York.
OK, that’s all fine and good, yeah (although the Knicks were a laughingstock long before Phil got here). But then not two paragraphs down (emphasis mine):
Time will determine if Perry’s the right man to build the foundation, or if the market can tolerate more losing. In Orlando as the assistant GM for five years, Perry’s similar plan became an abject failure marked by a 132-278 record. Even Jackson’s winning percentage was better in New York. From the Orlando experience, Perry said he learned that veterans are important to balance youth.
Look, I actually like Bondy. I think he’s one of the better guys on the beat. But it seems like, in a lot of cases, the writers are trying to push the “failure” narrative for the Knicks more than almost any fan is.
Think you can’t rebuild in New York? How do the Yankees and their fans feel about that?
Because you see, after years and years of big spending on overpriced old man band-aids, along with uncharacteristically missing the playoffs for two out of three years from 2013-15, the Yankees finally blew it up. Luckily for them, their rebuild lasted all of one season before Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez became the baseball equivalent of Thanos and Darkseid creating an unholy union and eating planets together.
But the fact that their rebuild was short isn’t the point. The point is, the Yankees went back to the strategy that made them one of the most popular teams in the country to a whole generation of ’90s babies—growing a team of lovable youngsters up from scratch until they’re very good, and then complementing them with other pieces when the time was right.
Need further proof? Check out the other doofy orange and blue team across the way in Queens (<3 you, Mets). Although their rebuild was mostly due to complete and total owner ineptitude, the Amazins managed to completely pivot from a high-priced Yankees-esque retirement home of a team to a youthful organization with a (mostly) thriving farm system and a World Series appearance on its resume.
Unlike the Yankees, however, the Mets endured a six-year slog of sub-.500 baseball, all the while making little moves here and there to offload veterans and acquire big, studly pitchers. The same principle that applies to the Yanks applies to the Mets here as well, though—once they stopped buying into the Jason Bays and Luis Castillos of the world and instead focused on the Matt Harveys, Jacob deGroms, Noah Syndergaards and Amed Rosarios, they became not only a better team, but a more likable one.
Want another example? Check out James Dolan’s second-favorite child (out of two), the New York Rangers. After bringing on Glen Sather as president and general manager before the 2000-01 season, the Rangers spent four years near the bottom of their conference. Since setting a solid foundation with pieces like goalie Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers have made the playoffs 11 of the last 12 seasons.
Oh, but that’s not all! Let’s hit all five boroughs! Much like the Knicks, the Islanders were a laughingstock for years, overpaying a dude who sucked to be hurt all the time. They built from the ground up and have made the playoffs three of the last six years. And of course there’s little brother in Brooklyn, who somehow managed to out-Knicks the Knicks a few years back and yet even the Nets got on the rebuild train one year ahead of the ’Bockers.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the Knicks were necessarily wrong in how they have approached things the last decade or so. Certainly there were some head-scratching moves and some overpays, but—especially with Carmelo Anthony on the team—it made sense to try to win.
I also don’t think that Scott Perry deserves anything less than a boatload of praise for how he’s handled things since arriving at 4 Pennsylvania Plaza. Based on a small sample, I’d say he’s laying the groundwork for what could be a long and successful career in New York.
But what I do think needs to be squashed are two things—one, that the Knicks deserve to be treated as groundbreaking pioneers for blowing their team up and finally trying to be bad, in the interest of being good later. And two, the idea that building a good, lovable team from scratch in the Big Apple is any less of a “New York thing” than buying up all of the stars.
So, the next time you want to write that it’s hard to rebuild in New York, maybe don’t ask, “Can the Knicks rebuild in New York?” Perhaps the better question would be, “How well will the Knicks rebuild in New York, on a scale of Islanders-to-Yankees?”