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Enes Kanter: It’s Complicated

Be frustrated. But don’t be mad.

NBA: New York Knicks at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

You don’t like when your team loses. When your team happens to be the youngest in the league, your tastes change: not only do you dislike losing, you grow nuanced about it. You’d rather lose with young players who have lessons to learn and growth to grow, because at least then there’s a chance today’s suffering pays off tomorrow. Teams who aren’t trying to compete losing with players who aren’t a part of tomorrow are especially hard to swallow.

The Knicks are losing. Lots. Losing is a tough look to pull off. Enes Kanter’s play and body language are not how you go about pulling it off.

His play appears more and more self-centered. When he gets the ball in the post or off an offensive rebound, there seems little doubt he’s got a one-track mind and it’s not on passing.

The selfishness happens on both sides of the ball. He can’t block shots and he can’t keep anything sentient in front of him. Even when the opponent misses, Kanter has distressingly little to do with it.

And spoiler alert: the opponent often doesn’t miss.

We’re further bothered because for once the Knicks appear to be trying to build something “the right way.” Youth, athleticism, upside, sustainability — these have not been New York’s ethos since...ever? So Kanter’s selfishness rankles even more egregiously.

He’s not part of the future and he’s effing up the present. Who does he think he is? Doesn’t he realize he has a chance to play the good veteran, maximizing his value to the Knicks while building him up for his next team and next contract? Doesn’t he realize playing hard and sacrificing is ultimately best for him and the Knicks moving forward?

He doesn’t. Because that’s bullshit.

Kanter is a worker in an industry renowned for its cutthroat business model. Teams care about the bottom line and the bottom line only; for most, including the Knicks, that bottom line is profit, not wins.

Fans have the same sensibility. If Kanter were sacrificing his body on a nightly basis, playing unselfishly, doing all he could to help his teammates and in some small way play a part in developing them for a future he’s not a part of, you wouldn’t care. If the Knicks could trade him today for a protected first-round pick, regardless of how much he loves the city or how much being a Knick actually matters in his heart, NYC would send a police escort to accompany Kanter to the airport and the first plane out of town.

David Fizdale is a pretty good face of an organization. He’s quotable, likable, and friendly enough. When he reframes the issue of less playing time as if the team is doing Kanter a favor, it’s good public relations.

But public relations is just code-switching for “lie.”

Kanter will be 27 next summer, likely the last chance he’ll ever have to market his value in his prime. Next season he’ll almost assuredly be on his fourth team in nine years. To whom does he owe loyalty, much less sacrifice? The organization he knows isn’t a part of his future? The teammates he knows aren’t a part of his future? The fans he knows didn’t give a crap about him before he got here and who won’t care two seconds after he’s gone?

There’s a decades-long bias against big men winning Sixth Man of the Year. The last true center to do so was Bill Walton in 1986. The last four players to win it were Lou Williams, Jamal Crawford, Eric Gordon and J.R. Smith. Williams, a two-time winner, has never made more than $8M per. Crawford’s a three-time winner; after winning it for the third time in 2016, he signed a three-year deal averaging $14M per, less than Kanter’s earned the past four seasons.

Gordon won in 2017, and surprise: the Rockets did not tear up the 4 year, $53M deal they’d signed him to the summer prior and offer a raise. Smith was only the third Knick ever named Sixth Man of the Year in 2013. For three years after, he averaged under $6M per, hitting paydirt only after winning a title in Cleveland with LeBron and having the over-the-cap Cavs over a barrel thanks to those two realities. Why should Kanter be motivated by having a role dangled in front of him he’s unlikely to win and that wouldn’t offer him greater compensation even if he did pull off the upset?

Don’t bring that weak “He’s already earned $90,000,000 in his career” stuff in here, either. To quote from a piece I wrote re: the unethical nature of the NBA salary cap, “It is quintessentially American to have a multibillion-dollar business in 2018, comprised mostly of wealthy white owners, entitled to the idea that their mostly black workforce should be underpaid and grateful for it.” Michael Jordan, the player, was underpaid. LeBron James is underpaid. Kanter is, too.

I weep alongside you watching Kanter hemorrhage points on D. I’m no fan of his man-trapped-on-an-island performance of late. I grieve with those weary of his play. He isn’t ultimately helping now and won’t in the future. I’m frustrated watching him. But I don’t hate the man. I don’t “really” hate him and I don’t even “sports-hate” him. I’m not saying I agree with what he’s doing. But I understand.