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March mailsack part 2 - What is the Knicks’ biggest mistake the past 15 years?

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This may take a while.

NBA: New York Knicks at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

In part one of the March mailsack we discussed drafting ninth vs. trading down, wondered whom the Knicks should look out for and avoid the next couple free agent classes, and continued our proud tradition of hypothesizing genetically manipulated duck-centric battle royales. Part two is just one question, but it’s such a doozy it’s gonna need a third mailbag to properly address. HighFlyers28 asked:

“If there is one Knicks’ mistake over the past 15 years you could change, what would it be?”

If only you’d said 20 years instead of 15, this question would be easy.

In 2003, the Knicks all-time winning percentage was .508. The last 15 years, it’s .420. To really appreciate the depths were about to plumb, consider how many mistakes from then till now didn’t make the cut.

  • Do you remember the Knicks traded Jeff Van Gundy to the Houston Rockets? For a pick that became some tall drink of water named Dijon Thompson. Thompson never played for New York, packaged with Kurt Thomas in a 2005 draft-day deal to Phoenix for Quentin Richardson and Nate Robinson. Here’s Dijon dunking on the unperturbable Nick Young in some summer league.
  • Picking ninth in the ‘03 draft, the Knicks selected Michael Sweetney. Nearly half of the players taken after “Big Sour” (23 out of 50) finished with more career win shares.
  • With the first pick in that same draft’s second round, the Knicks took Macej Lampe. Ten players from that second round had careers of 500+ games. Sweetney did not. Lampe did not. Seven of those ten were available when the Knicks picked 39th. They took Slavko Vranes, who also...did not. Perhaps Lampe’s most famous moment as a pro was scuffling with fought teammate Jeremy Pargo in a Chinese Basketball Association playoff game.
  • Here are three players. They all played the same position. Who would you rather have?

In a little over six magical months the Knicks turned Latrell Sprewell into Keith Van Horn into Tim Thomas. That is not hitting the trifecta. Sprewell was traded, according to James Dolan, because he “lacked character.” I mean...

Van Horn had great on-court chemistry with Stephon Marbury, going back to their days in New Jersey. Van Horn played well as a Knick, and the Starbury/Van Horn/Allan Houston triumvirate was rounding into form as a hub. But the not-lacking-character Isiah Thomas traded Van Horn for Tim Thomas, whose only memorable moment in New York was enriching the viewing public’s lexicon.

  • In August of 2005-06 season, Isiah signed Jerome James to a $30M contract because he’d had a good playoff run against the Kings and a halfway decent one vs. the Spurs the year before. Curry cost the Knicks more money and cost them more than money: the two first-round picks they surrendered in the deal became LaMarcus Aldridge and Joakim Noah. Between them, those two made eight All-Star teams. Curry was once hyped as an All-Star. By his teammates.
  • Near the ‘06 trade deadline, the Knicks sent 20-year-old Trevor Ariza to Orlando to acquire 28-year-old Steve Francis. Francis, who’d averaged 19/6/6 for Houston and Orlando, put up 11/3/3 in New York; the Marbury-Francis/Walt Frazier-Earl Monroe comparisons not only aged poorly, they were born busted. Three years later, Stevie Franchise was out of the league and Ariza was a non-delusional starter on the title-winning Lakers. Today, nearly a decade later, Ariza is a starter on the team with the league’s best record.
  • In the 2011 draft the Knicks passed on Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and Kenneth Faried to take Iman Shumpert.
  • This.
  • Dolan overriding Donnie Walsh to force through the Carmelo trade and overpay for the privilege. It undercut a dignified man respected around the league, paired D’Antoni’s pace-and-space ethos with one of the great ball-stoppers of our time, and robbed Peter to pay Paul, adding a star they could build a winner around at the cost of the roster pieces and flexibility that would have provided it.
  • Daring Jeremy Lin, the most popular Knick since — Patrick Ewing? Can that be real? — to go find an offer he couldn’t refuse in free agency, then literally trying to hide from the Rockets when they came to serve New York with the offer sheet.
  • Handing the coaching reins to Woodson without interviewing another candidate after he went 18-6 replacing D’Antoni. Over the past 15 years, the Knicks have hired four coaches who were once Coach of the Year: Don Chaney, Lenny Wilkens, Larry Brown, and Mike D’Antoni. You know how many full seasons — being on the job from game 1 through the last game of the season — those four had between them in New York? Three (technically five, but two of those were D’Antoni’s first years, when the team was tanking for LeBron and his job wasn’t “win” but “Sit on the sideline and attract some free agent superstars.”) The four coaches since ‘03 who were never Coach of the Year — Isiah, Woodson, Derek Fisher and Jeff Hornacek? That Murderer’s Row of five-star stewardship? Between them they’ve been allowed to finish seven full seasons.
  • Over the last 15 seasons, six Knicks made All-Rookie teams: Channing Frye, Landry Fields, Tim Hardaway Jr., Langston Galloway, Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez. With the exception of KP, here’s how long each remained a Knick after hitting that first-year benchmark:

Frye = 1 year
Fields = 1 year
THJ = 1 year
Galloway = 1 year
Hernangomez = 26 games

That’s over a decade of failure to launch; these players are quickly jettisoned, and it’s not like they go on to prestigious careers after they’re gone. Something is rotten in the state of your player develeopment program when your brightest young talents all fade so far, so fast.

  • Letting Phil Jackson draft Frank Ntilikina on June 22nd, then firing Jackson June 28th.
  • The Joakim Noah contract. Perhaps the Knicks looked at Golden State and took a shining to a center who can defend, pass, antagonize, provide vocal leadership, and has a history of beef with LeBron. But nobody in Big Chief Triangle’s inner circle realized two key differences between Draymond Green and Noah: Draymond still does all the things, whereas Noah used to. And Draymond can shoot, whereas...
  • The confetti MSG dropped from the rafters in 2012 after the Knicks, down 3-0 in their first-round matchup with Miami, barely won game 4 to avoid getting swept and snap the franchise’s 13-game playoff losing streak going back to 2001.
  • Trading for Derrick Rose. There are reasons that move didn’t work that have nothing to do with Rose’s effort level or commitment. The fact that Rose’s game was never going to gel with KP’s development was shortsightedly stupid, but that’s just X’s and O’s. When an organization with a legally damning history of misogyny and zero capital as far its public relations brings in a man facing sexual assault charges of any kind, it buggers belief. It doesn’t matter if you think Rose is guilty of something horrible, or that the system didn’t and that’s all that matters. The Knicks aren’t the only team to court turning off fans for reasons far beyond years of shitty basketball. They’re not even the most recent to deal with Rose fallout. But the Rose signing was a reminder that whenever you relax with this organization, they’ll do something to remind you that your fear will never die.
  • The NBA failing to force Dolan to sell the team after the Anucha Brown Sanders case exposed rampant sexism and harassment at MSG. Technically, this isn’t a Knick mistake, it’s the NBA’s. But it wasn’t long after this that Donald Sterling said horrible things and was forced to sell the Clippers. Other fan bases fantasize about going back in time for certain players or prospects. I’m stuck wishing my team’s owner had been convicted of reprehensible behavior five years later, when a different climate and different commissioner might have pressured Dolan to sell the team.

That’s all for part two. Stay tuned for part three, where we’ll explore the Knicks’ three biggest mistakes of the past 15 years.