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January Mailbag: Mudiay, curses and burgers, oh my!

These are our readers.

It’s 2019. A new year brings new questions. Let’s try some.

1) Would signing [Emmanuel] Mudiay to a 2-year, $10M (total) deal be a good idea?

— Corpsicles

Yes! That’s about what Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox are making on their rookie contracts. Mudiay’s assist percentage (25.3%) is more than double his turnover percentage (12.5%) for the first time in his career. He’s shooting above his career numbers from virtually everywhere except behind the arc.

We don’t know if those numbers are blips that’ll revert to the mean, or — brace yourselves — if Mudiay, like Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Noah Vonleh, Trevor Ariza, etc., is one of those players who finds their stride after leaving their first team. If he has, and can give you double-digit points and a two-to-one assist/turnover ratio in 20-25 minutes a night, l’chaim!

I know, I know. What about his defense? What about his decision-making? Lemme ask you: who’s the two-way high-I.Q. young point guard out there you’re signing for less than the mid-level exception?

Mudiay makes $4.3M this season. A 16% raise for a 22-year-old coming off a career year seems too much to hope for. I don’t know what offers Mudiay will get from other teams, but presumably someone will offer more than a 16% raise. If not? Welcome back, Emmanuel.

2) Assuming Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Kyrie Irving stay with their current teams or go elsewhere, would you be open to maxing Kemba Walker for 4 years? Or would you rather...overpay someone like Ricky Rubio on a 1 and 1 deal with a team option in [y]ear 2, essentially rolling over the cap room? What’s your prediction for opening night [point guard] next season?

— LatvianPrankster

Chris Ryan and Justin Verrier recently discussed whether NBA teams should abandon pursuing a “Big Three” and instead surround one star with role players. Whether that’s true or not, you can bet the owners will embrace it, as well as embrace the “wisdom” of paying fewer players maximum salaries.

As far as the Knicks go, LP’s question does beg the question: what is the upside of signing KP and Kemba to max deals? Are either lead options on a title contender? Kemba’s not. I don’t think KP is either. Porzingis is not the prince we were promised. Porzingis’ destiny is to prepare a path for the messiah yet to come: “...there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”

I love Kemba’s game. Love it. He’s a Harlem kid. He’d fit like a glove paired with Ntilikina. He’d instantly be the best Knick combo guard of my lifetime. But he’ll be 29 when next season starts, he’s going to command over $30M a year for four years, and if you made a list of everyone in the NBA you’d pay that much, Walker wouldn’t be in your top 10, maybe even top 20.

3) Should more Courtney Lee be playing more?

— Walt Clyde Phraser

No. Lee hasn’t played since December 27th. Everyone knows he’s not a part of New York’s present or future. Every team that’d consider trading for him knows what Courtney Lee is. I don’t even remember Lee is on this team unless the cameras find him on the bench.

4) Do you think we can ship Enes Kanter to Houston for anything? I’d take a draft pick since [Clint] Capela is out for about 2 months.

— Ewing Finger Roll of Doom

There are three teams I don’t ever want the Knicks to trade with. The Celtics, because the stench of fire and brimstone forever hangs in their wake. The Bulls, because any time they’re involved in anything with the Knicks it results in years of tears. And the Rockets, who seem like the offspring of the two. So no, I wouldn’t trade Kanter there, even for a pick. Whoever the Knicks got with that pick would end up crashing into Porzingis’ ACL in a scrimmage or concussing Zion Williamson or something. No. No no no no no.

5) How do we break the curse we invoked when we didn’t let [Patrick] Ewing finish his career in NYC?!

— Cosmic55

The Ewing trade did not hex the Knicks. Ewing was an anomaly of excellence for a franchise that besides having him fall into their laps has made stupid moves for over 40 years. Wanna turn things around? Develop the youngsters. Don’t sign non-stars to stupid contracts that tie up financial flexibility and elevate the team to become just not bad enough to never get good. Hire a developmental coach when that’s what the roster needs, then hire someone to get you over the hump when you’re ready to climb. And stop worrying about the Nets’ army crawl toward mediocrity. You’re New York City’s basketball team. Act like it.

6) If the Knicks were all different burger joints, who would be which ones?

— Russ

McDonald’s = Mario Hezonja. He looks the part. He smells the part (I imagine). But when it’s time for the taste test, some quality is lacking. Quality, pretty much. You find Hezonjas all over the world: flesh-encased looks-like-the-real-things missing some essential ingredient — coolness under fire; a reliable go-to move; non-frozen beef patties — that’d take them beyond impersonating reality.

Burger King = Mudiay. Burger King burgers smell good. They taste good. There’s def good there. But the stuff that’s bad is sooo bad (the fries; the defense) it’s enough to turn people off.

White Castle = Kanter. I lived in western New York from age 10 till 30. Only once in that time, when I was 20 and visiting Long Island with college friends, did I go to a White Castle. It was a dream come true. It was only one night, and I was high as fuck, but I didn’t process that (pro’ly ‘cuz I was high as fuck). I walked away that night thinking “I will return one day, White Castle. And from that day forward you and I shall never be apart.” Ten years later when I moved back there was a White Castle five minutes from my apartment. It took me two trips and one unforgettable night on the john to realize having fun on one date with someone doesn’t mean you oughta get married.

From afar, Kanter also tantalizes: the efficiency; the board work; the transparently corny declarations of love and fealty. I’ve never remembered why, but from his college commitment to Kentucky through his time in Utah and Oklahoma City, I was an inexplicably big fan of his. When the Knicks traded for him, I was pumped. But just like White Castle, get a little close and you start feeling sick.

Arby’s = Ron Baker (posthumous). Arby’s has meat and cheese between pieces of bread. It has fries. It has soft drinks. But it’s not a burger joint. Ron Baker wears a jersey, dribbles a basketball and is in the NBA Players’ Union. But he’s not what everyone else on the floor appears to be.

Bill Gray’s = Ntilikina. Bill Gray’s is a local legend burger joint in western NY. When my family moved here in 1988, the first place we went out to eat was Bill Gray’s, whose signage proudly declares “Home of the World’s Greatest Cheeseburger.” In our case, truth in advertising would have read “Home of Food Poisoning.” We all got sick and I didn’t eat there again until a couple months ago, when I discovered the cheeseburger really is quite good. The service at Bill Gray’s is slow as shit. Even the drive-through usually takes like 10 minutes. But when you first bite into that double-cheeseburger it reminds you that a willingness to wait just a bit longer for something you want can really pay off.

You know what else is slow and hasn’t made the best first impression? Frank Ntilikina. Give him time, Knicks. Scared money don’t make money.

*Other than one unfortunate month in 2006, I’ve lived my whole life in New York state. So for a greater grub worldview, I consulted P&T’s resident burger expert, Alex Wolfe, for some help with this question. All Alex’s comments are in quotes, with my tomfoolery added after them.

“Luke Kornet is Wendy’s, a.k.a. the best burger you can get for the lowest price.”

“In-N-Out is good. Maybe a little overrated. Really fucking cheap for how good the food is, though.” Based on Alex’s take here, I’m saying In-N-Out = Noah Vonleh. In a year with so much dreck, we may overstate Vonleh’s significance. But at just $1.6M, he’s easily to steal of the season.

“Five Guys is my personal fave of all the chain burger places...I’ve never had a Five Guys shake. I can’t justify dropping $20 on just myself at a counter serve burger place.” Hmm. I too love Five Guys; I too blanch at the numbers there — the prices and the calories (apparently they have sick milkshakes, but by the time I calculate what my burgers and fries add up to, I’m looking to chase that shit with a bushel of celery stalks). Kevin Knox fits the bill here. Like, I’m absolutely loving what I’m seeing so far from him, scoring-wise. But when the day comes to pay full price, am I willing to go there? Not yet.

“I think Shake Shack’s burgers are a little overrated...[it’d] be better if everything was $3 cheaper. They’re selling poor man’s food for rich man’s prices.” Did someone say slightly overrated? Better if cheaper? Ladies, gentlemen and trans friends of all ages: Tim Hardaway Jr.!

“There’s Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr. out in the Midwest/west. Their burgers are really good for fast food.” I’m giving this to Courtney Lee. Because he’s from the Midwest. Because there’s no other connection between Lee and these joints beside that one simple fact. And because that makes this the Courtney Lee-ist answer of all.

“Bareburger is amazing. Kristaps Porzingis is Bareburger. It’s like fancy Five Guys.” I’ll take your word for it, Alex.

“Sonic is the worst burger joint. Maybe Sonic could be Lance: jack of all trades, master of none.” Yes.

“Buns Bar is...a restaurant in NYC [that] serves burgers with mozzarella buns.” This = Mitchell Robinson. The WTF factor is through the roof.

Trey Burke is tater tots.

7) At what point do you tune out the game/watch other teams? I truly like these Knicks, am enjoying watching their development, the evolving narratives, etc. They are bad, but compelling. Nonetheless, it is bad basketball and there are only so many hours in the day.

— cctoastt

I struggle with finding time to watch other teams. When my semesters are slow I’m working 40+ hours a week between that and P&T; when it gets rolling later on, that number gets up around 60+. At this point the only games I usually get to watch are late-night Western Conference matchups, because by that hour my daughter is asleep and my fiancee is free to do her thing. I devour box scores and articles. I read everything I can find on the rest of the league. I probably read too much. But until the playoffs I really don’t have hours a night to devote to James Harden’s histrionics or the 76ers slo-mo implosion.

8) If you could change the “base animal” for a unicorn from a horse to any other (real, currently existing) creature, what would it be?

— Walt Clyde Phraser

Well, if not this...

...I’d say a scorpion. Imagine those things with a horn and wings. Damn.

9) The old question...what’s scarier…that we are alone in this entire galaxy…or…we are not?


For me, being alone would be infinitely more scary.

Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman, two of my favorite writers, have both written stories in comics about self-contained worlds that exist out of time and from any connection to traditional reality or morality. In each story, the separation from any world outside their own results in endless, rampant abuses and perversion. Not “perversion” in the sense of kink. I mean the dictionary definition: “the alteration of something from its original course, meaning, or state to a distortion or corruption of what was first intended.”

If we’re alone in the universe, then for many humans “this is it” implies “nothing else matters.” We’re killing ourselves as a planet putting that idea into practice. If we’re not alone, there’s something new for us to aspire to, to measure ourselves against. Our understanding of humanity would expand, and potentially, ideally, so would our greatest potentials. Our lesser angels would also evolve; they’ll always force us to confront them and ourselves. But if we’re alone in the universe, our fights over Mudiay and Ntilikina and the Barguments of days gone by are automatically elevated by nature of the fact that they exist. I cannot imagine our cosmos, so rich in symmetry and wonder, would permit such absurdity.

That’s all, folks. It’s 20 below zero in Rochester, so I’ma get my drink on now. See y’all soon.