It was inevitable, really. The post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas emotional reckoning of something I like to call Seasonal Knicks Disorder. It’s that delightful chunk of the season when Knick fans everywhere begin to break up with the expectation of wins and losses as a marker for success. We’ve been through the preseason hope and intrigue, sat through 20-odd games of trying to rationalize the on-court product, and now we embark on a period of emotional turmoil where we oscillate between anger and apathy towards the Orange and Blue, before eventually committing to the psychological safe house of capital-T Tanking from January onwards.
The season’s just begun. The season’s over. There’s always next season.
The onset of Seasonal Knicks Disorder isn’t pleasant, but it’s a good thing, ultimately. It’s self-preservation. It starts with the painful realization that this season is no different to the others, that you’ve invested time and energy in a team that — once again — feels like it was constructed by a group of toddlers tripping acid.
Every lost season has it’s own flavor of despair. This one so far is like being repeatedly kicked in the shins. Lots of little kicks. In exactly the same spot. Relentless shin-kicking. As relentless as, for example, just off the top of my head, Julius Randle turning the ball over in traffic, again, 30 seconds after his last turnover in traffic.
Of course we’ll make threats to stop presenting our shins willingly, to hobble away and only return after some miraculous organizational overhaul. But they’re empty, these threats of healthy abandonment. And this is the beauty of Seasonal Knicks Disorder; we get all our anger out in a good old fashioned cathartic break-up. Smash some smash-able items. Slam some doors. Stare out of the window wistfully pining for Luke Kornet. Only to come back a few hours later, watch some Frank Ntilikina highlights from that 13-point offensive explosion against Philly, and remember why you can’t leave.
Because there are reasons to stay. They’re just fragile and distant and aren’t yet strong enough to win basketball games. Mitchell Robinson is one of the most tantalizing athletic prospects in the NBA. Kevin Knox’s shooting form is a work of art. RJ Barrett is a future All-Star and I’ll happily take your money if you disagree. Frank Ntilikina might be the best teammate in the history of sports. If, for some reason, I had a newborn baby whose upbringing I had to entrust to a stranger from New York, I would choose Frank. That’s right, he’s my starting point guard and now the legal guardian of my hypothetical child.
We have cap flexibility, and all our picks, and James Dolan hasn’t done anything absurd for a whole month now. This is progress. It’s all going to be fine.
Coping with another dud season hinges on investment in lots of moral victories, wrapped up in the meta moral victory of NBA Draft salvation. Steer clear of hoping for wins, beware of fake comebacks and pray for the necessary front office willpower to resist a win-now trade at all costs.
The currencies of the next 60 games are as follows: Robinson’s foul rate. Knox’s minutes per game. Knox’s ability to survive defensively on switches in said minutes. Barrett’s free throw shooting. Barrett’s 3-point shooting. Ntilikina surviving the return of Elfrid Payton unscathed. David Fizdale’s employment status. Dennis Smith Jr.’s GPS coordinates. Randle’s pick-and-roll usage. The number of future draft picks in the Knicks asset war chest.
Micro-analysis of game by game individual development insulated by and wrapped up in the macro-perspective of another high lottery pick. This is where we find ourselves, at the start of December, again. In a funny and totally unintentional way, the Knicks are adhering to the tenets of peak Sam Hinkie “Process” rebuilding; get as many bites at as many high draft picks as possible. Maybe we look back at 2019-20, at the Fizdale and Randle experience, as the price of acquiring our version of Joel Embiid.
If you still hold out hope for this season’s team, if you’re still invested in this season’s win total, then I admire your fortitude. I hope I’m wrong and you’re right and a winning streak is just around the corner; but for sanity’s sake, I’m retreating into the psychological safety of the fact that this season’s win total means nothing when weighed against another bite at another potential savior next summer.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be watching Cole Anthony highlights for the next five months.