Our New York Knickerbockers put the cherry on top of a shit sundae of an 82-game regular season on Wednesday night in a 115-89 drubbing at the hands of the playoff-bound Detroit Pistons. The game really wasn’t even as close as that score suggests, and the competitive portion was finished right around the first TV timeout of the game.
But really, it didn’t matter and nobody cared. The emphasis for this season shifted long ago from being as competitive as possible to sucking as much ass as possible to maximize lottery odds. Sure, the Knicks wanted to develop their young guys and shit, but that’s just a euphemism for the Zion movement that engulfed the Knicks, among a number of other NBA franchises.
And boy did they lose. They lost at a rate even veteran tanking GAWDS like the Phoenix Suns couldn’t match. The Cleveland Cavaliers, who are totally going to get the first pick anyway, lost 11 in a row to end the season and still never had a shot to overtake the Knicks’ tank.
It was extremely tough to bear at various points. But it was not so long ago — four years to be exact — that we endured a similarly shitty season of basketball. In 2014-15, the Knicks also sucked their way to an identical 17-65 record.
The question is: Which Knicks team sucked more?
Expectations vs. reality:
The 2014-15 Knicks entered the season with far more expectation than this year’s batch, with many, including yours truly, predicting the Knicks could challenge for one of the lower playoff seeds in the East. For one, Carmelo Anthony had agreed to re-sign with the club that summer, inking a five-year, $125 million deal complete with a no-trade clause. Presumably he did so after being convinced by the vision of new head of basketball operations, Phil Jackson, for the organization moving forward. As we now know, that season didn’t quite go as planned, and Carmelo and Phil’s partnership didn’t exactly work out as hoped either. That team tanked more as a consequence of circumstance rather than as an active choice.
Contrastingly, the Knicks of 2018-19 often hinted of a willingness to write off the campaign entirely. Buzzwords like “development” were bandied about freely when asked about what the goals for the season were. Fans were generally prepared to monitor lottery odds throughout the season even if those orange-and-blue tinted glasses prevented many of us from predicting “worst team in the league” as an outcome. Obviously, that outcome was presumed certain to be avoided when Kristaps Porzingis returned from an ACL injury some time after the All-Star break. Then there were murmurs Porzingis wouldn’t play all season, and then he was gone, just like that, along with Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke and Courtney Lee. Enes Kanter soon followed. That was unpredictable, but the Knicks’ season-long struggles were never in doubt.
Advantage: 2018-19 Knicks
Committing to youth:
The 2014-15 squad just didn’t have much in the way of young talent to begin with. Iman Shumpert was in the last year of his rookie deal, and although a hot start to the campaign had us believing in Visions of Future Shump becoming real, that fizzled out real quick. Hardaway Jr. was entering his second season after a promising first-team All-Rookie campaign, but his wildly inconsistent chucking, ineffectual defense and kinship to Tim Hardaway Sr. always made the foundation of his relationship with Knicks fans unstable and complex.
The other youth on the roster was similarly uninspiring and consisted mostly of long-shot fliers. There was Shane Larkin, who came over in the Tyson Chandler trade from Dallas and promptly had his third-year option declined. There was Cleanthony Early, who wasn’t good and didn’t play much because of that (and injuries). There were reclamation projects like Ricky Ledo and Quincy Acy who did not end up being reclaimed. Finally, we had the undrafted rookie free agents like Langston Galloway, a shining light in dark times (and playoff-bound this season!), and Travis Wear, who peaked as “The LeBron Stopper” in the second game of his career before quickly becoming Travis Wear again.
2018-19 started and ended with more promising young talent. Sure, the promise of some like Frank Ntilikina, and to a lesser extent Kevin Knox, may seem less than at the outset of the season, but the Knicks traded for Dennis Smith Jr. (forget about who they traded to get him!) and got two first-round picks as well. In terms of NP (net promise) we’ve clearly come out ahead of where we started.
But seriously, this year’s team just had so much more going for it in terms of “young guys.” Even with the noted struggles of our last two lottery picks and the newly-acquired DSJ, they’re all very much babies with multiple years left on their rookie deals. Allonzo Trier flashed a promising ability to create his own offense and started to pull more often on catch-and-shoot threes towards the end of the season rather than hesitating and isolating, a promising and not insignificant development. Damyean Dotson proved capable of knocking down triples with some consistency, unique among our perimeter players. Mitchell Robinson did a lot of very fine and excellent things consistently, including a 29-game streak with at least two blocks despite often playing under 25 minutes a night. Luke Kornet could be a KP-lite (very, very, very, very lite). Ron Baker, like Brooks, was here. This was one of the youngest teams in the league from day one, and they only got younger.
Advantage: 2018-19 Knicks
In the second half of the 2014-15 season, a phenomenon took place at Madison Square Garden that captured the hearts of Knicks fans everywhere.
He only managed 16 games with the Knicks after arriving at the trade deadline from Houston, but what a 16 games it was. In the 423 minutes he played with the Knicks, Shved captured our hearts and minds with some unrepentant chucking, wild drives to the rim, and whatever the fuck that was in the gif above! It was fun!
Cole Aldrich jump hooks were a thing.
Amar’e Stoudemire played a little bit before getting bought out.
Pablo got traded. :(
Lance Thomas arrived mid-season and was kind of fun back then, because we didn’t know he’d still be a Knick in 2019. The herky-jerky drives and pump-faking on threes to take pull-up long twos were still a novelty.
Lou Amundson. Yeah.
Jason Smith was a buttface.
Fucking Bargs played, but disappeared soon thereafter.
This season, the vets didn’t provide anywhere near the entertainment value. Aside from a few Mario Hezonja highlights and his Russell Westbrook impression to close the year, they may have actually been the worst part of the season.
Tim’s increased chucking while playing through injury hurt my soul.
Kanter acting like a martyr because he was mad about his minutes was thoroughly unenjoyable.
Lance’s quirkiness got old two years ago.
DeAndre was fine and seems nice (and was a great mentor to Mitch).
We were all done with Burke by the end.
Kadeem-sanity was cool, but he’s got nothing on Sheved (he does seem like he has more legit NBA player potential, though).
Wes Matthews played two games too many as a Knick before quickly being bought out.
Look, man, I just loved Shved. It was real.
Advantage: 2014-15 Knicks
The path forward:
After the 2014-15 season, the Knicks had Carmelo on the books for four more years at over $100 million. They were armed with roughly $30 million in cap space and some young guys — none of whom really projected to be more than a rotation player. Second-overall lottery odds landed the fourth overall pick, used on Janis’ lil bro, but the Knicks were out the next year’s lottery pick, the final piece owed in the Bargnani trade. It wasn’t a terrible situation, but the path ahead was murky and required threading a needle to build anything competitive.
With the 2018-19 season in the books, the Knicks have zero multi-year contracts on the books that aren’t rookie scale deals. They’re nearly $70 million under the cap. The young talent in place lacks a fulcrum, but Mitchell Robinson is a defensive game-changer, and the others have varying degrees of potential to develop into starters, key reserves or more (or less; much, much less). These Knicks are also similarly armed with a pick guaranteed to at least land in the top-five and have SEVEN first-round picks over the next five years.
SEVEN. KNICKS. FIRST-ROUND PICKS. THIS IS REAL LIFE.
Additionally, these Knicks, for better or worse, seem to be on the same page organizationally from the front office down to the players and everything in between. There aren’t any competing agendas or egos in place. Nobody has a timeline that the franchise needs to feel any rush to kowtow to. If they have their way this summer and sign two max free agents, that could well change, but they’re actually in a position with the assets they have to do so without completely mortgaging the future.
This is flexibility. It feels good, man. Real good.
Advantage: 2018-19 Knicks
Both of these seasons sucked. I really hope none of us have to sit through another season of this shit again any time soon. If a couple more of these young guys pop, or the Knicks get lucky in the lottery, we certainly shouldn’t have to. We have that specific hope now. Even if the Knicks pull a Chris Davis in free agency, there’s pieces on the current roster that could elevate the team moving forward.
The 2014-15 Knicks didn’t have that. Even though they did land the second-best player in the draft — I’m still taking healthy KP over D-Lo, Turner or Booker — the wagon was hitched to Carmelo, whose decline was precipitous and came tied to a full no-trade clause. Phil Jackson and the Triangle didn’t have the cache with stars that was hoped for, and without stars choosing the Knicks there was little upside, especially with a dearth of draft picks rather than the current surplus.
I can’t tell you for sure that the 2014-15 Knicks weren’t better than the 2018-19 Knicks on the court. I’d actually guess they were a more functional team. Great. Congratulations.
What I can tell you for certain is that this team has a lot more to be optimistic about both in the near future and long-term. That hope made slogging through this sucky season far less shitty than the previous Knicks iteration of going 17-65.