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August Mailbag, Part One: Hoping, coaching and sports media we love to hate

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Running the emotional gamut from end to end

Premiere Of Disney’s “The Lion King” - Arrivals Photo by Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage

We got sooo many great questions from last week’s mailbag invite that this is going to be a three-part Leviathan of a listing. Here’s part one, with two and three to come next week.

1) On a scale of one to ten......

I’m excited to root for this Knicks team to win, knowing all the while they’re not a playoff contender. That’s an unusual two-fer this decade. There’ve been years the Knicks were committed to losing; there were years they fancied themselves a playoff team. This year is neither.

The new lottery format made what seemed an effective argument against full-out tanking by rewarding three of the top four picks to teams outside the bottom three; even the Knicks caught a swig of Adam Silver’s bitter nectar last May, dropping from the top spot to third. I’ll enjoy seeing them push for 30 wins. That hasn’t always the case, either; there’ve been plenty of years the Knicks seemed a lock for the treadmill of sub-mediocrity without anyone being excited about it.

But this isn’t winning 30 games behind Al Harrington and Chris Duhon and Jared Jeffries. Winning 30 this year would mean nearly doubling last year’s total, and doing so mostly(?) hopefully(?) thanks to the players you care about the most on this roster, all of whom are 25 and younger: Frank Ntilikina (21), Dennis Smith Jr. (21), Damyean Dotson (25), Kevin Knox (20), Mitchell Robinson (21), Allonzo Trier (23), RJ Barrett (19), Iggy Brazdeikis (20), and even Julius Randle (24).

At this point in prior summers this decade, I’ve been struggling with losing Jeremy Lin, furiously rationalizing the Andrea Bargnani deal and lighting every votive candle in sight praying for an end to the Carmelo Anthony trade speculation. The purity of anticipating a young team just trying and learning while hopefully pro’ly winning more games than either of the prior two seasons is very exciting. Very exciting indeed.

2) Will David Fizdale be up to the task next season? What evidence [do] we have that might suggest he will manage to elevate the team play and what worries / encourages u most from what he showed last season?

— home made pizza?

...and if it does not seem to be happening, when would be the time to make a change (how do we avoid both change for change’s sake and continuity for continuity’s sake)?

— felinequickness

The great unspoken variable this season is head coach David Fizdale. Will he be up to the task of leading the Knicks out of the wilderness? Where’s there proof he can promote this promising but precarious blend of vets with something to prove and younger long-term players looking to make their place in the league?

I don’t know.

There’s so little track record of Fizdale as head coach that projecting anything this season is a fool’s errand. On Sunday, Dec. 1, New York hosts Boston in an afternoon matinee. It’s their 20th game of the season. Assuming Fiz hasn’t been fired by then, that game will mark his longest-ever NBA coaching gig, surpassing the 19-game second season that ended with his termination in Memphis. Essentially, felinequickness is asking how Fiz will fare running a marathon when we’ve barely seen him do anything more than a 5K. Now add to that fact the truth that last year was not a case of Fizdale being asked to galaxy-brain his Xs-and-Os knowledge and translate them to Ws. Last year his task was to develop and encourage the youngsters through a difficult-ass campaign. This season?

Even beyond Fizdale himself, this question essentially asks how Fizdale will fare running a marathon in a place where most people don’t even make the attempt. There’s so little track record for Knicks coaches lasting more than two years on the job that the smart money says to assume Fiz is gone by the end of the season. We all know the pratfalls and pitfalls of New York’s coaching lurches under Lucky Sperm Jim: the only coach A.D. (after Dolan) to man the helm for at least three full seasons was Mike D’Antoni. Nine other coaches have led this team since Jeff Van Gundy (whom Dolan inherited when he took over) walked away. That means 90 percent of those coaches didn’t last three years.

We laugh and cry at our here-and-now nightmare, but don’t get it twisted: as Knick history goes, this instability is closer to the rule than an exception. Knick coaches before Dolan didn’t do as poorly, but the Knicks are about as far removed as can be from the San Antonio Spurs (one coach since December of 1996), the Pittsburgh Steelers (three coaches since 1969), or (squints in disbelief, being old enough to remember the old Steinbrenner Yankees) the New York Freakin’ Yankees (three managers since 1996):

  • Van Gundy = 5+ seasons
  • Don Nelson = 59 games
  • Pat Riley = 4 seasons
  • John McLeod = 67 games
  • Stu Jackson = 1+ seasons
  • Rick Pitino = 2 seasons
  • Bob Hill = 66 games
  • Hubie Brown = 4+ seasons, see?
  • Red Holzman = 3+ seasons
  • Willis Reed = 1+ seasons
  • Holzman = 9+ seasons
  • Dick McGuire = 1 full season + parts of 2 seasons
  • Harry Gallatin = 63 games over 2 seasons
  • Eddie Donovan = 3+ seasons
  • Carl Braun = 1+ seasons
  • Fuzzy Levane = 1+ seasons
  • Vince Boryla = 2+ seasons
  • Joe Lapchick = 8+ seasons
  • Neil Cohalan = 1 season

I think Fizdale may benefit from part of what carried D’Antoni for so (relatively) long at MSG: lowered expectations. D’Antoni wasn’t expected to do anything his first two years beyond install his system and be a free agent talent magnet. He basically got two years free, then about a half a season to see his system applied to a star forward who was a perfect foundation for it, then see a new star forward come in who was basically the antithesis of his system, then see an out-of-nowhere guard assume a starring role in that system for about a month, and then... bupkis.

If the Knicks win 30-plus games this year and show any remote semblance of a coherent style of play on both ends, I think he buys himself at least another year. The other variable to consider is which coaches may be available near the end of the season. Since Mike Woodson replaced D’Antoni, the Knicks have only hired young, generally unestablished head coaches (Derek Fisher; Jeff Hornacek; Fizdale).

If a prominent coach were available and the team thought that might help cinch bringing in Anthony Davis, or a trade target was interested in coming here to play for a coach they admire, would the Knicks go there? Say Bradley Beal is willing to play in Manhattan if the Knicks put Scott Brooks (OAKAAKUYOAK) in charge. I don’t know if Fizdale survives that.

3) Who are your bottom-5 NBA Twitter/media personalities?

— The Ghost of Kristaps Past

In order from bad to worst:

5) Bill Simmons

This is Twitter Bill Simmons in 2019.

It’s a tired joke. Undoubtedly slandering the Knicks has an ever-thirsty audience, but over the years as Simmons’ reach has grown, his grasp of what’s funny is slipping. This crack isn’t funny because I’m a Knicks fan. It isn’t funny because it’s the obvious joke to make. If you watch late-stage Marx Brothers movies, or Adam Sandler, or even my beloved Dave Chappelle, you’ve seen this go down; comedians and musicians seem at particular risk of this fall. If your appeal is your ability to relate to everyday people, but your success takes you way beyond the everyday experience of most people, then you may no longer be the you that they were drawn to.

Simmons has grown shrunk into such a diminished state of himself I don’t even think of him as the same personality I once did. He’s a different entity now, no longer the underdog fan of underdog teams. His Patriots are really the perfect parallel for his own career this century: no one could have imagined the heights that would be reached this century, but at what cost? Simmons’ original appeal was how he honored and dignified the vantage of the everyday fan, an identity so often derided by players, owners and media as required but resented.

I was a big fan of Grantland and I do enjoy a lot of content on The Ringer. But once upon a time I woke up Friday mornings feening to read Simmons’ pieces and mailbags. Then as he slowed down, I resented that fact, because I missed his writing that much. Now I don’t even think of him as active. In the end he reminds me a lot of Carmelo, in that it almost doesn’t make sense that someone who was so good at their craft is now an afterthought. Almost. But if you’ve paid attention the whole time...it does.

4) Justin Termine/Zach Harper

I mostly know Termine through his satellite radio show with Eddie Johnson. Sometimes they’re funny. Sometimes. But Termine and Johnson are like two dogs who never learned how play-biting differs from legit attacking someone. The number of laughs they produce doesn’t justify the volume of cringe-inducing insults and yelling that goes into them.

Termine, in particular, shows no deftness of touch when being self-deprecating or when trying to poke Johnson. Especially discomforting are exchanges when Termine makes sexually suggestive comments in the direction of Johnson’s daughter. You ever know people who you can’t bust balls with, ‘cuz they always take it too far, too fast? That’s Termine. His personality, coupled with a voice that literally sounds like everything that’s wrong with white men, makes Termine a... wait for it... in-termine-able listen.

Zach Harper laughs at his owns jokes. A LOT. And he’s a dick on Twitter a lot, too. He reminds me of Peter Jennings. Jennings always seemed way too self-assured for my liking. I don’t really think of him as a bad dude, at all. I just didn’t like how seamlessly certain he seemed about himself. Harper strikes me as someone who hit a bloop double off the end of the bat against the shift and goes home that night convinced he hit a line drive off the top of the wall.

3) NetsDaily

I am a Mets fan. For most of this season, the Mets were a not good, losing team. About a month ago, they started winning and didn’t stop. They’ve won 21 of their last 26 games, propelling them from would-be sellers at the trade deadline to just 1.5 games out of a wild card spot. It makes for a much more enjoyable summer, my baseball team giving me reason to watch.

I can’t tell you the Yankees’ record, or their division lead, or where they stand for homefield advantage in the American League. I can’t tell you because I don’t care. I’m having too much fun with my team’s success to care what the Yanks are doing. The only way the Yankees register again with me this year is if the two teams meet in October, or if the Metropolitans’ season has come to an end and the Bombers are still playing. That’s it.

I’m a fan of the Mets, the Knicks, the Rangers and Manchester City. All of those teams play in cities with local rivals. Two of them have always been the big dogs in town; two have been the little brother. I’ve seen Man City rise and eclipse Manchester United. Seen the Mets run NYC for almost a decade. I grew up in Uniondale while the Islanders were winning four straight Stanley Cups and the “1940!” chant was born. I’ve seen a lot of perspectives as a sports fan over the years.

I don’t understand the obsession NetsDaily has with the Knicks. I went on ND’s Twitter page just now. Only had to go down two tweets to find a mention of the Knicks:

On the one hand, this is something any fanbase might remember and respond to: a random memory of something that happened 20+ years ago. On the other hand, the idea that the Nets were specifically giving away courtside playoff seats to fans of their local rival is astonishing!

Even more astonishing? That despite this obvious inferiority complex, NetsDaily repeatedly acts like the Nets are superior. This isn’t your typical “My team is better than yours” parochialism. It feels like if NetsDaily doesn’t write or tweet 12 times a day about the Knicks, his soul is forfeit to Beelzebub.

Do you remember in the winter of 2010, when the Nets under Mikhail Prokhorov were publicly trying to trade for Carmelo Anthony? It was obvious Melo wanted to come to the Knicks, not the Nets; it was also obvious he wanted a contract extension before agreeing to a deal. The Knicks were the obvious frontrunner. When the Nets finally accepted reality, and that they wouldn’t be able to acquire Anthony, Prokhorov “called off” their “pursuit” of someone who wasn’t interested, derisively claiming he never even spoke with “Carmela.” Get it? It’s funny ’cuz that’s a woman’s name, and the joke was comparing Carmelo to a woman because women are inferior, and once Prokhorov knew Melo wasn’t an option he pretended to be the dumper rather than the dumpee.

That whole story? That’s how Nets Twitter often behaves. NetsDaily in particular. I feel like if the Knicks and Nets were anthropomorphized, and the Knicks jumped off a bridge, the Nets would jump, too, screaming the whole way down about how much faster the impact will kill them than New York.

2) Kevin Harlan

First, let’s get Harlan out of the way. Harlan shows no care for the fact that a game is a living, breathing thing. Emphasis on “breathing.” There is flow, phrasing, feel. Games move back and forth, up and down. Most people who sit to watch one are not only aware of these truths, they’re anticipating them. They want to feel the story of that game unfold over them. Harlan, for me, cares more about being ready to raise his voice and trying to re-package every slam dunk as if we’ve never seen one before than he does the actual game. Players are often derided for failing to keep the big picture in mind.

Announcers deserve even more scrutiny, being observers and not participants. Mike Breen, Marv Albert, Ian Eagle, Doris Burke, even the usually unflappable Clyde Frazier: each are capable of conveying excitement without losing the plot. Kevin Harlan is the premature ejaculation of play-by-play announcers. Like John Sterling, Harlan treats the game as a canvas to spill himself over, at the expense of actually sharing accurate information.

You wanna defend your man? Don’t bother. You can have him. Harlan is not my people.

1) Reggie Miller

Nikola Jokic is not Novak Djokovic.

Also:

Apparently Miller owns a lot of Kodak stock or something.

Reggie, stop trying to make “fetch” happen. It’s not going to happen.

I resent Miller the broadcaster for multiple reasons. I don’t find him to be insightful, or funny, or beautiful. He is a hated Knick tormentor, too, but that’s not it. For instance, I could not stand Scottie Pippen back in the day. But I’ve heard him talk about basketball in ways that make me stop, listen and think.

Reggie Miller doesn’t have a job broadcasting NBA games because he’s especially deserving of it. He was a great player and a big name, and TV execs don’t think of fans as deserving honor or dignity. It’s more just throw ’em some chum and wait for the ratings to come. “Reggie Miller” was a popular NBA marquee name 20 years ago, so even if, say, Anthony Bonner has more analytic chops, or can at least be bothered to spend as much time remember the players’ names as he does chasing and harassing married women, as well as threatening those women’s fiancés when confronted about the harassment, he’d never get the gig. Because socially, we treat fame as the universal conduit of merit: if you got rich and famous doing one thing, you can do just about anything else.

That’s all for part one, comrades. Stay tuned for the middle and conclusion of the trilogy next week.