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August Mailbag, Part Two: The best, worst and most fun Knicks this decade, playoff paths and national anthems

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Warning: unfettered opinions are closer than they appear

2008 CineVegas Film Festival - Closing Night Party Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for CineVegas

Part one of this three-part mailbag dropped Friday. The middles of trilogies always get me the hottest, so let’s get to it!

1) Can you give us your All-Decade Knicks team(s)? [Y]our top 5 Knicks from 2010-2019, one fun team (fan favorites or your personal favorite players), and one trash team (the players you disliked the most or thought were the worst)?

— NoZing Kristaps Me

Who is the worst Knick of the 21st century?

— CrownJulius

After crunching some numbers and traipsing around me own gulliver, I give you the Knicks All-Decade teams:

FIRST TEAM: Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton

SECOND TEAM: Kristaps Porzingis, Kyle O’Quinn, Tim Hardaway Jr., Landry Fields, Courtney Lee

Quite a drop-off, huh? It’s been that kind of decade.

Melo and Chandler were easy choices for first team. Stoudemire’s first year in New York bested any of Porzingis’ individual seasons, and KP is the rare comp who doesn’t win points for being more durable than Amar’e. If you go by win shares, Enes Kanter (11) put up more in New York than O’Quinn (8.7), but if you think this corny shit is ever getting accolades off of me, think again.

Like all trickster gods, J.R. Smith is best remembered for his antics rather than his gifts. But like the trickster Titan Prometheus, J.R. brought us badly-needed fire. Who’s the last Knick guard before Smith to hit averages of at least 18 points, five rebounds and three assists during their run in New York? Not Stephon Marbury. Not Jamal Crawford. Not Latrell Sprewell. Not Mark Jackson. Try Micheal Ray Richardson nearly 40 years ago. Felton’s inclusion is as much an indictment of the organization’s repeated inability to develop or acquire talented point guards as it is any credit due to him.

The second team is more a testament to roster turnover than any actual greatness. Lee was sentient and upright merely long enough to be “meh,” but the 2010s were the second-worst decade in Knick history as far as winning percentage; only the prior decade was worse. I pity y’all youngins.

NYK WINNING % 2010-2019 = .408

NYK WINNING % 2000-2009 = .399

NYK WINNING % 1990-1999 = .617

That’s the anatomy of how late-stage Courtney Lee ends up anywhere near a position of honor.

“Landry Fields?” you pro’ly spat out in disgust. Don’t forget Fields won Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month his first two months, before John Wall ran away with the honor. Fields was exciting that first year. Second year, too.

If I could sum up Fields’ rise-and-fall career arc in one clip:

Some hope for the future: last year as a rookie, despite starting just 19 games and finishing seventh on the team in minutes, Mitchell Robinson created 6.1 win shares. The only Knicks this decade to best that mark over a single season were Carmelo, Chandler, STAT, J.R. and Kanter.

The most enjoyable team of the past 10 years?

FUN TEAM: Jeremy Lin, Pablo Prigioni, Lou Amundson, Alexey Shved, Mario Hezonja

First things first: I’m struck at the lack of melanin in all five choices for my “fun” team. Is there an underlying prejudice here, the same prejudice that leads the same fan base who’ll boo a Melo or Stoudemire if they shoot 42% over a month to cheer 12th men white guys as heroes for making a single shot in garbage time? Impossible not to consider the role unconscious biases may have played here. I almost put Chris Copeland and J.R. on this team, but looking at the lineup selected, more than half the fun team was chosen for reasons having nothing to do with winning basketball. I wonder if there are other forces at play than my surface-level thinking.

Lin led the most fun Knick stretch of play this century. Don’t forget the night he outplayed Kobe in leading New York to a win on national TV. Kobe never forgot it.

And Pablo. Ahh, Pablo.......

Six years ago, my life was at a low point. I lost a child, a relationship ended unexpectedly, and I was broke and unemployed. I moved four times in nine months. Two years later I was back on my feet and Lou Amundson was a Knick. The Times ran a great piece about his journeyman career leading Lou to become an “aspiring minimalist.” He really did come by it honestly:

“Amundson’s journey is extreme: He has played for the Utah Jazz (one game), the Philadelphia 76ers (26 games), the Suns (155 games), the Golden State Warriors (46 games), the Pacers (60 games), the Minnesota Timberwolves (20 games), the Bulls (two games in two separate stints), the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans (36 games), the Cleveland Cavaliers (12 games), and now the Knicks. Amundson, who was not drafted out of Nevada-Las Vegas, signed with the Sacramento Kings after college but was cut before he could play a game.”

The article also contains a darling exchange that Lou’s neurodiagnostic technologist mother, Eloise Berg, had with then-Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman when Amundson played there:

“Berg recalled accompanying Amundson to the Timberwolves’ team Christmas party in 2012 and politely asking Rick Adelman, then the team’s coach, why her son was not playing very much.

‘I’m just worried that if he doesn’t get good stats, no one’s going to hire him,’ she recalled telling Adelman. To Berg’s small relief, Adelman said that Amundson’s professional demeanor and work ethic would earn him many more jobs in the league and that she should be very proud of her son.”

Twenty years of shitty basketball has led me to follow the humanity as much as the competition, and as humans go, Lou Amundson was one of the most interesting and easy to root for in the blue and orange.

I will always love Hezonja for being so out in carrying himself the way so many of us do only in private, if at all — he really believes he’s the shit, and that the world will catch on, eventually. That mentality is how you start out in Dubrovnik end up in Manhattan doing this.

And the chutzpah earned from a lifetime of those moments leads to these.

Then there’s Shved. And yes, lefty Euro guards are undoubtedly my kink. But while sometimes beauty is unmistakable perfection...

there’s also beauty in the breakdown.

Shved was the perfect player to follow in a doomed campaign, whether he was nearly putting up consecutive triple-doubles or moonbeaming turnovers. If you’re ever stuck on the highway to hell, you don’t want straight-edgers like Lance Thomas or Jason Smith driving the bus. You hand over the wheel to the Shveds of this earth and you pull up to the obsidian gates with a rising song in your dying heart.

As for the schwiggiest of the schwag:

WORST TEAM: Frank Ntilikina, Lance Thomas, Mike Bibby, Cleanthony Early, Anthony Randolph

First off: while CrownJulius mentioned “players [I] disliked” as a method of selecting this team, the truth is as bad as this decade has been, I never found myself disliking the players. This is a stark contrast from the 2000s, specifically the Isiah Thomas teams. That was the one and only time in my life I ever stopped watching the Knicks. There were days I just couldn’t stand Nate Robinson’s immaturity, Eddy Curry’ contentedness, Jerome James’ real-time early retirement or seeing the life and joy sucked out of Stephon Marbury.

(This is why, for me, no Knick power-broker has ever approached being as bad as Isiah. He assembled shit teams that were literally unwatchable. He said the Knicks had a home-court disadvantage because NYC audiences were too willing to cheer for opposing stars rather than the home team [classic abuser logic of blaming the victim while absolving himself of any responsibility]. He once claimed he was no more of a failure than Pat Riley or Jeff Van Gundy because none of them had led the Knicks to a championship. I haven’t even mentioned Anucha Brown Sanders, or the police saying he used his daughter to cover up his own suicide attempt, or the time he all but demanded his team start a brawl, or his vertiginous privileging of misogynistic language based on race:

Phil Jackson was a bad flu. Scott Layden was bronchitis. Isiah was the plague.)

I know there are legions of you out there who post 11-tweet threads every time Frank chews gum while walking upright, always against lesser competition. On the record, I still think Ntilikina can develop into a meaningful two-way player for the Knicks. But objectively, his production his first two seasons has been poor. Very. I don’t wanna hear about that one time he was bird-dogging Kyrie, or whatever credit you think he deserves for a few possessions in a game where James Harden had 61 points, hit 67 percent of his twos and got to the line 25 times. Go tell it on the mountain. Down here in reality, we’re not interested.

Lance Thomas in a gray suit is quite handsome. He seems like a good dude, so I’m going to stop after those two compliments. I believe my feelings and his game have more than made themselves clear over the years.

As a big fan of the early 2000s Sacramento Kings, I understood why they eventually upgraded from Jason Williams to Mike Bibby. Bibby was undoubtedly the superior player. But even for an organization whose DNA compels them to sign past-their-prime talents, the Bibby whose career endgame was 39 tepid appearances as a Knick in 2011-12 was strikingly washed. In the seven years since retiring, Bibby has apparently forsaken basketball, food and sleep in order to just lift weights 24/7.

Do you remember when Cleanthony Early was drafted? There’d been talk about him as a late first rounder, and that San Antonio had been interested in him? So when the Knicks got him early in the second round, we all naturally responded as if we’d just outsmarted the Spurs and the league at large, and patted each other on the backs for the “Clean Tony” nickname? Here he is bossing the Japanese league.

As far as Anthony Randolph, you have to be of a certain age (I’m getting tired of how often I am of a certain age where writing “you have to be of a certain age” is required of me) to remember this man was drafted with as much potential as 99 percent of all NBA players. When the Knicks traded David Lee for him in July of 2009, remember Randolph was still a week away from turning 21 and had just averaged 11.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in less than 23 minutes per game for Golden State. In his brief, brief time as a Knick, there is little to remember Randolph for. The fact that the only video I could find was a clip of him dunking ahead of the field in a preseason game against Armani Jeans Milano kinda sums up his Knick career.

The closest thing he’s had to a Knick postscript is trying to pull Kristaps Porzingis’ arm out of its socket.

To answer CrownJulius’ question, the worst Knick this century doesn’t make the All-Worst team, because he’s so bad he doesn’t even deserve an ironic honor. First I’d like to give a shout-out to the runner-up, who deserves a mention only because he’s actually a halfway decent player who only suited up twice for the Knicks, but in those two games he was light years removed from his career norm. For putting up seven points a game and shooting around 20 percent from the field and from three, this bud’s for you, Wesley Matthews.

But there is another, worser Knick. Any guesses? Hint No. 1: these are his entire career’s game logs.

Still unsure? The Knicks waiving this player prompted an ex-Knick to post this on Instagram:

View this post on Instagram

#OnceAgain

A post shared by JR Smith (@teamswish) on

If you still don’t know who I’m talking about, count yourself lucky. The player in question was 100 percent a reminder that nepotism is one of the key ingredients in the make-up of our species, a make-up leading inexorably toward the destruction of ourselves by ourselves.

2) What is the best strategy to get this team to the playoffs this season?

1. Team ball and absolutely no egos?
2. Trade for that missing link or two mid-season?
3. No chance this season?
4. Breakout season by three players (one ain’t gonna do it)?
5. Sack the coach and hire…..?
6. Other?

— Nck11

I think the answer is 3, so long as it isn’t 2. Unless there are devastating injuries or seismically shocking trades, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston, Indiana, Brooklyn are all locks, with Orlando, Atlanta and Miami seemingly likelier playoff bets than New York. But injuries and trades do happen all the time, which is why when I envision the Knicks making the postseason, I gotta figure it stems from a trade or two. I think this team is still wildly deficient in the backcourt.

I can imagine the Wizards being out of it by January, the Knicks holding respectably about five games under .500, and then a deal happening whereby New York sends their first-round pick this year, one of the Dallas picks, Kevin Knox and salary relief to the Beltway for Bradley Beal, then a Beal/Randle nucleus leading a late-season charge for the eighth seed. I think that’s your surest path to the playoffs.

3) More painful to be: a fan of the Mets or the Knicks?

— The only Knick with the Knack

I’ve dated people like the Knicks and people like the Mets. The Knicks carry the magic of beautiful people in hard-copy photos; they were magical in the world before this one. When you dream of them, you’re dreaming of a whole other reality. The dream is so big, so unlikely, it’s enough for you in and of itself. You know it probably won’t happen, certainly anytime soon, but the possibility of change is enough. You can love a person like that a long time because it’s from a distance.

The Mets almost always alternate 4-5 years of failure with 4-5 years of good play. They don’t stumble long enough to ever turn your back on them, but whenever you do commit you know the ride comes with an expiration date. You will never marry the Mets because they will never deserve it. But if their life-draining fuck-up parents were to die, they might be free enough long enough to break the chains within. Unfortunately their parents seem the type who life keeps alive long enough to teach us a lesson the rest of us die before ever discerning.

The Mets are easier to date. But I’m still saving up ring money for the Knicks.

4) Top five national anthems in order?

— WhyAlwaysMe?

From fourth-runner up to the mother of all anthems:

5. Japan

The Japanese national anthem is the shortest. As a despiser of almost all things nationalism, I appreciate a people who would apparently rather live their lives than serenade a construct.

4. San Marino

San Marino’s anthem contains no lyrics. If you, like me, have to hear a song 100 times before your subconscious gets a hold of the lyrics ‘cuz your conscious brain just can’t be bothered, you appreciate San Marino. If national anthems were a global classroom, San Marino is the lone left-handed desk.

3. Wales

Just straight fucking glorious:

2 (tie). Ukraine

This is wow. Wow. Wow. If you somehow are in need of more reasons to think “Fuck Vladimir Putin,” here ya go.

2 (tie). Palestine

Palestine’s national anthem may be the richest, as far as emotions engaged. I feel literally every feeling I can imagine listening to this. The ASMR is strong with this anthem.

1. Puerto Rico

This is easy.

That’s right! Am I perhaps a bit biased as a Puerto Rican? Or because I learned this on the piano 25 years ago and still get a rush watching it pour from my hands? (checks notes) Nope. Not even a little.

That’s all for Part Two, the penultimate mailbag portion. Keep your eyes open for the Part Three later this week.