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February mailbag, part one: Who to draft, lottery vs. playoffs, ’sup with The Ringer and what kind of fan are you?

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Three months till the Knicks don’t advance in the lottery!

ESPN The Magazine After Dark NBA All-Star Party Photo by Brian To/FilmMagic

Long time no mailbag. Tune in and turn on, friends.


1) Should we draft a point guard if he’s not the best player available?

— Russ

Picture it: Siciliy. 1922 — I mean, Chicago, 5/19/20. The draft lottery comes and goes and the Knicks, unexpected winners of four of their last five games, fall to sixth. On draft night, LaMelo Ball and Killian Hayes are long gone by the time New York’s on the clock. The best player left on the board is James Wiseman. What do they do?

For me, Russ’s question comes down less to player than skill set. If there are any two Knicks generally held as pieces for the future, it’s RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. Barrett is not a good shooter and Mitch doesn’t shoot, period. So if the best player on the board is Wiseman, a physically gifted big who played just three games at Memphis before being ruled ineligible and made only 15% of his 3-pointers and 55% of his free throws as a high school senior, what do you do? Do you select a prospect at one of the only positions you might be secure at already? Can you afford to invest that highly in yet another player who can’t shoot?

What if the BPA is Isaac Okoro? Would you draft the anti-Kevin Knox two years after picking Knox? Okoro is a superior defender but has hit just 27% of his threes and 66% at the foul line. Could Mitch, RJ and Okoro all play together without the offense resembling an asthma attack?

It pro’ly all comes down to which point guard(s) are available. If the best one left is Tyrese Haliburton, I’m cool choosing a guard who’s 40%-plus over two seasons from deep. If the best guard left is Cole Anthony — and the consensus on him is, there is none — I dunno, man. Hayes, Ball and Haliburton excite me as potential point guards. There’s still plenty of time to form new opinions, but at this point, if they’re gone, I take the BPA. No one on this roster is a surefire hit.

Interesting note: RJ has played 70% of his minutes at the 2-guard and 30% at the 3. When I watch Julius Randle play, I can envision an older, bigger, better-shooting Barrett assuming that role. How much muscle would he need to add? It’s not hard to imagine him packing on about 20 pounds of muscles before his rookie deal is up and being that rare Justise Winslow-type specimen who can play anywhere from the 1 up through 4.

2) At what pick would you rather have that pick than make the playoffs? Because it’s a pretty obvious team-building preference to have the No. 1 pick over making the playoffs, but it is likewise obvious that you would prefer the 15th pick and 8th seed to the 14th pick and a near 0% chance of moving up.

— Spike Lee’s Joint

Depends. People keep saying this is a bad draft class. Some classes are. Take 2000. Your lottery picks that summer: Kenyon Martin, Stromile Swift, Darius Miles, Marcus Fizer, Mike Miller, DeMarr Johnson, Chris Mihm, Jamal Crawford, Joel Pryzbilla, Keyon Dooling, Jérôme Moïso, Etan Thomas, Courtney Alexander and Mateen Cleaves. Fourteen players who’d combine for one and only one All-Star selection (K-Mart). The only other player in the entire draft to make an ASG was the 43rd pick, Michael Redd. The 2000 draft’s career leader in win shares went 16th to Sacramento.

Then again, in 2014 there seemed a consensus that the class headlined by Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker was the best one in decades. Yet only two players from that draft have been All-Stars: the third pick, Joel Embiid, and the 41st selection, Nikola Jokić. That’s a lotta keystrokes to basically say: no one really knows anything about these drafts.

I’m of the opinion that a team with little to get excited about can’t be choosy, so while this draft may not be the cat’s meow, the Knicks would do well to add anything of value to the roster. Marcus Smart went No. 7 in 2014; Jamal Crawford went No. 8 in 2000. Neither was ever named an All-Star, but I’d take a player of their impacts over four blowouts against the Bucks. I’d take the playoffs over picks 12-14. On account of missing that feeling when your team is a road underdog and got pasted early but late in the third quarter they get a three to pull within eight and against all reason you start believing they win game one, and if they can win game one they can win home games, and soon you’re mapping out roads to the conference finals.

Quirk of note: the 2005 Miami Heat included Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning and Christian Laettner, the top three picks from the 1992 draft. Less glamorously, picks 7 and 9-11 from 2013 have all played for the Knicks: Randle, Noah Vonleh, Elfrid Payton and Doug McDermott.

3) [On a scale of] 1-10, what level of optimism do you have for the next decade of Knicks basketsports?

— The only Knick with the Knack

James Dolan is 64 years old. The average life expectancy of the American male is just short of 78. It is not mathematically irresponsible to suppose Dolan could be on his way to that great unearned gig in the sky by 2030. You see where I’m going with this? You don’t.

Dolan has access to dietary and medical luxuries most of us could never dream of. He could certainly haunt Madison Square Garden for another 20-plus years. Plus, even if aging compelled him to relinquish power, that’d mean Dolan would be choosing his own replacement. You think his final hire will be any more inspired than everything else we’ve seen? This could be the next Knick boss.

I may be unusually cynical right now about team owners, given that the Wilpons managed to screw up a sale that had Met fans salivating at returning to behaving like a New York City franchise with an NYC payroll and Manchester City is facing an existential crisis because their owners have spent years trying to out-scum UEFA, Europe’s scumbag soccer governing body. As a Knick fan, I’d put my excitement level for the coming decade at a 4/10. The team will probably still suck, but Hall of Famers Mike Breen and Clyde Frazier will have given way to Ed Cohen and Wally Szczerbiak. So just the experience of sucking will suck more.

4) Does my lack of understanding and absence of curiosity about contracts, salary caps, and front office people make me enjoy basketball less or more?

— cctoastt

Maybe.

I’d guess it makes you closer in genealogy to fans from about 30-40 years ago. Not to suggest those days were some golden era. Maybe they weren’t better. Access was more limited, though, and so many media advancements trade away intimacy and imagination for access.

Being an NBA fan has changed, in part because our viewing platforms for watching or discussing basketball are no longer parochial, but national, if not global. With that comes a generalized intelligence that didn’t exist when, say, WFAN started out. Remember how last year the Celtics couldn’t trade for Anthony Davis because they’d already traded for Kyrie Irving, and the Derrick Rose rule means teams can’t trade for two players on Designated Player Rookie Scale Extensions? Did your eyes gloss over by the end of that sentence? That sort of nuance wouldn’t have been widely known back in the day. Players didn’t have anywhere near the (still limited) freedom of mobility they do now, either. Today we talk about Bird rights and room exceptions and aprons like we own the joint, and God help anyone who dares propose a trade that wouldn’t work because of cap space or December 15.

I think a lot of people root for the Knicks for reasons other than a championship. Reasons evolve over time. So do fans. When I started following the team, I wanted a title more than anything. After Patrick Ewing was traded and Jeff Van Gundy left, the Knicks entered a new reality, and I did too. A kind of mental relegation occurred, akin to English soccer.

Every season the Premier League sends its three worst teams down to the Championship, which is like AAA baseball, and three teams from the Championship earn promotion. I didn’t quit the Knicks once they slipped from “contender” to “lottery perennial.” I still rely on them for something important in my life, something having nothing to do with rings or even wins. I know the title hunger is still somewhere inside me, primal but quiet, for now. It growls a little whenever they make the playoffs, or even in the recent loss to the Hawks when they’d won four straight and pulled within five of Orlando for the eight spot. But a kind of symmetry takes place: the boy who watched every game wanting nothing more than to see his team win the game is now the man who didn’t want to trade Marcus Morris for a late first-round pick because when he sits down to watch a game, he just wants to see his team win.

Some people watch the Knicks to feel smarter about themselves (the Knicks are great to watch if you wanna feel smarter by comparison). Some watch because they or their family moved away from the area, recently or way long ago, and it gives them a sense of connection to something lost. Some watch because of an especial affinity for a player or a moment in time, like Bernard King or Carmelo Anthony or Linsanity. I suspect nowadays some do it to be a part of places like P&T or Knicks Twitter, where the buzz around the team is almost always more entertaining than what happens on the court.

What I wish is that all of us, myself included, held this in mind when interacting with each other. If you’re a Title-Or-Bust fan, great. You pro’ly want the team to lose as many games as possible to have the most ping pong balls as possible to get a shot at the highest prospect possible. Kudos. You’re not any more pure of a fan than those who’ll root root root for the home team and if they don’t win it’s a shame. And that fan is no more of a true Scotsman than the casual fan who thinks Allonzo Trier is better at putting the ball in the bucket than most of his teammates and therefore should see some run.

Tl;dr: if you enjoy the Knicks, you’re doing fine, sweetie.

5) What value does the Ringer bring to society? If any?

— tanman5

As long as I’m spitting potentially unpopular takes, here’s another: I enjoy The Ringer. Very much. I was a big fan of Grantland, as a reader and as an aspiring writer. I would be so stoked if I had a piece published at The Ringer. A lot of people have grown to resent Bill Simmons, and I get it. He’s become such a big deal, and he’s now an L.A. guy who rubs elbows with big name athletes and celebrities and writers and thinkers. I resent the fact that he doesn’t write anymore. After Ralph Wiley, Simmons was pro’ly my favorite sportswriter once I got out of college. If you like what I do here at P&T, or what any of us do, understand some of what makes us possible is what he was doing back then.

It’s not a perfect website. There are obvious biases, often pro-Celtic in nature. Simmons trolls the Knicks, perhaps no more so than in elevating Jason Concepion, the Jar-Jar Binks of Knick fans. I think the value I appreciate the most about The Ringer is how often someone there is writing something interesting about something that interests me. It could be the NBA, MLB, Game of Thrones, The Good Place, politics, video games...how many sites cover all that?

I wonder all the time if it’s possible to work to advance as a writer or entertainer in sportswriting and maintain your perspective as a fan. It’s what made Simmons so special for so many years, but though success opens up all kinds of possibilities, it also shuts the door on what you’re capable of producing. You don’t sing the same when you’re hungry as you do when you don’t remember what hunger feels like. Listen to Metallica’s Master of Puppets and then ReLoad. That says it all.

6) Can you please tell us the story about the funeral, the drunk and the machete?

— Navona

In the next mailbag, yes. Stay tuned for part two!