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P&T March mailbag part three: RJ Barrett’s future, draft mulligans and unlikable Knicks

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Springtime in New York.

Dallas Mavericks v Denver Nuggets Photo by Lizzy Barrett/Getty Images

Part two covered current Knicks, former Knicks and non-Knicks. Part three will, too.

1) Can RJ Barrett play with another ball-dominant player? If not, should he really be in our long-term plans?

— Vin Digestion

Has there been talk of a ball-dominant player possibly maybe signing with the Knicks for next season?

If you’re talking Carmelo, I think it could work. Anthony seems pretty wildly popular with the younger generation. I think Barrett would light up at the chance to play alongside Melo versus Julius Randle or Bobby Portis. Anthony’s usage rate has fallen off significantly in his post-New York career. I don’t think you’re bringing in some glory-seeking chucker who’s gonna steal shots from Kid Future.

Plus RJ’s no wallflower. The rookie teenager is second on the team is shot attempts behind Randle. His lone year at Duke, he missed nearly as many shots as Zion Williamson took. I think Barrett would be pumped playing with someone he considers a legend and I think Carmelo would dig writing a final New York chapter where he’s the sagacious sunset passing the baton to the morning light.

If you’re talking a hypothetical ball-dominant player who for the sake of argument is younger than Melo and more intent on scoring than subjugating their game to RJ’s, I still don’t worry about the kid. I think he’s disciplined and committed to an orbit that’s bigger than we can make out. Whether it’s Carmelo or Randle or Christian Wood or somebody else, Barrett is as big a part of New York’s long-term plans as anyone.

2) If you could re-draft [one of] the following 3 players, which would you select: Donovan Mitchell instead of Frank Ntilikina; Nikola Jokić instead of Cleanthony Early; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander instead of Kevin Knox?

— kenbannister

Gotta be careful when you look to change the past.

At first glance it’s easy: Jokić is more impactful than Shai or Mitchell, and while Knox and Ntilikina are NBA players, Clean Tony is gleaming the cube for Atomerőmű SE in Hungary’s Nemzeti Bajnokság I/A. But if I treat the question less like a word problem and more like a rewrite of history, the more it all gets messy like a pizza.

If the Knicks drafted Jokić, maybe the season after they lose 60 games instead of 65, and instead of falling from #2 to #4 they drop from #4 to #6 and take...Stanley Johnson? Emmanuel Mudiay? Maybe they still pick fourth, but with Jokić as their big man they pass on Kristaps Porziņģis and take...Mario Hezonja? These are still good problems to have, because those problems include the Knicks having an All-Pro center for the first time since Patrick Ewing. But it’s not as effortless an answer as it first seemed.

(As an aside, the tryna-get-the-pipe-dreamer in me prefers Ntilikina to Mitchell because I like to imagine RJ becoming a 25/7/5 guy and Mitch winning at least three DPOYs, so I dream of Frank as a Draymond-level super glue guy working between those fulcrums. I don’t see Mitchell’s ceiling as high enough to trade away my love and hopes with Frank, the longest-tenured Knick. Maybe I long for a longest-tenured Knick to stick around long enough for that title to mean something. I know Donovan may always be the superior player, but while I’m royal in the streets I’m loyal in the sheets.)

3) If you could compile a 15-man roster of anyone who was on the Knicks roster in the last three seasons, who would you pick? No repeats, so you can’t have three Franks, two KPs, etc.

— Your Favorite Poster’s Favorite Poster

My bigs = Mitch, Porziņģis, Randle, Marcus Morris, Noah Vonleh, Doug McDermott, Hezonja, Michael Beasley

My lils = RJ, Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mudiay, Damyean Dotson, Allonzo Trier, Trey Burke

How do you think that team would do?

4) Most hated Knick?

— IsNice

I think I’ve only really disliked three Knicks. Lots of them have frustrated. Lots have sucked. But only three have I ever really disliked. From least- to most-:

3. ENES KANTER

By the end of Kanter’s time in New York, I was done with his schtick. He arrived in NYC eager to get in front of a mic and turn on the cute/charm/whatever the hell this was supposed to be.

But Kanter’s midyear martrydom after the Knicks dared to bench him wasn’t just WTF — he’d said “play me or trade me,” and they were looking to trade him, but the market was tepid. Kanter’s salary is down 75% from his last year in New York, so apparently the league isn’t much hotter for him now than then.

He had every right to opt in for $18.6M his last year as a Knick. We should all be so lucky as to have the right to opt in for $18.6M for a year. But when he did, he knew there was a new coach and a young team. He wanted the money, he wanted the minutes and he wanted to be treated like an All-Star rather than Daniel Theis’ future back-up, all while playing some of the worst pick-and-roll defense we’ve ever seen.

The Knicks lost when he played and when he didn’t. It’s a classic story: vet signs, plays well enough to have a certain value in mind for his next deal, his current team isn’t gonna wanna pay that, so they flip him for whatever they can before losing him for nothing. Kanter kissing the Garden floor and rubes chanting for him to get in games proved Elijah Muhammed right about one thing: “If you offer [dirty water] to the people, they’ll drink it if they’re thirsty.”

2. NATE ROBINSON

You know how when a goalie commits a penalty in hockey a teammate goes to the penalty box? ‘Cuz otherwise what, his team goes two minutes with an empty net? Robinson is the fall guy for the most unlikable Knick teams of my life, the only time I grew so sick of what I was watching I walked away. I could’ve picked any one of a half-dozen Knicks from those dark ages.

Eddy Curry escapes judgment because Eddy Curry has suffered enough in life. If you haven’t read his Players’ Tribune piece from a month ago (good Christ, was February a month ago? It already feels a thousand miles away), here’s a sample:

January 24, 2009. I’m with the Knicks. On the road in Philly, middle of the game. I’m sitting on the bench in street clothes when I feel a tap on my shoulder.

“Yo, Eddy! They need you in the back. You gotta go to the trainer’s room.”

I figure it’s something to do with why I wasn’t playing, but when I get back there one of my friends with the Knicks comes up to me legit crying — like his eyes are all red and there are tears on his face. I have no idea what’s up. He just tells me to call my assistant but won’t say anything more.

So I grab my phone and dial.

When my guy picks up, I ask what’s going on, and there’s about a one- or two-second pause. Then it’s….

“Bro, Nova is dead, bro. They killed her...There’s blood everywhere, bro. I think the baby may be dead, too.”

A lot of people don’t know about Nova.

I saw her on and off for a few years while I was with the Knicks. We had two kids together.

On the day Nova was murdered — shot down in cold blood back home in Chicago — one of the many people who didn’t know about her was my wife, Patrice.

Patrice also didn’t know about the children I’d had with Nova — my 10-month-old daughter, Ava, and her three-year-old brother, Noah.

I kept it a secret. All of it. For years.

So as I’m on the phone learning that my infant daughter and her mother had just been murdered … I’m also coming to grips with the fact that my marriage of nearly four years would almost certainly be over.

Before I knew it, I was on a plane flying back to New York, and even just within those few hours more and more details became clear. I found out that my son Noah was right there when his mother and sister were shot. But he was so little that he didn’t really understand what had happened. He’d tried to wake up his mom after the shooting, so when the officers went in and found him there, he had blood all over him. He actually laid down next to her and had fallen asleep.

That man has suffered enough.

Steve Francis arrived in New York to help accelerate the revolution of lowered expectations, i.e. posing atop the scorer’s table like Mussolini on the balcony because your game-winner put your team in the eighth spot for a hot minute.

There was Jerome James, a man before his time as the poster child for universal basic income by getting paid simply for existing. Like Bobby Bonilla a decade prior, Stephon Marbury was learning the difficult lesson that you can’t go home again. Zach Randolph arrived in New York with the rep of a rain cloud and he was easily one of the brighter personalities on those teams. And there was Larry Brown and Isiah Thomas. Plenty of blame to go ‘round.

But Nate...God, Nate drove me nuts.

Sometimes he could be entertaining.

Sometimes not.

All these years later, Nate gonna Nate.

Nate was talented, and unique. And a knucklehead whose career may have extended past the age of 31 if he hadn’t been drafted by the Titanic after it went vertical in the water. Maybe the fire that fueled the undersized Robinson to heights many would have doubted he could reach was a blessing and a curse. After all, you can’t miss opportunities that don’t exist, and Nate’s opportunities wouldn’t be there without him pushing past the point of wisdom.

I always felt like Nate was one of those guys who couldn’t hear the train whistle until it was too late. I figured he figured he could run fast enough or jump high enough whenever he had to, until he couldn’t. I wish him peace.

1. KENYON MARTIN

Remember Biff Tannen’s gang in Back To The Future?

When the Jason Kidd-led Nets were crushing the Knicks, Martin and Richard Jefferson were Billy Zane and the 3D-glasses dude to Kidd’s Biff. They were bullies, but only because there was a legit bully to glom off of.

Kidd was a first-ballot Hall of Famer whose talent translated to every team he played for. The year before Dallas drafted him, they won 13 games, despite second-year man Jimmy Jackson and rookie Jamal Mashburn both averaging just under 20 a game. After adding Kidd they won 36. Phoenix won 41 games the year before trading for Kidd, 56 his first full season there. The Nets doubled their win total from 26 to 52 after upgrading from Marbury to Kidd. At the age of 37 he led the champion Mavericks in minutes played. Even in his swan song with the Knicks, the team improved from a 45-win pace in 2012 to 54 his one year there.

Meanwhile, Martin and Jefferson combined for as many All-Star appearances as Dale Davis yet strutted around for years like they were the shit. I HATE when people do that. Parasitic bullies are one of the Earth’s lower forms of life. If the accident of your birth date means you’re less likely to die from a virus but just as capable of spreading it to others as anybody and you feel entitled to put others at risk ‘cuz you think keg stands are a birthright, you’re a parasitic bully too.

When Martin was a Net he appeared to take special joy not only in beating the Knicks or beating them badly, but really being an over-the-top dick about it. To be fair, he wasn’t just a jackass against the Knicks.

Here he is throwing a gay slur at Mark Cuban.

You’d think the Knicks had wiped out his ancestors and salted their fields or something. Even in preseason matchups, Martin was extra extra.

One night he and Jefferson even mixed it up with one future and one former ex-Knick.

So when New York signed Martin after the 2013 All-Star break to join the best Knick team we’d seen in over a decade, I was non-plussed.

When they went 22-8 over the 30 games after the signing, I still wasn’t plussing. When he was one of every Knick besides Carmelo who wouldn’t take and couldn’t make a shot against Indiana, my plussing got even more non-ier. I wanted the Knicks to win, but I took absolutely zero joy from Martin’s contributions while feeling “See? I knew he’d screw this up” vibes anytime he did anything wrong.

I know I opened this question with a defense of Curry, but lemme just point out I don’t really care what kind of person you think Martin is. I don’t know the man and I never will, and that’s a social distancing I’d have in place in a germ-free world. As a basketball presence, an energy, Kenyon Martin reminds me of a guy I once met in a psych ward. He introduced himself as “‘Nod’ spelled backwards.” When I said, “So...Don?”, his entire demeanor flipped and he threatened me in a way I have rarely if ever been as scared by. Really, this comparison is unfair to Nod Spelled Backwards. He wasn’t a bully. He seemed less a bully than a mess. Martin seems like a barnacle that thinks itself a whale.

5) What’s your favorite color? And is that unduly influenced by the sports teams you root for?

— fuhry

My favorite color is when sky blue, tree green and white are all present, which is one reason why this is my single-favorite sports memory ever, one that still chokes me up literally every single time I watch it.

But my favorite “Just answer the question, dummy” color is green, which as sports goes has mostly been annoying, thanks to two teams.

First there’s the Celtics, who I hated before I even started following the Knicks because of the 1986 World Series. I was a 7-year-old Mets fan looking for reasons to hate everything Houston and Boston. The Celts were practically Red Sox proxy. The first full season I followed the NBA, Boston won 15 of their last 16 to catch a stumbling Knicks team and win the division on a tiebreaker, ensuring a lifetime of enmity. As a teenager if my friends wanted to make sure I was telling the truth about something, they’d make me swear “If I’m lying I’m a Celtics fan.” I honored that oath.

I quit the NFL like five years ago. I used to root for the Jets and Giants, with the Jets always the child I couldn’t help liking a little better. The Jets were the only team I rooted for whose colors didn’t have some kind of blue, meaning Jets clothes always felt like they really stood out and rarely deserved to be standing out on my ass.

That’s all for this month’s mailbag. Stay inside if you can, and remember: avoiding strangers but not your friends or loved ones who live apart from you doesn’t help the rest of the world.