There were two realities my family encountered after moving to western New York in the 1980s that were new to their children. The first was racism, as we immediately encountered all kinds of open harassment and even violence. The second was lawn envy. It was soon apparent that if one neighbor mowed their lawn at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, another would invariably be mowing theirs by 9, another by 9:30, etc. It seemed comical, as though rather than coffee these people started the day drinking Keep Up With The Joneses.
We laughed about it. I saw it as a small blessing: whatever difficulties my family was having, at least we weren’t these people. Then one day my father canceled some plans he and I had so we could take care of the lawn. I didn’t understand. It was our lawn. It could wait a day if it had to. We weren’t like these people. What did it matter if our grass was getting long?
That was the day was father taught me it was one thing, and by one thing he meant “nothing,” for a white family in a white neighborhood in a white town to let their lawn get a little shaggy. If we did, he explained, in their eyes it’d be because we were Puerto Rican, confirming that our arrival = quality of life and propery values going down.
In 2019 the New York Knicks were slandered, libeled, derided, maligned. So were their fans. After the February Kristaps Porziņģis trade and Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving signing elsewhere in July, the press had a field day while NBA Twitter nearly cracked their ribs laughing. The Mavericks were the cool, forward-thinking club whose exploitation of the dummies downtown gave them a one-two punch to terrorize teams for a decade. Brooklyn was the Renaissance to New York’s dark ages, accomplishing in one swoop the Manhattanites’ dream deferred: a mass influx of star power. The Knicks were clearly clueless, we were told, their fans fools for holding onto hope. We been had. Took. Hoodwinked. Bamboozled. Led astray. Run amok.
I’m not going to re-post what people were saying back then. Most didn’t deserve their platform then; I’m certainly not interested in exposing anyone to their toxicity years later. Instead, my hope is to begin the process of healing for some of you today. We’ve been through a lot this century. Post-trauamtic stress doesn’t go away in the good times; it’s just dormant. At some point something negative will happen to the Knicks. When it does, it’s important to remember that feelings are not facts. Just because it feels Knicks-y when things go wrong, it isn’t. Let’s look at some other loser teams to prove it.
This is the 43rd season in Dallas Mavericks history. They’ve failed to reach the playoffs or win a round nearly 75% of that time. After winning their only title in 2011, the Mavs — waaaay too smart to defend it with the schlubs who’d just won — decided to rebuild a championship team on the fly, to make history. They did: no other franchise has ever followed up a title-winning season by failing to win a playoff series for the next 10 years. You don’t see that kind of organization incompetence every day.
What makes the Mavericks case so concerning is how they’ve bungled things in recent years; what makes them repugnant is how far they’ll go to pretend all is well, always, as well as their attracton/repulsion complex when it comes to the Knicks. Remember the 2017 draft? That’s when the Knicks took Frank Ntilikina. You may remember Dennis Smith Jr. was still on the board when it was New York’s turn. You may remember stories leaking about how the Mavericks celebrated in their draft room when Ntilikina went to the Knicks; that meant DSJ, the player they’d really wanted, was there for them to take. They were not alone in LOLing the Knicks for passing on him.
The Mavs had been linked with Ntilikina for a while leading up to draft night. Adding fuel to the fire: Dallas hired Vincent Collett, Frank’s coach at Strasbourg, to run their summer league team in Orlando. Had some early A.I.-inspired prophecy program forseen that Collett and Dennis Smith Jr. would really hit it off? Is it just a happy coincidence that once Ntilikina reached free agency, Dallas signed him? Or is the simplest explanation for all this that the Mavs really wanted Frank on draft night, made moves in preparation for it, then had to backtrack once it was no longer an option? Why were the Mavs intent on drafting a point guard, anyway? Remember: they’re bunglers. They bungle people’s lives.
From a Mavs Moneyball piece that ran right after they drafted DSJ:
“Before we talk about the player Dallas selected in last night’s draft, allow me to rewind for a second. In July of last year, the team was at a crossroads. Actually, to be perfectly honest, they were in shambles. Free agent signee and Mark Cuban club buddy Chandler Parsons was being ushered out the door, seemingly just after he’d arrived. The latest iteration of “Plan Powder”—this time the dual pursuit of big man Hassan Whiteside and point guard Mike Conley—had imploded, leaving a tattered mess of a roster featuring an aging Dirk Nowitzki, a post-Achilles Wesley Matthews, and...uh...
It felt precarious at the time, but looking back, it’s difficult to properly express just how dire this situation was. The Mavs didn’t have a 2016 draft pick, thanks to the epic failure that was the Rajon Rondo experiment.”
If you’d forgotten the Rondo/Dallas experience, Lord bless you. They dreamed they could attract Mike Conley in free agency, just like they were gonna draw Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. DSJ lasted a year after Luka Dončić arrived, after which the Mavs tried pairing him with former Knicks Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke, Courtney Lee, Reggie Bullock and Theo Pinson, among others. They finally found a winner in Jalen Brunson, only he’s now a current Knick. Bunglers gonna bungle.
The KP trade was a disaster: Dallas ended up paying him about $80M for 134 games. They turned him into Spencer Dinwiddie and Dāvis Bertāns and have since spun Spencer into six feet of walking plutonium. Dallas has hovered around .500 much of this season. Last year they appeared to have found something in Brunson as their co-star. Maybe Dončić gets tired of losing in the first-round again, recognizes that’s the Mavs’ m.o. and starts looking for better opportunities. Maybe a solid team with a surplus of picks and a fighting spirit. Maybe a team with Brunson. We’ll leave the light on, Luka.
The Nets have played 46 seasons in the NBA before this one, failing to win a playoff series 83% of that time (if you’re wondering, the Knicks have failed to win a playoff round 58% of their history: 23 times in 54 years before James Dolan took power, 21 in 22 years since). This recent Nets’ collapse was Napoleonic, both in its replacement of one tyrant (mediocrity) for another (the highway to hell) and in that the people involved turn out to be smaller than you might think — Bonaparte literally, Brooklyn figuratively. Between the disastrous Pierce/Garnett trade and the disastrous KD/Kyrie moves, there was an eye of the storm, a quiet time and place where the Nets showed a real knack for identifying worthwhile talents other teams had written off and developing young players into meaningful NBA contributors. The Nets were a more-than-respectable indie band, admired in part not just for what they did, but how they did it. D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, and Spencer Dinwiddie all became kind-of-a-big-deals while Kenny Atkinson was running the era of good feelings. Then the Nets signed with a major label, replaced the whole band and surrendered the intimacy of small venues for soulless sold-out stadium shows. Durant and Irving were here to show all of NYC how it’s done.
If the laughter from Dallas-Fort Worth was audible, the bordering borough boisterousness bloodied eardrums. After years of slights both real and imagined, the Nets had finally turned into a real boy. All it cost them was canceling their own culture, firing their head coach, firing the coach who replaced him, trading Jarrett Allen so we could see DeAndre Jordan aging at 10x speed, trading a half-decade of draft picks for James Harden, having to trade Harden for Ben Simmons, and paying KD and Kyrie together more than $250M for 272 games played. Over parts of four seasons. Combined.
One cannot overstate the disaster this whole adventure was for Brooklyn. Durant, Irving and Harden combined for seven playoff wins and seven trade requests. Durant ended his tenure having signed two max contracts, issued two trade requests and won one playoff series. The first contracts he and Irving signed were for up to four years with player options; both are gone before that term is up. Now Irving is the latest stab at convincing Luka the Mavericks aren’t a clown show while Durant is telling the Phoenix media about how the Nets had a good record in the 16 total games he, Kyrie and Harden played together.
Some of us knew from the start KD and Kyrie weren’t right for the Knicks. Can you imagine the Knicks doing what the Nets did, ending up with a bunch of forwards for their troubles while KD’s in the desert boasting about a 16-game regular season stretch? It’d be LOL Knicks all day. The Nets have gone for broke twice in a decade and busted both times. Some in the press have come down with a fever that compels them to praise everything the Nets do as “actually, that’s pretty good for them,” as if life is a book and Sean Marks skipped ahead to the end, so obviously he knows what he’s doing.
The quiet part nobody could hear when the KD/Kyrie-to-Brooklyn bomb went off is this: the Nets were coming along nicely before they reached for the stars. Twice now since moving to Brooklyn, the Nets have made deals with the devil because they saw them as the fastest road to relevance. They knew the Pierce/Garnett trade was a gamble, but they were brand new to the city then and the Knicks were resurgent after signing Amar’e Stoudemire and trading for Carmelo Anthony. They needed something that’d get them in the conversation, and it did. Just not for good reasons, and for not nearly as long as they’d hoped. Consider the alternative.
They’d already added Deron Williams and Joe Johnson to the team before misleading people into thinking Danny Ainge is a genius. That was a fair backcourt at the time, one some wing or big would undoubtedly be intrigued to join. After Pierce and Garnett were both gone, the Nets still had Brook Lopez at 27 years old; in 2017 they landed Jarrett Allen and Kyle Kuzma in the first round of the draft. Kuzma and Lopez were sent out for D’Angelo Russell. Lopez and Kuzma could’ve been the start of something. Allen and Russell could’ve been. Brooklyn chose to pay Durant and Irving about $70M combined while the two combined to miss 88% of their games their first year as Nets. Culture.
Today the Mavericks are two games ahead of the lottery-bound teams in the West while the Nets are fifth and fading, having lost 11 of 18 over a stretch that precedes their trades. The Nets are probably best served fading into the lottery, where they’ll still have a pick since Houston has swap rights and is currently the worst team in the league. The Mavs could literally finish anywhere between fourth and 12th and are walking the tightrope trying to win games while knowing Luka and Kyrie will take time to gel. Dallas is 0-3 since acquiring Irving and keep screwing things up over and over around Luka in what’s either an homage to or remake of LeBron’s first stint in Cleveland. and have a worse point differential this season than Washington. Forward-thinking indeed.
The Knicks were smart to trade KP when they did. They were smart to pass on KD and Kyrie, and that’s one instance where I believe and credit Dolan — I think he’d had enough of paying top dollar to big men with injury concerns after Antonio McDyess, Eddy Curry, Amar’e and Porziņģis. They were smart to sign a young free agent with the upside Julius Randle possessed rather than pay cash on the barrelhead for KD and his minion. They were smart to identify Brunson as early as they did and pursue him as relentlessly as they did, tampering be damned. They were smart to not trade the farm for Donovan Mitchell or Zach LaVine.
Dallas now faces an existential anxiety: what if Luka asks out? The Nets have become the old Knicks joke about having a thousand forwards. Stephen A, Frank Isola, Shaq and Charles Barkley, Net Income and every so called-Knick fan & D-level celebrity who switched or sold their allegiance can lap up Luka and Kyrie reprising Melo and Allen Iverson in Denver and Ben Simmons refusing to shoot, forcing Royce O’Neale into late shot-clock heaves. Those of us who never quit will just have to deal with watching our two-time All-Star, our shoulda-been All-Star point guard, our young two-way players and our proven head coach all push to win every game, to climb the standings, and to be the best they can be here, now. A novel approach to team-building, but one with benefits for the trueheart fans. And don’t even get me started on what’s wrong with Atlanta.