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February/March mailbag: Brunson vs. Carmelo, this year’s ceiling & the best Knicks trade of all-time

In April, natch!

NBA: New York Knicks at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

No time like the present to create the immediate future. Let’s mailbag.

My question is: What happened to the February mailbag?

— EwingIt

It’s been merged with the March mailbag and released in April! We here at P&T did this as a public service: as climate change brings more and more chaos into our personal space, we considered the very real possibility that our sense of time will grow equally dizzying. So why not a February/March/April turducken to mix up the madness even more?

Is Jalen Brunson better than Carmelo Anthony? Why or why not?


Better how? Better ballhandler? Sure. Better shooting with his left hand, no doubt. After that? Look, even in this, a career year, Brunson wasn’t selected as an All-Star and may end up missing All-NBA honors, too, and . . . and God I don’t miss talking about Carmelo Anthony on this site. Even something as simple as reflecting on the career of a first-ballot HOFer has me imagining all the criticisms and hate and hating of that hate and hating of the hating of that hate. What a divisive figure, even after being gone so long.

Melo was All-NBA six times and a 10-time All-Star. I doubt fuhry is asking who has (or will have) the better career. So I conclude the question is who best impacts winning. All I can say is I wish during Anthony’s time with the Knicks he had a partner whose game dovetailed as perfectly with his as midrange maestro Brunson’s does with Junior Harden Julius Randle.

“Junior Harden” in the sense of his shot profile. Not all the other nonse.

Hello, I only have one simple question: What is the ceiling for this Knicks team in the playoffs and how far can they make a playoff run if they are fully healthy?


How does Thibs take the players he has and create an offense that will stand up to playoffs intensity and refereeing?

constantly, irrevocably, permanently always wrong forever

That’s two questions, BsketballSavant99! But it’s all good. I lumped your question in with CIPAWF’s because I think they’re connected, and a bit easier to ponder now with the postseason matchups clearer.

The Knicks’ ceiling depends on the same variables that have emerged as the season’s wound down — namely, injuries. If Randle is missing for most or all of the first round, I’d say their ceiling would be pushing the Cavaliers to six or seven games. The margin between the two teams isn’t large to begin with; remove the Knicks’ leading scorer and defensive rebounder and it just tilts a lot of probabilities Cleveland’s way — assuming the Cavs get to the playoffs healthy.

Isaac Okoro is dealing with some knee problems and J.B. Bickerstaff says the team doesn’t know if Okoro will be available when the playoffs start. A healthy Okoro gives Cleveland an invaluable defender to throw at Brunson; remove a knight from the chess board and the calculus shifts. A fully healthy Knicks team could beat the Cavaliers and make Milwaukee feel them over six or seven games. But you already know that. Lemme leave this question with something that’d sound crazy if I hadn’t seen it once with my own eyes.

In 1999 the Knicks were probably as good without Patrick Ewing in the postseason as ever. It’s not that they were better without him, just that for once in his absence there was an effective plan B to throw at opponents, i.e. another center who excelled in very different ways than Ewing and thus gave teams something new to worry about.

Marcus Camby’s strengths aligned with some of Latrell Sprewell’s, so what elevated one — namely, getting out in transition — elevated all. The 2023 Knicks are better with Julius Randle than without him. Having said that, I wonder if this year’s team could open up a wildly different look to opponents — one they’re less ready for — with the fleet-footed Obi Toppin playing major minutes. Obi looking to get out and run means transition opportunities for players like Josh Hart and Quentin Grimes; RJ Barrett is always looking to get out on the break, too.

More Obi also means shifting new responsibilities to other players. Immanuel Quickley has to become more aggressive as a scorer. Same for Grimes. Hart and Isaiah Hartenstein turning up the aggression is not a bad thing. That kind of differentiation might be what gives Tom Thibodeau more to work with when going up against the toughest opposing defenses — and a bad night from the refs.

I want to talk about Josh Hart for a second. I have been a Knicks fan since the first championship season. I don’t think I can recall the Knicks ever getting a player that good for that little ever. I mean seriously, [Leon] Rose got a solid rotation player for essentially nothing.


This is an interesting thought. The Knicks have had successes in the past signing players who were completely off anyone’s radar, e.g. John Starks and Anthony Mason. They’ve been especially prolific of late finding success with players drafted in the late first or second rounds: Quickley and Quentin were both selected 25th; Mitchell Robinson was taken 36th, as was Deuce McBride; Jericho Sims was nearly Mr. Irrelevant in the 2021 draft; Allonzo Trier was the rare undrafted rookie to earn a new deal midway through his first season and then disappear from the league when his Luciferian hunger wanted more. But who’s the best trade the Knicks ever made, as far as price paid versus value added?

The Knicks once traded a 26-year-old who averaged a little over eight points and six rebounds a game for a 25-year-old four-time All-Star and future HOFer who’d average 27 and 12 over parts of three seasons in New York. And though John Gianelli is rightly remembered fondly around these parts for the work he did subbing for an injured Willis Reed much of 1973-74, I doubt even he would try to argue he was a fair return for Bob McAdoo. But you don’t need to go back nearly that far for what may be the Knicks’ best trade ever, though I’ve never heard anyone call it that — not then and certainly not since. That’s how much a bad playoff performance, like Paxlovid, can leave just an awful taste in your mouth.

In 2011 the Knicks acquired Tyson Chandler in a three-team deal that cost them Andy Rautins, Ronny Turiaf and a second-round pick that became Arsalan Kazemi. Rautins never suited up for Dallas, Turiaf played all of four games with Washington and Kazemi never came to the NBA; today he plays for Chemidor Qom of the Iranian Basketball Super League. Chandler was named to All-Star and All-NBA teams as a Knick, won Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 and was twice a member of the league’s All-Defense teams. That’s a pretty lopsided deal, even if it’s now impossible to remember Chandler without remembering Roy Hibbert bossing him around like Bluto beating pre-spinached Popeye.

Will the cherry on this Knicks sundae be a superstar addition who pushes us into the rarified domain of true contender? If so, who, realistically, will it be?


I have a piece I’m working on which touches on this question in-depth. For now, I’ll be brief: the sundae doesn’t need a cherry. I am actively opposed to the Knicks chasing a new star. I cannot imagine a player great enough to lift the Knicks to new levels of contention while somehow simultaneously also not costing soooo much in a trade that there’s nothing left to contend with after it’s consummated. You’re allowed to just sign and draft good players, develop them and see where it goes. I promise. You are.

The NBA is more talent-rich than it’s ever been and it seems like the league is going to capitalize on this by expanding from 30 franchises to 32. But to me, expansion is a Band-Aid, and one the league can apply only a couple more times: 32 teams is fine. But how is 34? 36? 40? Would you rather the league expand even further, or rework the salary cap and roster rules so that teams could carry more guys and essentially develop academy systems?


Personally, I’ve always wished the NBA would contract.

The WNBA right now is a brutally competitive league. There are literally lottery picks who’ve been waived before their first season even starts, or before they ever get to play for their team. I’m hopeful that league continues to grow, and I don’t want the NBA to cut down to a dozen teams. But let’s say the NBA cut four teams. How much more talent would fill the remaining teams’ rotations just from cutting four teams? You ever watch an All-Star game or a loaded Olympic contest and wish for more games featuring the best in the world giving a crap about the game they’re in? We’re closer to that with 26 teams than with 30.

Who would I contract? Indiana (they like amateur ball better there anyway). Charlotte (it’s enough already). New Orleans (fuck George Shinn forever). Memphis (they can stay if they agree to move back to Vancouver; if they do, then we contract the Clippers. Nobody’s gonna miss the Clippers. Ever.).

Why do Knick content creators lose their collective minds whenever the Knicks lose? The way they talk after a loss, you’d think the Knicks were in the lottery without an All-NBA player, multiple future 1st-round picks and a newly signed almost All-Star who shoots ~50% from the field.


One of my favorite micro fictions is “Five Ways the World Ends,” by K.S. Lokensgard. Here she describes the world ending via flood:

The price of boats skyrocketed. We carved one out of a tree trunk, the way the natives used to. Our blisters sang out, but our panic kept us moving. On TV, we watched aerial footage of the waves racing towards land.

When the water came, it was a wall and a bomb and a blanket; it swirled, eddied, slammed, rose up. From our tree-trunk boat, we saw things swimming that stole our breath. The water was brown and filled with bodies and we couldn’t drink it; that was how we actually died, from thirst.

I want you to think about what Lokensgard describes there at the end. Imagine it keeps raining and raining and raining, never stops. The sad slide to the bathetic we all feel after just a quarter-inch more rain than we care for. Imagine it just keeps coming, a half-inch, inches, feet, until it’s a living thing all its own, a monster you’re powerless against. Imagine drowning, dying, choking, everywhere dark and thieving liquid death. The disease. The dis-ease. The disorder.

And then, one day: sunshine. Warmth. Dry days. The earth solidifies. The sky blues. You remember to breathe. Until the next time you feel a raindrop on your face, look up, see a dark cloud.