The last time the New York Knicks made the playoffs was the first time it happened while I was covering them. This made May of 2021 not only unprecedented in how fun it was, but how busy. Writing about the Knicks when the playoffs come around is not all that dissimilar from what I imagine it must be like playing for them in the playoffs. Your intensity rises. As gametime nears, your adrenaline picks up. Your focus narrows — after 82 games trying to find or spin meaning wherever you can, in the postseason the games, as Tom Thibodeau is fond of saying, tell you what to do.
Today I discovered a mailbag from May 2021 that was never answered. Like Pompeii, this mailbag is a precious gift: a piece of the past, perfectly preserved to ponder. What were we thinking back then? What do we make of it now? Let’s dive in. The questions all are from two years ago; the answers all from today.
[A] few years ago against a great Milwaukee team . . . Kristaps Porziņģis hit a stepback 3 off the dribble . . . blocked a shot which started a break, trailed the play and hit a looong three. The Garden erupted into a time out. I remember thinking if this were Game 3 of a . . . playoff series . . . this exact sequence would bring down the Garden.
Which player doing his thing in a huge spot this weekend gets the biggest response? Julius Randle is our best player. RJ Barrett is our young, drafted KP. Mitchell Robinson would have qualified with two blocks and a dunk. Immanuel Quickley with multiple long threes is Curry-esque. Frank Ntilikina is a fan favorite. [Derrick] Rose putting on a display could be it.
— Am I Immanuel or am I a Toppin
This is still a good question today. Let’s say Knicks/Heat are late in Game 7 at MSG. 90 seconds to go, tie game. Which of the following gets the biggest rise from the crowd?
This poll is closed
Randle and-one finish in the paint
Brunson herky-jerk floater and-one
Mitch swats Butler lay-up, ball out of bounds off MIA
Grimes corner 3
Quickley top of the arc 3
RJ tough and-one lay-up
Josh Hart doing anything good
If the team significantly improves its backcourt starters via veterans (Bradley Beal? Damian Lillard?), how would that impact Randle and RJ? Similarly . . . Randle [has] been majestic this year as the clear #1 guy. What are your thoughts on him becoming the #2 guy? Does that work with his game? Or, perhaps, preferably 1A with someone else as A1? Particularly if that A1 is a true point guard, what does it look like for Randle’s point forward game?
— z. alpern (via email)
I’d take Brunson over Beal even if the dollars were equal, and they’re very much not: Beal is owed a hair under $200M the next four seasons, if you include an option the fourth year for $57M, when he’s 33 and unlikely to ever see that kind of money again. His durability, once a highlight of his resume, is now in question. After playing all 82 games in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Beal’s missed 101 games since. Over the same stretch, Brunson missed 39.
Lillard turns 33 this summer, an age Brunson won’t be till 2030. Dame is obviously better, but better doesn’t matter if it’s theoretical — Lillard’s played 87 games total the past two seasons. If he picks up his $63M player option in 2026-27, Portland will have paid him $216M between now and then. That’s $63M owed the year he turns 36. New York owes Brunson $76M the next three years combined — though I should point out that’s only if Brunson accepts a $25M player option in 2025-26, when he’s 29. Unlikely, natch. Still, how far have we come two years later to be able to be like “Beal? Lillard? Yawn.”
As far as RJ, Hart and Randle, it’s hard for me to see all three lasting on the same team long-term. Too many roosters in the henhouse, if the paint is the henhouse. Hart’s so effective off the bench you can probably keep him and one of the other two on the team as important players. But unless Barrett is taking the leap (entirely possible, given how young he still is, and if it happens I’d be thrilled to re-visit this question), I’ve never thought he and Randle are ideal complements.
I think Brunson’s pairing with Randle answers Z’s last question definitively. You saw in Game 2 how dangerous Randle’s point forwardness can be alongside a legit floor general. Randle can be George Patton to Brunson’s Eisenhower. Patton was far more volatile than Ike. In Italy Patton’s forces were advancing at breakneck speed when they were brought to a halt by a donkey in the narrow road. Patton walked up to the donkey, shot it in the head and dragged it out of the way. After the Normandy invasion in France, he yanked a solider out of his hospital bed and tossed him out of the tent because Patton felt the man was a coward for not fighting; the man had PTSD, malarial parasites and a fever of almost 103 degrees. A week later he upset medical staff after he pulled his gun on another wounded soldier and told the man he “ought to shoot you myself.” Eisenhower had Patton apologize to the men and to the entire Third Infantry Division, but kept him around for the march toward Germany. Good thing, too: when the Nazis last-ditch offensive at the Battle of the Bulge had the Allies on the ropes, Patton saved the day.
What do you think Mitchell Robinson’s long-term future is with the team? Do you think they will keep him here long term, or is he a trade chip this offseason?
— alleyhoop 20
Alec Burks was a truly heroic Knick in 2021. On a team with Randle an All-NBA selectee and Derrick Rose third in Sixth Many of the Year voting, Burks was Mr. Fourth Quarter. Two years later, he’s gone and, while remembered fondly, not missed. The playoffs that year brought to New York’s attention certain limitations they could survive in the regular season but not if they wanted to be a better playoff team.
Mitch is a truly heroic Knick in 2023. On a team with plus defenders in Hart, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes and Deuce McBride, as well as ravenous rebounders on both ends in Randle, Isaiah Hartenstein and Jericho Sims (We miss you! Feel better!), Robinson literally towers above them all. I can absolutely see him here long term, helping the Knicks to a title and joining Willis Reed and Patrick Ewing in the franchise’s pantheon of pivots. I can absolutely see him being 2023’s Burks, gone in a year or two, traded by a savvy, ruthless front office that sees a higher ceiling via a 3-and-D center.
Sound crazy? Two years ago Burks was one of the Knicks’ best players and Grimes a junior — a mummy, by college prospect standards — most of us never heard of. Would any Knick fan today trade Grimes for Burks? For all AB brought, leveling up meant finding someone who could do things he couldn’t.
The Knicks were third in the league in offensive efficiency this year — something they never accomplish without Mitch. But also, think about how productive Randle, Brunson and Barrett are in an offense with limited spacing. Imagine those floaters and drives with the other’s team center nowhere near the paint. I can see it either way.
I wish Vox and others like it would do some kind of profit-sharing with writers (unless they already do?) Sites like this draws tons of eyeballs, and the writers keep people coming back and engaging with content – making it even more valuable. The Advertising CPMs might not be high, but the volume is – multiply this site by other popular SB sites and you have a boatload of money. A “good” percentage of the dollars generated by each site should go towards the content creators of that site, while a smaller percentage could go into a general pool to support other creators on sites that don’t get as much traffic, and the rest goes towards corporate. I don’t know Vox financials, but pretty sure they make millions in ad revenue alone.
— David SelfHatingKnicksFan
Vox Media projected a $100 million profit in 2022 and went on an acquiring spree for the last two years.— alex (@alex_abads) June 10, 2022
Vox workers making under $95k are asking for the 3.25 percent (< $4,000) raise they gave up so the company could maintain financial stability. pic.twitter.com/Yd1PiDy4Jx
Let’s round up to the $100,000 neighborhood. $100K is 0.001% of $100M. Lemme re-frame that to highlight how unjust it is for the people who make you a thing to have to push for 0.001% of the
profits unpaid worker wages? Remember that $100,000 neighborhood? That’s not my neighborhood. Wanna see where I live at Vox? Take that $100,000 and cut it in half. You still with me? Different neighborhood now, right? Hold up, though — I don’t live here either. That number you got after cutting the first one in half? Drop the zero at the end of it. Now you’re in my neck of the woods. 0.001% of what I make from Vox is $5.10. Imagine I had a ghostwriter, someone who did all of my writing, and after a year of creating all my content I gave them $5.10. Imagine.
In grad school I rented a basement apartment in a million-dollar home on Long Island. The house was in a crazy-rich ‘hood near the water. My apartment didn’t have a kitchen, not even a microwave. Had mold, though. Def had that. The day before Thanksgiving I locked myself out. I called the homeowner/slumlord, who’d left 10 minutes ago to visit family for the holiday. She refused to turn around and let me in. Told me I must have a friend I could stay with over the holiday. After the call I noticed she’d left the garage door open a crack, so her cat could get in. I was able to slip under the door and get in the house. I called back and left her a message letting her know it’d all worked out. She called back in a red-faced frenzy, screaming at me for violating the sanctity of her home.
That this is the story I’m remembering tells you all you need to know.
You got a favorite dish? Either your favorite thing to make or your favorite thing to have made for you?
— Jonathan Schulman
Favorite dish to cook of late: mixed veggies and tofu in this peanut/coconut sauce I make. Add some lime juice at the end. Mwah.
Favorite dish to have made for me: my grandmother’s rellenos or pasteles. She’s 88. Everything she cooks tastes like notes from a song I’m going to stop hearing someday soon.
It’s the 2021-22 season opener. The starting PG for the New York Knicks is: _
A) a stopgap free agent signing
B) an intended long-term free agent signing
C) a player received in a trade
D) a player from the 2021 draft (possibly via trade)
E) a returning Knick
— Walt Clyde Phrase
F) A hometown kid down to his last magic dust who shared what he had with us.
When it’s your turn to write the recap, what do you usually do?
— Parlez vous le Frank
When I started I took sooo many notes, watching the game on TV while taking notes on my laptop. Now I write just a handful of notes; instead I keep a mental track of what larger tectonic forces are happening in my thoughts and feels. I watch most games on my laptop now, which has revived my love of note-taking by hand, with pen and paper.
With the Knicks winning a series this year, I’ve come to learn that writing about them at this stage of the season means agony and ecstasy with nothing in-between. Writing about them after a win is like getting to write the good parts of some sacred document or national saga — like, this is history happening, and the rare kind, the one where something great is happening. After a loss?