When Pixar’s Soul was available to stream, I watched it with my son. We were enjoying the film until, as society so often has done over the past decades, the movie made a Knicks joke. Normally I would let such slights slide with a grumble. This time, I felt compelled to explain to my five-year old why the joke no longer applies. Kinda interrupted the flow of the movie, but the injustice could not stand.
He mostly blinked at me.
But, really: Things are different at Madison Square Garden now. This week for New York Magazine, Will Leitch wrote about the Knicks’ refreshing competency. (paywalled)
About a decade ago, Leitch argued that the NBA offseason had become more interesting than actual basketball games. The frenzy of free agency, trade rumors, and contract negotiations overshadowed the lackluster on-court action. For many teams, the offseason drama has now become more intense than ever. Two players, James Harden and Damian Lillard, demanded trades this year and sucked up a ton of NBA oxygen. Joel Embiid made a comment and sparked a month’s worth of articles. The same happened with Giannis Antetokounmpo when he declared both his affection for the Bucks, and his desire to win a championship.
Look at these Knicks, though. Last season, they won 47 games and reached the Playoff semifinals. Once a team vying for an appearance on the Jerry Springer Show (RIP), New York now plays it cool. A calculating front office has built a contending team while developing young talent and collecting assets to help their pursuit of future star players. They are well-positioned for success this year and beyond.
Their approach flies in the face of conventional NBA wisdom, which is to win now and assemble a superteam of well-established stars. Gradually, Leon Rose & Co. have given us reason to be optimistic. “The Knicks have been smart and prudent and cautious,” writes Leitch. “Their strategy is working magnificently, and it will probably keep paying off beyond this season and next. I’m not sure there’s a team in the Eastern Conference that has set themselves up better for the future.”
"As the rest of the NBA goes absolutely star-crazy, the Knicks have built slowly, carefully, and judiciously."— The Boss (@RobertWCross) September 29, 2023
You're welcome. #53Wins
In other news, the NBA has produced videos to explain the new flopping rules. In one clip, we have Jalen Brunson vindication. Brothers, sisters, this is not a flop (1:55 mark):
See below for Part 2 of an educational video (narrated by SVP, Head of Referee Development and Training Monty McCutchen) which explains and provides examples of plays that do not meet the criteria of a Flopping violation: pic.twitter.com/Crpnr12iba— NBA Official (@NBAOfficial) September 27, 2023
This, however, is. Josh Hart is shown demonstrating better moves than a Bolshoi ballerina:
"Josh Hart…following minimal contact from a screen…falls to the floor in an exaggerated manner…A flop would be called here…technical foul"— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) September 28, 2023
— NBA head ref Monty McCutchen gives examples of flopping penalty pic.twitter.com/imNsQA9z7r
Meh. I’ve seen worse.
Lastly, at the Bleacher Report, Zach Buckley offered three “hot” takes. Buckley predicts that Jalen Brunson will eclipse last year’s career season (when “he was one of only six players to average 24 points, six assists and two three-pointers”), suggests that RJ Barrett has plateaued (“He still has a path to potential stardom, but it’s […] outside of Madison Square Garden.”), and thinks that the Knicks will once again stall in round two of the Playoffs: “Barring some massive mid-season upgrade, the Knicks may play out this season much as they spent the last one: as a good team that can look great certain nights but can’t sustain that dominance long enough to advance further than the conference semis.”
With Lillard in Milwaukee and Jrue Holiday potentially landing on another Eastern Conference contender, the road to Larry O’Brien glory looks no less easy. Still, like Leitch, I remain optimistic. You?