Why Would LeBron James Become Captain of the Gotham Titanic?The 3-13 New York Knicks own the third worst record in the NBA; they have no apparent plan to become successful any time soon, only a dream--call it a delusion--that LeBron James is going to leave a championship contending team in Cleveland to become the captain of the Gotham Titanic. More than a generation ago, Micheal Ray Richardson famously lamented that the Knicks' "ship be sinking," adding that "the sky's the limit" after being asked how far the ship could plummet--but the current edition of the Knicks is even worse than Richardson's team was: the Knicks rank 29th (out of 30 teams) in points allowed (107.9), 29th in rebounding differential (-6.6) 28th in point differential (-6.5) and 28th in defensive field goal percentage (.488). The Knicks opened the Mike D'Antoni era with a 6-3 record in 2008-09 but since then they have gone 29-60, a .326 winning percentage that is worse than the Knicks' record under the much criticized Isiah Thomas regime (56-108, .341).
Last year, many Knicks' fans--and even some national commentators--were thrilled at the prospect that D'Antoni and his fabled "seven seconds or less" offensive system would improve the Knicks so much that LeBron James could be the final piece that would make the Knicks a championship contender. However, by the latter portion of the season, I pointed out that D'Antoni's Knicks were clearly heading in the wrong direction; they were lousy defensively and on the boards and--most ominously--both of those trends steadily worsened throughout the season. Despite all of the buzz about D'Antoni, his Knicks finished 32-50 in 2008-09, one game worse than the Knicks finished in Thomas' first season as their coach (2006-07).
After I told the truth about the Knicks' plight, diehard Knicks fan Mike Kurylo wrote a barely comprehensible screed in response, misspelling my name and betraying complete ignorance not only about NBA basketball but also about basic journalistic methods (he suggested that I spelled out "fourth" instead of writing "4th" because of some diabolical psychological plot to "visually" mislead readers when the reality is that it is standard practice to spell out ordinal numbers less than 10th). I refuted Kurylo's nonsense, concluding "Mike K. declares that I 'cherry picked' numbers in a 'dishonest' attempt to tell a biased story but the reality is that I simply cited the relevant numbers regarding the 2007, 2008 and 2009 Knicks, indicated that the D'Antoni Knicks have yet to surpass the level that the Thomas Knicks reached in 2007 and suggested that the Knicks need to make personnel and philosophical changes in order to become a good team."
"Stat guru" Dave Berri also jumped into the mix, incorrectly suggesting that my article compared the 2009 Knicks to the 2005 Knicks--a lie that distorts the meaning of what I wrote and that Berri refuses to retract--and offering up his usual numbers-based rhetoric to suggest that the Knicks are in fact moving in the right direction.
The funny thing about this is that Kurylo's inability to write coherently or understand NBA basketball made his website a perfect candidate to join the True Hoop Network (and Berri's ramblings are frequently cited at True Hoop as well); making the "right" friends may help one out in the writing business even when a person is incompetent but in the real world outside of the basketball blogosphere clubhouse one actually has to be organized, competent and productive in order to be successful. D'Antoni's media-friendly personality--he truly seems to be a nice guy and he is always extremely accommodating to the media--has bought him time and earned him sympathy but it will not be able to indefinitely obscure the simple fact that the Knicks are a bad team that is not improving. The argument that the Knicks had to become worse before they could get better does not fly: in order to ever become a championship team the Knicks have to establish that defense and rebounding will be their cornerstones: that is how NBA championship-winning coaches like Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Pat Riley and Larry Brown built their programs.
It really looks like the Knicks are essentially tanking the 2009 and 2010 seasons in order to slash their payroll and have enough money to sign LeBron James and/or another big-time free agent--but why would an MVP-caliber player want to sign with a dysfunctional team? If there is one thing that James has learned after playing for Cleveland Coach Mike Brown it is the importance of defense--and that lesson was reinforced by James' Team USA experience when he witnessed firsthand Kobe Bryant's dedication at that end of the court.
How will the Knicks be able to justify to their fans the suffering of the 2009 and 2010 seasons if the Knicks do not sign an elite player in the summer of 2010? Moreover, even if the Knicks bring in an elite player they still would struggle to win more than 45 games without doing a major restructuring of the rest of their roster and a complete overhaul of their all-offense, no-defense/rebounding philosophy.
posted by David Friedman @ 6:02 PM