Knicks Fans Pray That the Light at the End of the Tunnel is not an Oncoming TrainNot quite two months ago I asked Have the Knicks Turned the Corner? and I suggested that their next five games--four of which would be played on the road--might provide the answer. The Knicks lost four of those five games and went 4-15 in the ensuing 19 games to plummet to 20-39, the 13th best record in the 15 team Eastern Conference and the 25th best record in the 30 team NBA. Even in the moribund East the Knicks are 9 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot; if the Knicks were in the West they would be 13.5 games behind the eighth seed! The Knicks' attention to detail defensively and on the boards during a 7-3 run from late December to early January proved to be a quite temporary condition; the Knicks currently rank 22nd in point differential, 25th in points allowed, 27th in defensive field goal percentage and 29th in rebounding differential.
Last season, a Knicks' blogger and some Knicks' fans were outraged when I dared to suggest that despite all of the pro-Mike D'Antoni media hype the Knicks were not in fact any better than they were when Isiah Thomas coached the team. I compared the team's record and defensive statistics in year one of the D'Antoni era to the corresponding numbers from Thomas' first season as Knicks' coach, prompting all kinds of bleatings that I was cherrypicking numbers and that I had some kind of pernicious agenda. As I responded at that time, when D'Antoni has put up year two numbers we can compare his year two numbers with Thomas'. The Knicks still have 23 games left but here are the relevant numbers as things stand today: the 2009-10 Knicks have a .339 winning percentage, while Thomas' 2007-08 Knicks finished with a .280 winning percentage (that works out to less than a five game difference over an 82 game schedule). The 2007-08 Knicks ranked 25th in point differential, 22nd in points allowed, 28th in defensive field goal percentage and 18th in rebounding differential (i.e., Thomas' Knicks rebounded much better than D'Antoni's Knicks and were equally poor defensively). Maybe the Knicks will get hot down the stretch--or maybe their collection of rent a players will perform even worse as they count the days toward summer vacation--but as of now the numbers pretty much validate everything that I wrote about the Knicks in my 2009 article: D'Antoni's first Knicks team did not perform as well as Thomas' first Knicks team and D'Antoni's second Knicks team has gotten worse instead of improving. Fans bitterly complained about Thomas' coaching and about his roster moves but D'Antoni's coaching has not improved the team's record and David Lee--New York's most productive player by far--was drafted by Thomas, who also drafted Wilson Chandler, a promising young player who ranks second on the team in mpg and third in scoring.
Everyone knows that the Knicks have put all of their eggs in the LeBron James free agency basket but it is worth noting that nearly two full years into the post-Isiah Thomas era the Knicks have made little progress either in terms of developing a solid supporting cast or in terms of establishing a winning style of play. Why should James--or any other superstar free agent--want to come to a team that apparently has no plan other than signing one or two stars and hoping for the best? Jerry Krause once infamously stated that organizations win championships--a senseless swipe at the talents of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the other Chicago Bulls players who captured six NBA titles--but it is certainly true that organization wins championships--in other words, a franchise must be committed to doing things the right way from top to bottom in order to achieve the highest level of success. Just look at the New England Patriots, L.A. Lakers and San Antonio Spurs for three examples of 21st century sports franchises that have owners, talent evaluators and coaches who are intelligent and dedicated. With all due respect to Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni, I don't see any championship rings on their fingers, nor do I see the slightest evidence that any kind of championship blueprint is in place in New York. At best, the Knicks are going to get the leftovers of the upcoming free agent class after James and Dwyane Wade make their decisions--perhaps Chris Bosh will leave Toronto to come to New York. Bosh is nothing to sneeze at but he is not likely to lead a team to a championship any time soon--and he certainly won't lead the Knicks to a title if David Lee and Wilson Chandler (or their salary cap friendly replacements if the Knicks do not keep them) are the best members of his supporting cast.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:59 AM