The Sorry State of New York Basketball
March 6, 2017
Being a basketball fan in New York is tough right now. The Knicks are 25-37 and are unlikely to make the playoffs. Since the new millennium, the Knicks have made the playoffs five times. Four of those playoff appearances ended in first round exits, the other one ended in a second round loss. The high point of Knicks fandom for the past 15 or so seasons has been a second round playoff loss to the Indiana Pacers in 2012 — and maybe the Knicks’ failures on the court wouldn’t hurt so much if they had an even half competent front office.
Management has cycled through 11 head coaches since 2000, and owner James Dolan has hired three people to lead the front office since 2011. The latest of these new hires, President Phil Jackson, had no prior management experience — exemplifying how the Knicks favor style over substance. After Jackson made some sound basketball decisions two off-seasons ago, drafting Jerian Grant and rising Latvian unicorn Kristaps Porzingis and signing Robin Lopez, he traded for the inefficient Derrick Rose and then signed the oft-injured Joakim Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract. Rose even compared the Knicks to the Golden State Warriors before the start of the season.
The Knicks are unlikely to see greener pastures in the near future. Noah will have three years left on his contract at the end of the season, and Carmelo Anthony will be paid nearly $55 million over the next two seasons — he has a player option he is likely to exercise on the second year. And because Anthony’s defense is essentially nonexistent, he requires a very specific skill-set surrounding him — namely efficient shooting, rebounding and defense — for his team to succeed The Knicks are also paying Lance Thomas for the next three seasons. They have little young talent outside of Porzingis and the Spaniard Willy Hernangomez after trading away a bevy of draft picks over the last several years.
The most excruciating part of being a Knicks fan is the organization’s inability to think long-term. By refusing to rebuild while also branding New York’s Madison Square Garden as “The Mecca of Basketball,” despite the fact that the Knicks haven’t been relevant since Patrick Ewing’s heyday, the Knicks have brought their misery upon themselves.
And then there’s the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets are 10-51 and hold the worst record in basketball. Even though the Nets are the worst team in the league, they still won’t be able to capitalize on their putridity. The trouble started in 2013 when the Nets acquired aging stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and two role players for the rights to four first-round draft picks and bench warmers.
At the time, the Nets’ principal owner Mikhail Prkhorov lotted the team’s additions, “Today, the basketball gods smiled on the Nets,” Prkhourov said. “With the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, we have achieved a great balance on our roster between veteran stars and young talents. This team will be dazzling to watch and tough to compete against.”
The Nets’ best season came in 2013, when they lost in the second round to the Miami Heat. The Nets had mortgaged their future in exchange for aging stars that couldn’t get them out of the second round.
NYU’s basketball program hasn’t fared much better. The Violets men’s basketball team sloughed through a dismal 7-18 season going 2-12 against UAA opponents. The Violets women’s basketball team posted a mediocre 14-13 record but went just 3-11 against UAA opponents.
The nearest solace for New York basketball fans lies 140 miles north of New York in Storr, CT, where the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team has won 106 straight games and counting. During the streak, the team’s average margin of victory has been 38.4 points. They are head and shoulders — and then some — above their competition.
With little hope for success in the future, New York basketball fans will likely just have to suffer through a few more years of really bad basketball.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 6 print edition.
Email Sayer Devlin at [email protected]