By Fahim 'Coach Fah' Nassar
When I was nine, I found the Knicks on WOR, channel nine in New York. I’d been watching basketball for a year or two, being that I was a baseball fan first. I was fascinated, as this cool program didn’t come on every day and it was like my little television adventure to check every day around eight pm, just to see if it was coming back on. Then I discovered my Daily News TV guide displayed every game each week. Then I found that cool square schedule showing Knicks, Rangers etc., schedules. It was a fantastic time of whimsy and discovery for me. It had to be 1982. By 1983 I was 10 and soon, the biggest event of my young life took shape, the drafting of Patrick Ewing. Now, I was young and didn’t know how drafts worked. I had no idea about lotteries, frozen envelopes or any of the sort. All I saw was this giant man was joining my team, who already had Bernard king and was being billed as the twin towers.
I didn’t know about injuries, ACLs or any of that so when Bernard went down, I was sad and confused. When he was traded a year or so later, I was mad. I wanted my twin towers. I was mad at Hubie Brown because we weren’t winning, like the Lakers or Celtics, who occupied most of network television, when national games were broadcasted.
Then we got Marc Jackson, from Queens. Then Rod Strickland. Then Rick Pitino. Then… Stu (oh lawd) Jackson. We were okay, but not stellar. Then comes pat Riley all the way from LA. And lo and behold, we start winning, seriously winning. Winning in a way I’d never seen to that point. Not just getting to the playoffs, but sustaining, winning rounds even! We went to the Eastern Conference Finals, we even went to the NBA Finals 94-95. We did not win, but came ever-so-close.
Then, Pat bolted for Miami via fax. This normally would spell certain doom for an organization, but we still had Patrick. Soon we would have Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell and Larry Johnson.
We got Don Nelson right after and that lasted a year. Smartly, Jeff Van Gundy was promoted to head coach and the winning ride continued! It was great! Right up until 2001.
That was the time the winning was over, and no one knew. The owner of the Knicks and MSG sold or gave the operations to his son James. From the time James Dolan took over as owner of MSG and the Knicks, we have suffered a long-standing spiral of egotistical, woefully ignorant decisions from him. That has to be said.
He let go of Jeff Van Gundy, who wanted more power in the organization. Van Gundy boasted a record of 248 wins v 172 losses and several playoff appearances including a finals appearance. If you were a Knick fan during this time, you know the great victories and the strong defensive teams etc of that era. The firing of Van Gundy signaled the end of such success. The next several years were fraught with mistakes and setbacks. I call it the Era of Yuck stating in 2001.
I am about to run through all of the coaches and their records. If you don’t like ugly, I suggest you close your eyes at this part. Have someone read it to you. (And let us not forget that somewhere during this wonderful time in our Knick lives, the battle with New York radio and newspaper media blows up. Dolan disallowed beat writers into the practice facilities because of hit pieces to the organization. This sparks a hatred between media and team that still is pressing on. Ugly, right.
With Don Chaney going 72-112 between 2001-2004; Lenny Wilkens coming in from 2004-05 boasting a record of 40-41; Larry Brown in 2005-06 with a record of 23-59, oh and let us not forget the sprinkles of interim-head coach Herb Williams. 17-27 between 2004-2005. THEN, we get Coach and GM Isaiah Thomas and go 56-108 before Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni were brought in, again, to right the ship…. Sadly, mission unaccomplished there as well. James Dolan knew Carmelo Anthony was desperate to leave Denver and wanted to come to New York. He leveraged his way here by somehow convincing Dolan that he would sign in Brooklyn instead of The Knicks if it went to Free Agency (where this author thinks it should have gone). So he forces Donnie to trade 1st round picks, a swath of players all for Carmelo and Chauncey, who we didn’t keep either. We already had Amare, and instead of talking about how great this paring could be, New York media was more concerned with whose team it was, and not winning. That negative energy trickled into the locker room. This star pairing was destined to fail, but it least we had some fun. Then Melo and D’Antoni bumped heads. Then Linsanity (arguably one of the most annoyingly exciting 2 week periods in Knick history) took place… The following season, Lin took more money to go back to Houston. Pringles D’Antoni was gone. Under this regime there was not a ‘lot’ of winning, but there was more promise of it, than the previous 5 years anyway. I say almost, During the 2011-12 season with Mike D’Antoni (121-167), we went 42-40 and made the playoffs. Then, we went 18-24 with D’Antoni the following season, so he quit before he could be fired. That’s wasn’t exactly pretty.
Then Mike Woodson joins the team. With Mike at the helm, we limped into the playoffs the following year. We triumphantly strutted out our plantar fasciitis line up (Kurt Thomas, Jason Kidd, and Rasheed Wallace all forty years old at the time) went into the playoffs with a record of 54-28, before getting bounced early. Mike’s tenure was one of hope and promise. We complained about ‘Iso-Melo’ but we were getting to the Ws. But even a team with Amare’, Melo and Tyson ‘I don’t rebound, I slap out’ Chandler, we could only get so far. Then Amare injured himself. (No Al Trautwig, I won’t type out your faux pax. Here. But it’s bulging disc. (disc)). And soon that team was gone with the wind. Then, the following season, Mike was let go.
Folly ensured in downright awesome ways once Phil ‘Triangle Don’ Jackson came aboard in 2014. We haven’t seen the playoffs since. We have endured Derek Fisher trying to halfway teach the triangle while dealing with spousal issues and the bully beating (40-96). We’ve endured Kurt ‘Blindspot’ Rambis (9-19) and his trapezoidal triangle abomination, further pissing people off, players and fans. Phil seemingly abandoned the triangle after Rambis’ debacle. In 2016 he brought on Jeff Hornacek. Phil also had a Chicago Bulls reimagining when he brought Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to play with Melo. He drafted Kristaps Porzingaz a 7’3’ unicorn who admired Carmelo. Soon, Phil with all his wisdom, started bad-mouthing Carmelo to the public, through his various voice boxes. As we watched Hornacek (60-104) destroy chemistry in the locker room and nearly fight a player (depending on who you ask), Phil was destroying chemistry through the media. It was an amazing ‘crap-storm’ of ignorance. So unpretty.
In 2018, Phil is phired as president and Steve Mills, a long-standing executive retread was put in place. The vibe was as tenuous as his position. He hired Scott Perry as his General Manager, and analytics guru from the Miami Heat, David ‘Take That for Data’ Fizdale. Fizdale never had a chance to coach KP as, the Latvian power forward suffered a serious leg injury the year prior, after exhibiting some nicks and dings the season prior to that one. Eventually, KP was traded to Dallas for 1st round picks, cap space and Dennis Smith Jr. The ensuing year and a half of boasting losing (21-83) records got David and his Data summarily fired last year. That’s kinda ugly.
So from roughly 2001 to 2020, we have been devoid of a perennial playoff team. From 2014-Present we have been devoid of a fighter. Here is a snapshot of the ineptitude in the front office in the last fifteen years as far as free agents and draft picks.
Free Agents since 2005:
Larry Brown (5 years/$50 million) – 2005
Jerome James (5 years/$30 million) – 2005
Jared Jeffries (5 years/$30 million) – 2006
Amar’e Stoudemire (5 years/$100 million) – 2010
J.R. Smith (4 years/$24.7 million) – 2012
Jason Kidd (3 years/$9 million) – 2012
Robin Lopez (3 years/$60 million) – 2015
Joakim Noah (4 years/$72 million) – 2016
Tim Hardaway Jr. (4 years/$71 million) – 2017
6 years of yuck.
If you were ten years old in 2013, you are a mad teenager by now.
If you were 15, you are a mad young adult.
If you were 20 then, we get the idea…
Draft Picks Since 2005:
Channing Frye (8)
Nate Robinson (21))
David Lee (30)
Reynaldo Balkman (20)
Mardy Collins (29)
Wilson Chandler (23)
Danilo Gallinari (6)
Jordan Hill (8)
Andy Rautins (38)
Landry Fields (39)
Iman Shumpert (17)
Kostas Papanikoulaou (48)
Tim Hardaway Jr (24)
Cleanthony Early (34)
Thanasis Antetekounmpo (51)
Kristaps Porzingas (4)
Frank Ntilikina (8)
Damyean Dotson (44)
Ognjen Jaramaz (58)
Kevin Knox (9)
Mitchell Robinson (36)
RJ Barrett (3)
In the last fifteen years we have had seven top 10 draft picks. We traded Danilo Gallinari (Infamous Melo Trade), Kristaps Porzingas (arguably a good trade for both sides). Jordan Hill was not what we needed. Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert and David Lee eventually went on to become NBA Champs. So did J.R. Smith… but it’s J.R. Smith… Landry Fields is out of the league and is the assistant general manager of the Atlanta Hawks. We traded Tim Hardaway Jr only to get him back and overpay him… just to trade him away to Dallas with KP. Ahh the memories. There were a few good players like Nate Rob, but plenty of Reynaldo Balkman’s too. (Ugly as hell)
Then, there was “Say Knicks For Clicks” which was a call to stop beat writers from using our team as a punchline or as a headline for people to gravitate to their work. It was and is that out of hand.
Thus as a fanbase, we are heavy with expectation, burdened with angst from seasons’ past, much like Jacob Marley, haunting the history of Madison Square Garden. We want to cheer for a winner so badly.
If you’ve ever worn a pair of dirty glasses for too long, you will notice that you get used to the spots and smudges after a while. It becomes almost normal. When you finally clean your lenses, things look a touch different, but your vision is so used to the smudges that the clean surface seems odd, almost wrong. Though this is the way the glasses should look, feel and operate, because the eyes were so used to the dirt, we don’t like the cleanliness.
Not the best analogy, to be certain, but one that should still ring true to the eyes of Knicks fans, who arguably have not seen a clean screen in almost a decade. Enter ‘Don Leone’ and Coach Thibodeau- who by the writing of this article, have not won any games whatsoever in Madison Square Garden. Well, except for maybe…. Draft correctly, pimp the draft (take up from 27 and 38 to 23 only to trade back down and get 25. 33 and still a late round pick they flipped for a future second rounder) , and handle the 2020 Free Agency period like a boss (no scared moves, no huge contracts, no cash strapping, no loss of picks, instead they have more picks than ever). These are all things winning organizations have, but we are not a winning organization. Not yet. It is, however, looking better than it has since 2000-2001.
New, perhaps even, Pretty Glasses.
The Knicks are an organization that is no longer (for the time being) cash-strapped. They have a plethora of draft considerations for the next few years (including a treasure trove of second rounder’s for 2023.). They have not signed overpayment contracts, all weighted contracts have been moved and there is nothing on the horizon that suggests they overpay again.. at least for a while.
In fact, since Leon Rose was hired, there has been something we have not really experienced in the last twenty years… no leaks.
The organization has been very tight-lipped about its moves, its thought-process, targets, etc. This is how quality organizations are run and quite frankly, we are no used to it. Especially the beat writers, bloggers etc. The most entertaining aspect of this offseason were all of the articles proposing what the Knicks were going to do, all with the hint and tone of decisions of the past. Those on social media can see the obviousness of their desperation. We soak in their desperation and wear it like a medal. It is their fault that they did not pay attention to the offseason moves. It is their fault they were dancing and tapping to Same Ole Knicks, while Leon changed the record. And Tom Thibodeau, who has a winning record, is the new coach. He was here when we won under Van Gundy and Nelson. He hopefully will be why we win now.
All I am saying to my fellow Knicks is this is indeed a new day, not by new hirings’, but by whet these new employees do. We have already seen a stark contrast in business acumen and dealings. Now it is up to us to cease looking at this as it was the same old Knicks, as it is not. We must clean our lenses and open ourselves up to being a smart organization. That way we can get back to being smart fans who really know the game, not caught up in organizational worries. I am not saying there won’t be mistakes but I am saying they will not be the past’s mistakes. We as fans and supporters must be able to recognize that from top to bottom, general manager to scouts, developmental coaching to video department, this is a different front office and coaching staff. This comprehensive, investigative, diligent unit is unlike anything we’ve had in nineteen years and we must treat it as such.
We must refrain from free agent rose-colored glasses. We have to support our team, young players and veterans alike. I know we have our wants, desires and even proclivities, but we can no longer pass negative vibes toward our team. It is time to put away the grief and sing along with Erykah Badu, as we watch the bag lady roam on down to Brooklyn or any destination other than Manhattan.
Let the Michael Kays, Frank Isolas, Marc Bermans, Stephon Bondys, Rachel Nichols and Howard Becks to their own Lord of the Rings-esque obsession with ‘negative Knicks’ (their precious). Let us rejoice in the competence of Don Leone and the Posse (‘sup Phil).
As a fan of over 30 years, I look forward to this breath of fresh decision-making and I look forward to finally getting back in the perennial playoff picture in a few seasons. I also look forward to minds changing, not just the media’s but ours as a fanbase. I believe it is time.
As far as I can see, anyway. (get it… see- glasses… never mind.)