By REED NELSON
I have a confession to make. Since Alexey Shved — once called a Basketball Wizard, mind you — went down with a season-ending rib injury, my attention to New York Knicks basketball has waned. I have no obligation to watch them, I’m bored with just about everything happening on the floor while they’re playing and they’re aggressively attempting to be bad in the most unwatchable of ways. They’re taking the end of the year off, and so am I.
Or at least I was. ESPN and their alerts1 let me know that the Knicks had a slim lead over a depleted Atlanta Hawks team and I just couldn’t resist. I wanted to make lots of jokes at the Knicks expense. I wanted to watch the wax Derek Fisher doll that Madame Tussaud’s loaned to the Knicks deploy another Mad-Lib motivational timeout speech that fourth graders would probably find both corny and unhelpful. I wanted to mention, for the 8,314th time this season, that Langston Galloway sounds like Norman Mailer’s best author friend he never had, his Neal Cassady to Mailer’s Jack Kerouac. I wanted to feign shock for exactly the 51st time as Travis Wear checked into a professional basketball game and I wanted to pretend like I didn’t know it was actually Travis for approximately the 23rd time.
But none of that happened, because instead the Knicks accidentally won a basketball game for the 14th time this season2 and the second time in two outings when Galloway knocked down a late free-throw and both Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver missed shots they normally make. It’s massively frustrating. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that a solid majority of Galloway’s career-high 26 points were enjoyable television, it’s just that winning now — with the end so close! — is totally antithetical to the goal of the entire season. The goal of the season, may I remind you, is to lose as many games as possible so that the odds of winning the NBA Draft Lottery remain as high as possible. With that goal in mind, winning these two games feels a little bit like running eight miles to your favorite pizza parlor and ordering an entire supreme pie before Uber-ing home.
Winning is almost always fun. It’s basically the goal of every interaction in life, save an occasional friendly one. Winning is especially fun, however, in the wide world of sports. It matters to sports like oxygen matters to carbon-based lifeforms. And it takes some super fucked up structuring to make losing optimal in sports, but hey, the NBA pulled it off to such a degree that about 20 percent of its entire league is shamelessly, publicly and avidly trying to not win basketball games. In the words of T.S. Elliot, don’t hate the player, hate the game.
With losing, however, comes a strange and perverse pleasure. The TV-world has dubbed this phenomenon “hate-watching” when it comes to scripted and reality television, but it’s a little different when it comes to sports. I didn’t see anyone hate-watching Newsroom while wearing a “News Night with Will McCavoy” t-shirt.
But I definitely laugh at the Knicks’ ineptitude while wearing Knicks socks. Or a John Starks jersey. Or my traffic-cone orange, inside-the-house-only Amar’e Stoudemire t-shirt jersey (since left the rotation, but it had a good run). I have Knicks things that can be seen on my person in public, even while the particular brand of basketball they’re currently playing can best be described as ‘Slamball, minus the trampolines and the slams, but with a similar skill-level in regards to the other stuff.’
It’s a dark time. Like I said earlier, Alexey Shved’s cracked rib cracked me. I have a brick at Madison Square Garden that reads, “Knicks fan forever. – Reed Nelson.” It was a gift about 15 years, for my birthday and it was an awesome present. It came with a basketball signed by Latrell Spreewell and two etched bricks. One at the base of the first set of stairs on the right side inside the entryway to the Garden, and one for me to keep in my home on (theoretically) proud display.
The Spreewell ball is still unflappably awesome. The bricks are still awesome too, in the sense that I have them and enjoy them and all that, but the message etched in them now reads more like a geographically-levied sentence or a gravestone epitaph than it does a vote of confidence. “Knicks fan forever. – Reed Nelson.” Sure, if you read them with the exuberance of a 12-year-old superfan, than they’re exceedingly optimistic. You can pretty much use Simba’s voice and add your own exclamation points where you see fit. If you read them as a 20-something-year-old Knicks fan crushed under decades of ineptitude, Isaiah Thomas’s, Renaldo Balkman’s3 and Dolan-induced Stockholm Syndrome, however, Ben Stein couldn’t get as droll as required.
Without Shved’s Bad Basketball Wizardry, things have gotten boring AND sad. The brightest spot on the team is either Galloway or Tim Hardaway Jr., who has apparently been watching film of stadium turnstiles while studying up on his defensive tactics.
The most intriguing sure-thing subplots of the off-season are Shved or Not to Shved: A Musical and just how jittery the rightfully jittery fanbase will actually get approaching the draft considering that the Knicks’ best use of a first round pick since David Lee4 in 2005 was probably Danilo Gallinari, and his knees have the structural integrity of a pretzel stick. Also, that pick was in 2008 and he went sixth overall.
(Fun fact: If you hold a deflated basketball up to your ear in the bowels of MSG, you can hear David Stern saying, “With the 9th pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks select Michael Sweetney, Georgetown.” Followed by an entire MSG Theater crowd chanting, in unison, “FIRE LAYDEN!”)
The Knicks are currently 17-64 and own the second worst record in the league, trailing Minnesota for Supreme Shittiness by just a single game. Somehow, if the Knicks beat Detroit to close out the season, they could end up with the sixth pick in the upcoming draft. That’s the worst thing I could’ve written right there in regards to the 2014-15 Knicks.
Not only would the Knicks have been unwatchably bad, but that terrible play would’ve ultimately yielded them the sixth player in what appears to be a five-blue-chip-prospect draft (depending on how you feel about Kristaps Porzingis and Justice Winslow, of course).
And 2014-15 Knicks Bad is way worse than just about every other bad out there save the Lakers Bad5. Knicks Bad is the kind of bad that is silver-lining-less. It’s the kind of bad that a condemned and rotting four-story Victorian is dealing with. It’s hopeless. It’s boring. It’s waiting for a tear-down, but is sifting through a stack of competitive implosion offers first.
There are precious few things to hold onto with this Knicks team. Galloway might be useful on a good team, although there is zero evidence backing that assumption up. Cleanthony Early, a player many experts branded with the “Steal” tag following the draft, was either mismanaged into an awful season or just had an awful season, but neither option seems favorable. Cole Aldrich keeps throwing basketballs in the general vicinity of rims, which can be fun sometimes, I guess. Travis Wear existing without his brother is probably blowing some twins’ minds out there. Derek Fisher’s pocket square game is way deeper than his bench? I’m reaching here.
The point is, the Knicks are Knicks Bad, which is the worst kind of basketball bad, and they’re only the second-worst team in the league. The Minnesota Timberwolves are the worst team, clocking in at 16-65, but they are so much more entertaining. Andrew Wiggins is going to be very good. At his best, he plays basketball like he’s balls-deep in a jazz-drum solo, and the structured unpredictability within his game is so fucking fun to watch. When his shot gets a little more consistent (and it will) and his handle gets a little tighter (and it will), he’s going to be one of the funnest players to watch in the league. So every night, T-Wolves fans have that to think about. Also, Zach Levine can probably jump over shipping containers, so that’s exciting too. And Anthony Bennett is never not going to be intriguing to watch, because every time I watch him I basically just reenact the “schooner is a sailboat” optical illusion poster scene from Mallrats trying to figure out what scouts saw in him to justify using a number one overall pick on him. It’s the same with Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley; busts are always going to be intriguing while they’re young to semi-young.
The Knicks, on the other hand, like their bust-reclamation projects aged like fine Franzia. They want the “potential downside” section of a scouting report to have come entirely true, lit up like a fucking winning Bingo card. They want Eddie Curry.
And while the T-Wolves have a gunner like Kevin Martin to act as their Kirkland Brand statsheet filler, the Knicks have Hardaway, who shoots 35 percent from the field and 33 percent from three and puts up these completely fathomable numbers with a shooting action that appears relatively normal. To repeat, boring bad is Knicks Bad.
Which brings us to Melo. I’ve failed to mention Melo, but I did so on purpose. Melo is awesome, most of the time. I won’t let the anti-Knicks, “we’re just saying it cuz it’s true” faction out there take that one away from me. Sure, that last sentence would probably be used as line item #1 if a psychologist were profiling me for the aforementioned Stockholm Syndrome, but I stand by it. Melo doing Melo is fucking awesome. A double-team is like single coverage. He can release his shot at any point during his takeoff or descent. He finishes through contact like an F-350 parallel parking in a tight spot. He grabs his own rebounds, can post up just about anyone, can take just about anyone off the dribble, knocks down his three’s and is basically the only player I’ve watched who can jab-step for five seconds without the jab-stepping affecting his shot. Seriously. If he were a kicker, freezing him out would be impossible. Oh, and you know that whole “too open” thing in basketball or football? Or when a tennis player has so much time to set up a cross-court forehand that they bury it in the net? I have no numbers to back this claim up, mostly because I don’t want to be proven wrong by reality, but Melo knocks down his open shots. It’s what he does. He’s not a rim-protector. He’s not a shut-down wing defender. He’s not a Couzy-esque facilitator. He doesn’t need to be those things to be Melo or to be effective or to be really fun to watch. He puts game-issue NBA basketballs through regulation-size basketball hoops and that’s pretty spectacular in its own right.
The only problem with Melo this year was that he didn’t play much and when he did, he was clearly hurt. The few games he balled in before shutting it down just felt anachronistic. A player that good shouldn’t be playing for a team this bad. Or something like that.
So, to fully achieve Knicks Bad status, in case you required clarification, which I’m sure you do, a team must have a Melo-caliber player on their team who isn’t playing, and a supporting cast less interesting than the ingredient list on the back of a Dasani bottle. They also must deal their three best non-star players for a grand total of a second round draft pick, a pair of bad point guards and 43 shelled sunflower seeds.
Which brings me to what 2014-15 has felt like as a Knicks fan: Imagine sitting on a crowded bus, watching the ingredients on a bottle of water and just waiting for them to change while getting robbed blind by more savvy bus riders in the process.
It’s been a long year. Phil Jackson has only proved that he can get rid of talented, valued assets for pennies on the dollar. Derek Fisher has only proved that he can purchase suits that fit him. The Knicks roster has only proved that they can’t win unless they do it by accident.
At least it’s almost over.
- The alerts are a feature just about every Knick fan could have surely done without this season. Oh, what is that phone? The Knicks are down four with 1:56 to play? I should open up League Pass? Why? So I can watch Derek Fisher do absolutely nothing on the sidelines of the “Mecca of Basketball” while his clueless band of tanktopped vaudeville performers acted out a poorly rehearsed Marx Brothers sketch? Thanks, ESPN. I’m good. I managed to ignore it thus far, loss number 62 doesn’t need to mess with my night. Jump
- I think they won the first three on purpose. That theory doesn’t explain that weird seven game stretch at the end of January when they went 5-2. But whatever. Sometimes Rube Goldberg machines mess up, and sometimes Mr. Bean blunders his way to success. The Knicks are the latter, btw. Also, Travis Wear had a DNP, so the material associated with him need not apply, which was a bummer. Jump
- Still not sure if they knew he wasn’t Rolando Blackmon, but whatever. Waiting on that 30 for 30 that explains everything that happened to the Knicks ever. K, thanks. Jump
- Who went 30th overall and played for some seriously bad Knicks teams. Jump
- The Lakers Bad is somehow worse, but that has more to do with Carlos Boozer than guys like Jordan Clarkson. Jump