Even the most defeatist of Knicks fans will admit that over the past 10 years, there are some teams who have had just as big problems as them. Across the last decade, the Knicks rank in the bottom five for wins, alongside the only recently improved Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Sacramento Kings.
Three of those four teams have played in the NBA Playoffs in the past two years, while the Kings have admittedly been the Western Conference’s whipping boys since 2007. Off the court, the New York Knicks would without doubt top any table that would calculate wins to tickets sold, but that only proves one thing, that the franchise is still without a doubt one of this biggest in basketball by name alone.
The other off-court factor is jersey sales, as fans thrust their hard-earned cash over the counter at the MSG Team Store, Modell’s Sporting Goods on Times Square, or even over in the UK on the NBA’s European Online Shop. The two highest selling jerseys over the past decade in New York take no guesswork; Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. What do they have in common? Apart from both being extremely talented players, neither of them still play in the Big Apple.
Using the five aforementioned teams, three of them boast serious win-now talent, All-Stars, players who are at the very top of their game. From the 2018-19 top 15 jersey sales according to hypebeast.com, number four and number eight, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are now on the Brooklyn Nets. Number five and number nine, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, are both thriving on a rejuvenated 76ers. In a much smaller market up in Minnesota, they had number ten on the list, Jimmy Butler, up until this time last year, but still boast one of the best Centers in the game in 2015’s 1st overall pick, Karl-Anthony Towns.
What’s the point of all this?
The point is that fans don’t buy jerseys because of personalities. They don’t buy jerseys because the players work hard. They don’t buy jerseys because of their ‘off the ball’ play. They rep the scorers, the elite dribblers, the guy who can swat a plane from the sky and rip a rim clean off the backboard on a dunk.
Simply put, the Knicks don’t have that. Some may say ‘yet’, as rookie RJ Barrett has shown in glimpses his ability to drive to the rack, while Mitchell Robinson’s rejection skills both in the paint and as far out as the three-point line has had fans on their feet in awe at The Garden, but that is a lot to put on two guys who are playing their first and second seasons in the league respectively.
The Knicks are struggling with an identity crisis, coupled with the inability to win games. Mike Miller’s record as interim Head Coach is somewhat better since the fizzle out of Fizdale in December, but we’re not talking a different team here. They still don’t have a closer, a guy who can put the team on their back when times are tough. Players like Marcus Morris, Julius Randle, and Taj Gibson are bringing some of that gritty, take-no-prisoners 90s ball back to Manhattan, but let’s face it, they’re only on the Knicks because they were the highest bidder. They’re talented players, better than the average of course, but none of them will ever see their names in the rafters one day.
The best chance of seeing a bonafide star in New York right now seems to be through the draft. Trading Morris, Gibson and Bobby Portis, while they carry some value – given their contracts, are on the shorter side – is not only the sensible thing to do in what is undoubtedly still a rebuild era but the most probable way of finding that next megastar that will have fans flocking from across the globe to get a glimpse of in white, orange and blue.
Free agency has been a bust for most of the past decade, chasing a dream which continues to outrun the Knicks, but Porzingis was found in the draft, and perhaps if not for a lack of ambition, some flawed decisions by the front office, and a healthy slice of unfair discontent from an injured Latvian power forward, Kristaps would have been at the epicenter of the franchise until the day he retired if they had it their way. There will be contenders out there who want to win now and will be willing to give up future assets for players who can make an immediate impact.
Take the picks. Keep building. They say you win nothing with kids, but the low cost – high benefit scheme that is the NBA Draft, for a team who hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2013, if they want that next star who will sell jerseys hand over fist, seriously, take the picks.
Featured Image: NBA.com