Hanging out in New York on Wednesday morning, no one was aware the Knicks had their season opener against the Atlanta Hawks at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday evening. Some were even stunned when I told them. Even listening to sports radio, there was not much Knicks talk.
It’s interesting since a New Yorker can always sense the Knicks season starts based on the anticipation and buzz that comes with it. Even when the Knicks have stunk in the last decade, there was excitement in the air because it was basketball.
It took four presidents of basketball operations and a five-year playoff drought for Knicks fans to have their come to Jesus moment. Apathy is finally here with the Knickerbockers. Fans are fed up with awful ownership, failed promises and bad basketball. It’s surprising even in a way since Knicks fans have been tolerant of all this for a long time.
The Knicks have decided to go with the youth movement route out of necessity since no player in his right mind wants to play for that woebegone franchise. They are not attracting free agents since this franchise is dysfunctional with an awful owner who has no idea about running a sports franchise in James Dolan.
Even with youth movement and first-year Knicks coach David Fizdale, it’s going to take awhile for fans to warm up to this team, especially when everyone knows the Knicks are going to be a lottery team this season. Not even the Knicks’ 126-107 blowout victory over the zombie-like Hawks will have Knicks fans fired up. They know better now.
It was telling the Knicks struggled to sell out their home opener, and the Garden crowd was dead all night long on a night the Knicks shot well and actually played defense in this win.
Dolan deserves credit for doing the impossible. He actually destroyed a community that has taken pride in basketball forever. It took so much work, but he did it. This is going to be his everlasting legacy unless the Knicks turn it around. It’s no wonder why he is content on a rebuild. He knows it’s a waste of time to go after free agents knowing that it’s not going to work based on the track record. He has no choice but to deal with it.
It took eight minutes into the game for fans to awaken from their slumber when a fan hit a halfcourt shot during the first timeout of the game. That shot inspired the Knicks to go into a 12-0 run by making five of their seven shots to take a 14-10 lead after falling behind 10-2 to start the game.
It was the only noise Knicks fans made in this contest. Yes, the Knicks have so much work to do to get New Yorkers interested in them again. It’s not going to change overnight for sure. It may take years until the fans really care about the Knicks again.
Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 16 of his 31 points in the second quarter that spurred the Knicks to score 49 points in that quarter will not get fans excited. Not when he is nothing more than a complementary player. Not when he is inconsistent. Not when he is overpaid like a star.
If he is the Knicks’ best player, it’s actually a problem. He can’t be the guy the Knicks build around. They need Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox to join Kristaps Porzingis as the foundation players that fans can latch on to.
Ntilikina was awful as usual. He scored only five points, and he had a -2 when he was on the court. To his credit, he played great defense by creating three Hawks turnovers. But again, the Knicks drafted him to be a difference maker at the one. They need him to be a scorer and facilitator, and so far, he has proven he can’t do either of that, so what value does he really have? This will not get fans excited.
Knox did okay as one would expect. He shot 4-of-16 from the field, but to his credit, he did not let it affect him. He kept at it, and it was good enough for him to score 10 points in his NBA debut. Most importantly, he played defense that helped him stay on the court for 24 minutes and earn a +1 on the court. He showed more promise than Ntilikina ever showed, so he has that going for him. The fans weren’t vowed by him, but this was more of what they need to see more of him to be sold.
If the Knicks want to make something out of this season, they have to hope Knox can develop into a star that Knicks fans can say happy days are coming soon. They drafted him with the idea he can be a star to build around that can recruit a free agent star to play for them eventually.
They also have to find couple diamonds in the rough that they can build around this season. Maybe Allonzo Trier can be that guy after scoring 15 points off the bench. Maybe it’s Noah Vonleh, who scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. If the Knicks can get something out of those two this season, that will get fans excited about them again.
This season is about player development. That’s the plan. For one night, it worked. But the Knicks need more nights like this for fans to finally feel good about them.
It would also be nice if the Knicks play defense every game like they did in Fizdale’s Knicks coaching debut on Wednesday night. This is the first time they played defense since 1999. It’s been that long.
If the Knicks can get fans to finally get excited about their team, this season is a success.
The bar is low, but the Knicks have to start somewhere after two decades of awful basketball under Dolan’s stewardship.