Photo from amny.com
This year’s NBA storyline started with the Brooklyn Nets for good reason: they feature Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving playing together. They added James Harden last month to form their big three.
The Nets backed up the hype as they are 23-13 for the season with a 5-0 West Coast trip recently to show for it. They beat elite teams such as the Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers (twice). No argument there about them being the best team in the NBA.
Across the East River, the Knicks are creating a storyline of their own in the association. They overachieved so far by being 18-17 for the season with a no-name group. They play a pure style of basketball that is good on the eyes by passing the ball to create offense and playing defense. There is “We” in the team than “I” in the team. In other words, they play like a professional NBA team. It’s not business as usual anymore.
Refreshing, isn’t it, Knicks fans? After 20 seasons of lousy basketball and guys unfulfilling their promises to make the Knicks great, this season has been enjoyable and rewarding so far.
It’s no wonder a group of Knicks fans celebrated at 34th St. and 8th Ave. on Saturday night after the Knicks went above .500 this late in the season with a 110-107 victory over the Indiana Pacers. They appreciated how far this woebegone franchise has come.
Good for the Knicks fans for enjoying it. They deserve it. Say this about them: They are loyal. They tolerated mismanagement from the likes of Isiah Thomas and Phil Jackson. They dealt with James Dolan’s stupidity since he became the Knicks CEO in 2001. They experienced Stephon Marbury and Carmelo Anthony sabotaging their team with their selfish play. They even had to deal with Kristaps Porzingis forcing his departure since the franchise was not good enough for him.
After years of drama that sucked the life of the Knicks and their players, it’s all about basketball. It starts with Knicks president of basketball operations Leon Rose and no-nonsense Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau. They created a culture for players to succeed. They demand hard work, accountability and integrity from the players, and the results reflect that.
The process makes all of this enjoyable. I know we overuse the word “process” to the point it has become a tired cliche. But this makes sense when it comes to the Knicks. It’s been fun watching Julius Randle grow into a star. Who doesn’t enjoy Immanuel Quickley showing the killer instinct as a rookie by making game-changing shots at crunch time? Seeing guys play defense is beautiful after these same guys not bothering to play defense under former Knicks coach David Fizdale.
Here’s the best part about this Knicks team: Unlike the Nets’ stars, these guys are no mercenaries. Most of them are home-grown, and some of them are castoffs. Is it any wonder why New Yorkers embrace the Knicks than the Nets?
The Knicks show growth each passing game. They know how to win. They make plays defensively. They expect to win each game rather than hoping to win or trying to survive and not embarrass themselves. They take care of business by beating awful teams or rebuilding teams.
What is not to like? What is not to enjoy? It would be nice to see Obi Toppin and Kevin Knox breakout as players. It would be nice to see the Knicks get a superstar such as Bradley Beal. But those are luxuries. Beggars can’t be choosers.
The Knicks can be even better than this. It’s not crazy to think they could be a top-four team in the East. Maybe they can win a playoff round. This team provides intrigue on what they can do for the rest of the season.
There’s no reason to think this Knicks team will fold or revert back to form. They are well-coached for them to do that. If anything, there is more upside about this team.
There’s no reason to think Dolan would go back to his nonsense. He seems detached from the team. After realizing his limitations as the Knicks go-to guy in running the operations, he trusts Rose and Thibodeau to oversee the team. He knows he can’t ruin a good thing with the way the Nets are going.
If there is something good about the Nets fielding a super team in Durant, Irving and Harden, it made Dolan realize he had to change for the Knicks to get out of rock bottom.
He did something about it by hiring Rose to operate the Knicks and letting Thibodeau the coach and get out of the way.
The results and play tell the story.
These are not the same ol’Knicks anymore where we expect them to lose and laugh at them.
Those days are over. In a way, the Knicks are back.