Dear Knick fans (and Jazz fans who may read this on Twitter because it said Utah Jazz),
I head to DC tomorrow to begin part one of the three state/territory Utah Jazz tour on the East Coast (my one time to shine for all the Jazz fans who long for first person tweets during the East Coast trips). First stop is in DC to see the Jazz play the Wizards, then Wednesday to New Jersey to see them play the Nets and then Saturday to Philadelphia to watch them play the 76ers. Given the atrocious record of these east coast teams it is no wonder that the Jazz are around 8-0 in the last 8 games I have attended (thanks also to the 140-139 OT win over Oklahoma City last year in Utah). Obviously, not going to Boston will help my chances of extending that streak, not to mention the fact that the Jazz do not play the Knicks until March, which should be a very competitive game. That brings me to the main point of this post.
Knick fans could learn a few things from Utah fans. Both teams had similar recent histories: over a decade of success anchored by a 1980s superstar draft pick (Ewing for the Knicks, Stockton and Malone for the Jazz), two trips to the Finals, zero titles and numerous Jordan nightmares (though Bryon Russel’s is second only to Craig Ehlo, if that). The difference is that the Jazz only had one awful season in the last 20. The 2004-05 season was the only sub .500 season of Jerry Sloan’s tenure as coach of the Jazz (his 2003-04 42-40 season might actually count as a miracle if he is ever up for Sainthood – that team started four white guys, a Puerto Rican and had a Collins twin playing significant minutes off the bench and won 42 games. That would have been impressive in 1958, let alone 2004). Knick fans, on the other hand, had to endure one of the most bizarre decades of any team in sports history.
Awful signings (the Allan Houston mega deal started this because unlike other sports markets, New York fans cannot tolerate an intentional re-building period, so instead they overpaid for Houston to try and maintain their status as a mid-low level playoff team. Instead that backfired and they sucked AND overpaid), terrible draft work and the tag team of Scott Layden (a former and current Jazz employee – once again showing what a genius Jerry Sloan may be) and Isaiah Thomas, not to mention the second worst owner in the NBA behind Donald Sterling of the LA Clippers, and you had a recipe for awfulness.
The Jazz during the decade quickly rebuilt the only way they could – with a lucky lottery pick (DeronWilliams), a backstabbing Duke Blue Devil (Carlos Boozer), another find from Louisiana Tech (Paul Millsap – I have owned a Millsap jersey for over two years, way before it became cool, which I dont think it has yet) and of course, white guys (Mehmet Okur, Andre Kirilenko, Gordon Hayward). Just two years after they lost 56 games they were in the Western Conference Finals. But that is as far as they have gone.
This year, the Knicks added some pieces and had some players mature and develop. Amar’e Stoudemire has been a top 5 player in the league, even if he is a worse rebounder than the Knick’s rookie shooting guard Landry Fields (both a knock andcompliment in one statement). Raymond Felton has proven that being a slightly above average point guard and being chubby-looking can still be explosive in a Mike D’Antoni system. And Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari (but especially Chandler) look like they could be ultra-championship level role players (or in the case of Chandler a possible 2 option behind Stoudemire). In other words, the Knicks have made incredible strides in only one season. So what is the Knick fan response? Is it one of cautious optimism in trying to nurture and further develop the identity and cohesiveness of this team? No it is get Carmelo Anthony as soon as possible. In other words, Knick fans cannot help but be New York sports fans – get rich quick – win now, I’ll-sleep-when-I’m-dead mentality. Instead of the ten years helping Knick fans wise up andbuild the foundation they are already talking about removing some of the foundation for a flashy rooftop pool (that is a weird analogy, but go with it). Without sounding like Bill Simmons too much – it is like the scenario in Teen Wolf trading in Boof for Pamela. In the end Scott realizes who he should be with (and he still got to bone Pamela – win win!). But in the Knicks case, they cannot have both.
Most Knick fans have been in a coma for so long (or in the case of their legion of investment banker exploding fist-bump fans a cocaine and prostitute induced stupor) that they forget that building a team is more than star power. Carmello and Amar’e are not Wade and LeBron. And if you get into an arms race for star power you will lose because Miami will always have the bigger guns. But what you can do is take a page from the Spurs or the Pistons or even the early-mid 90s Knicks and build an identity and a team. Right now the Knicks all seem to be fitting into their defined roles nicely. Adding a superstar scorer and a sub-par defender like Anthony will only make the Knicks’ strength stronger and their weaknesses weaker.
My advice to Knicks’ fans would be to take a deep breath and instead of begging for Carmelo Anthony – go get someone like DeAndre Jordan of the LA Clippers. First of all, he is a free agent at the end of the season (that is what the Internet told me). Second, he is young. Third, he is the second most athletic big man in the league after Dwight Howard. Fourth he will allow Amar’e (seriously what is being contracted that necessitates an apostrophe?) to move to his natural position of power forward and then the Knciks could shift Wilson Chandler or Danilo Gallinari to 6th man, thus guaranteeing either player a permanent spot in the top 3 voting for 6th man of the year.
More importantly the Knicks will have addressed their biggest needs (shot blocking, rebounding and interior defense) without compromising their biggest strength (team cohesion). Carmelo may be great, but he is not great at what the Knicks need. Take it from a Jazz fan who during the apex of Malone-Stockton days could have used a defensive center to protect the basket (all due respect to Greg Ostertag, Felton Spencer, Ike Austin and every other tall man that has played center for the Jazz during their title runs) and could use one now to get over the dominance of Pau Gasol, a/k/a The Big Llama for the last few years (all due respect to Kyrylo Fesenko – who proves that confused looking, untalented, immense foreign centers don’t just exist in sports comedy films). But Utah has never been a place that could attract a player of that caliber at that position. But the Knicks can and should. Even though I am not a Knick fan, it was easy to cheer for, or at least respect the Riley and Van Gundy Knicks. Getting Carmelo Anthony would just make the Knicks the 2002-2008 New York Yankees – a team with high expectations and no heart. Ask any Yankee fan who they’d rather have Paul O’Neill or Jason Giambi and I would tell you I see the same differences between Wilson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony.
I write this because I have a brother who still likes the Knicks after an awful decade and friends who still genuinely like the Knicks (I mean the ones who still posted angry comments last year and the year before, not the ones who sort of ignored the Knicks for 5 or 6 years andare now back with a vengeance) and they have an opportunity that Jazz fans don’t (this is going to be me and Jazz fans as Ben Affleck and Knick fans as Matt Damon at the end of Good Will Hunting).
The Utah Jazz will win a title one day, hopefully before I’m dead, but it will take brilliant drafting and some white guy who probably has not been born yet to be comfortable in Utah (we already had a black superstar who was comfortable in Utah and he brought us close, but what are the odds we will find another hunting, country music loving, truck driving black basketball player again?). The Knicks on the other hand have something that Utah does not – New York City. But they have wasted it and now they are ready to waste it again by bringing in the player everyone wants, but not the player they need. Like Bill Clinton, the Knick answer to “why did you bring in ‘Melo?” will be, “Because we could.” Teams like Utah do not have that luxury, but the Knicks fans seem to be intent on falling for the star power again instead of doing what teams like the Jazz have done with success and that is trying to bring in the correct piece versus the “best” piece. The Jazz may have a ceiling of 2nd round playoff team (barring another African-American hillbilly hall of famer), but the Knicks, withthe city behind them can build a winner if they do it the right way.
But will they build it the right way? Will they be content to be good, hope that that is eventually going to be good enough and run the risk of never winning a title (the Utah Jazz method), or will they get scared, make the obvious move to keep everyone happy short term – like some sort of superstar ponzi scheme? Because the right method could win you 47 games, but if it works it could get you 60 and a title. The ‘Melo move guarantees you at least 55 wins, but almost definitely guarantees you a conference finals or semifinals loss every year.
And one last morsel of food for thought: What does it say that ‘Melo has been Randy Moss-ing parts of this season? Is this a guy who is ready to lead a team in tough times and sacrifice or is he an extremely talented front runner (who also punches and runs during fights – have Knick fans forgotten that?) who will eventually let you down. So as a Jazz fan I say, “if you’re still here in 20 games begging for Carmelo Anthony like all the other dumb fans, I’ll fu*king kill you” (insert Boston accent). Instead, Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni should leave for LA as soon as the season is over, or before the trade deadline and just leave a note for their fans that says “We’ve gone to see about a center.”