Somehow, it felt like the sun has set on the New York Knicks and for a long time refused to rise again, perhaps refusing to watch at what the Knicks have become. Swallowed by a blanket of darkness, it felt like basketball fans and the basketball world have ignored, forgotten even, the Knicks. I guess that is the bitter and unfortunate nature of competition. You lose the interest of the people the moment you start losing.
If ever anyone is inclined to think that the recent years of this New York franchise mired in the doldrums is Knicks’ karma for implementing the Superstar Solution without thought, without wisdom, without caution, and without foresight, well, here is the upside: the fee, it would seem, has been paid in full. Finally, a new dawn is rising.
Obviously, the New York Knicks would want to regain the adulation and respect of the fans. How they are doing it right now is a great start. Instead of crowning a superstar, they are molding leaders. Instead of banking on the fabled bright lights of Madison Square Garden for instant fame, they toil hidden in the shadows, embracing the grind, and pocketing only what is earned. Instead of feeling privileged thinking that they deserve a Playoffs spot simply because they are the New York Knicks and they have a superstar, they start from a point of humility.
And it is somewhat fitting that a quiet man, a player without a big ego, someone who was never pegged as a franchise player, a man without the taste for drama, is at the forefront of this New York Knicks renaissance: Julius Randle.
A lot of players would kill to have that position—the go-to guy of a team (with pedigree and esteem) that is finally showing signs of success. Who doesn’t want to be the Cinderella in a Cinderella story? Thankfully, it was not just given to any player—it was earned, and Julius Randle, now a first-time All-Star, deserves it. How this rise to superstardom affects how he plays and how he approaches his duties and responsibilities in this team is the next challenge for Julius Randle. This will challenge his maturity as a professional basketball player.
As for the Knicks, I think the next challenge for management is keeping themselves from making another Superstar Solution. At the close of March 1 action, New York is (surprisingly) fourth in the Eastern Conference, ahead of favorites Miami, Boston, and Toronto. There are a lot of games left to be played still, and New York’s fate remains undecided. But assuming they make the Playoffs, somewhere on the path to the Eastern Conference championship, they will falter and fall, and that is reasonable and expected. They are strong but they are not strong enough. Another year perhaps, and they’ll be stronger.
When this failure happens, what I hope I don’t hear is chalking up their failure to the lack of superstar to get them over the hump, how another superstar is the “missing piece”. This is not a machine with missing parts—this is a complete machine that needs fine-tuning. If New York finishes this season with a playoff appearance, the team instantly becomes a desirable destination for prima donna “superstar” players who want to leave their current teams hoping to have their way in a new team that deals or trades for them. It would be tempting. And if they give in, they would be cursed.
This will be a mistake for New York. If they want to sign a superstar, then sign Randle to a new contract once his ends after the 2021-22 season. If they want to add new pieces, I say add role players. Add players with high defense IQ. Add players that can make the team more lethal and at the same time more unpredictable. Put your scouts to work. Find guys who are great playing under a system, especially a system as demanding as Tom Thibodeau’s.
I’d like to believe this is not a fluke season. They can do it. They are successful now because they saw the benefits of grinding out games and trusting their teammates and the system. This builds character. What they will learn next is that the culture of winning that they are trying to build in New York will not be made complete in just one season. Part of the grind is losing and learning from those defeats. What New York should realize and embrace is that success comes in two forms —an unprecedented rise to the top that is no less than an act of god and is without question a rarity, or the slow row of becoming better and better and better. Winners have a great sense of perspective. I hope to see this in New York, but only if they stay the course.
Otherwise, it will be just like before—New York and old tales of woe.