After losing to the Portland Trailblazers Tuesday night on the road 111-87, the Knicks were 24-41 and markedly improving their draft status. The defeat was their 13th in the last 14 games, a manifestly difficult period for the organization from top to bottom.
Some may perceive the Knicks as tanking, purposely losing games to better their draft position. To make that assertion is absurd. Anyone who has closely followed the team recognizes they have no such agenda. The Knicks are simply not equipped to challenge most teams for four quarters. They have very good stretches of games, but the positives cannot offset the longer spans of futility.
The primary goal, as stated by Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek before their current eight-day, four-game road trip, which will conclude tomorrow night (Friday) in Milwaukee versus the Bucks, is to develop and evaluate the team’s young players, notably point guards Frank Ntilikina, Emmanuel Mudiay and Trey Burke, who poorly shot a combined 5-28 at Portland, including Mudiay going 1-9.
Yet a plurality of Knicks fans is hoping for them to drop games, similar to the Philadelphia 76ers “Trust the Process” plan, which amounted to the Sixers blatantly tanking the previous four seasons before emerging as a solid playoff contender this season. Proponents of the Knicks losing probably screamed, “What are you doing?” when Hornacek’s crew nearly pulled off a comeback win versus the Sacramento Kings Sunday night before falling short 102-99.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has taken an unequivocal, cautionary and punitive stance in addressing the issue of tanking. In late February he fined Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban $600,000 for admitting to compromising the fundamental principles of the sport.
“I’m probably not supposed to say this, but … I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night, and here we are, you know, we weren’t competing for the playoffs,” Cuban said on the podcast “House Call With Dr. J” two days before being penalized. “I was like, ‘Look, losing is our best option.’”
A memo sent out Feb. 21 to the 30 league franchises stressed that strategically dropping games is unacceptable. “The integrity of the competition on the playing court is the cornerstone of our league,” stated Silver.
He added, “It is our pact with the fans and with each other, the fundamental reason we exist as a pre-eminent sporting organization, the very product that we sell. With everything else changing around us, it is the one thing in our league that can never change. We must do everything in our power to protect the actual and perceived integrity of the game.”
Knicks owner James Dolan has no worries about being fined by Silver. The commissioner has little doubt the team that occupies Madison Square Garden is on the up and up. He understands they are just incapable.