• Alder Almo

James Dolan’s Empire State of Mind

USA Today Sports

New York Knicks’ forward Mario Hezonja added another highlight to his growing legend in Madison Square Garden with his game-winning block against LeBron James on Sunday. The Knicks basked in a brief moment in the sun.

While it may not be enough to erase the stigma of James Dolan’s headline-grabbing encounter with an unhappy Knicks fan earlier this month, it was refreshing news nonetheless, one the franchise hopes will spill over to another make-or-break summer.

Buried under Dolan’s long diatribe last week on the Michael Kay Show was his confidence to land big name free agents who can turn the Knicks’ fortunes around.

“New York is the mecca of basketball,” Doland said. “And we hear from people all the time, from players and representatives on who wants to come. We can’t respond because of the NBA (tampering) rules. But that doesn’t stop them from telling us. And I can tell you from what we’ve heard, I think we're going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents,”

Maybe defiant Dolan wasn’t betting blindly when the Knicks let go of Kristaps Porzingis in a trade that raised eyebrows. Or is he just bluffing?

Regardless, Dolan is going all in for the big pot with a $71-million wager.

Kevin Durant might be lured by the allure of cementing his legacy in New York. He could elbow his way into the GOAT conversations by winning a championship in the mecca of basketball and helping his long-time Knicks fan and agent Rich Kleiman’s lofty goal.

Kyrie Irving, meanwhile, grew up in West Orange New Jersey, in the shadow of New York City. It’s fair to suggest Uncle Drew will lead the long-suffering franchise out from the depths as a favorite son.

Drooling Knicks fans may want to catch their breath. Because what if the law of averages finally comes into effect, landing New York the No. 1 overall pick in the draft lottery and a shot at Duke’s Zion Williamson. Better still, the team can package the pick with other assets (including future first round picks from Dallas via Porzingis trade) and flip it to Anthony Davis to pair with a superstar free agent of his choice.

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic of the Knicks’ future. But there is also the fear that Dolan will find a way to mess things up again.

Dolan is not the “disengaged owner” some fans and media members assume him to be. He wouldn’t be so thin-skinned if he was truly so apathetic about wins and losses.

“We had mistakes and missteps, the kind of things that set the team back,” Dolan said. “We haven’t be as successful as we want to be but we think we’re going to be successful and we have a pretty good plan.”

Hezonja has provided the Knicks’ best moments this season: a dunk over Giannis Antetokounmpo on December and the aforementioned LeBron block. He may demand more money after this season, and will no longer be around when the team starts to win the games that really matter. But Hezonja’s highlights may be a perfect prelude how it’s going to be fun to watch at the Garden if things go according to plan.

Dolan may no longer have to encounter unhappy fans and ban them from watching the games as he may have finally figure out how to build his “Empire State” in the NBA by purging the ghosts of Phil Jackson and Isiah Thomas.

“Yeah, definitely I want to correct it [my mistakes],” Dolan said. “You know how? We’re gonna win.”

And win big they shall. Otherwise Dolan and his Knicks will continue to make headlines for all the wrong reasons.

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