Empire Sports Media
It’s that time of the year again when basketball fans across the globe are filled with optimism as their favorite teams embark on an 82-game journey in hopes of winning the sport’s ultimate prize, an NBA championship. Optimism is a reflection of attitude, a decision to perceive one’s past, present, and future through a positive prism, whereas expectations are anticipatory in nature and are usually rooted in personal experience. I can’t think of a better way of exploring the dichotomy between optimism and expectations than through the lens of a Knicks fan.
For the better part of the last 20 years, the Knicks have been NBA bottom dwellers. The once-storied franchise has become the model for organizational dysfunction in all of sports. In an ever-evolving basketball landscape, Knicks management continuously finds new, innovative ways to elevate the art of losing-front office scandals, ill-advised signings, player-coach feuds, you name it, and the Knicks have probably had a season sabotaged because of it. Yet despite all of the blunders and mismanagement Forbes magazine ranked the New York Knicks as the league’s highest valued franchise for a fourth consecutive season. The Knicks ended the 18-19 season 10th in NBA team merchandise sales even though the Knicks had the league’s worst record and tied for the worst mark in franchise history. For better or worse, the Knicks are NBA royalty, even if the optics surrounding the club have been less than glowing in recent years.
After a season that saw the Knicks lose a unicorn, miss out on Zion, and watch marquee free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving take their talents across the bridge to Brooklyn, the club is now entering Year 2 of the Perry, Mills, and Fizdale led rebuild. The young nucleus of Mitchell Robinson, Dennis Smith Jr, and Kevin Knox have an entire season and off-season under their belts. R.J. Barrett, the Knicks 1st round choice, is shaping up to be an immediate contributor on both sides of the ball.
Former 1st round pick Frank Ntilikina is coming off of a productive summer with the French national team. Management found a way to round out the roster with a combination of serviceable role players and reclamation projects on favorable short-term deals. This may not be the result Knick fans wanted heading into the summer of 2019, but it’s most certainly feels as if the Knicks are precisely where they should be in year 2 of the rebuild.
Knicks fans should taper their expectations for this season, this is a young, inexperienced group. It’s always about wins and losses, but victories aren’t the only barometer for success. No realistic Knick fan should be expecting the team to be a viable contender for the conference crown with the record this team had last season.This collection of players isn’t ready to make that “jump” just quite yet. This story of the season should be about how this young core grows as athletes and as basketball players. As the season unfolds, the coaching staff and front office will begin to get a clearer picture of what this team can really be moving forward.
Fizdale seems intent on fostering an organizational culture that values defensive toughness, offensive efficiency, and conditioning. The coach has demonstrated time and time again that he isn’t afraid to tinker with starting lineups. Starters know that nothing will be given and that all minutes will be earned and reserves know to stay ready for their opportunity. Neither Celtics coach Brad Stevens or Nets coach Kenny Atkinson was able to break .500 in their second seasons with their respective clubs, the latter Atkinson, saw just an 8-win improvement in his 2nd year. Player development should factor into the equation along with wins and losses when fans begin evaluating the performance of Coach Fizdale. While all of this is going on, Knicks management has been able to acquire multiple future 1st-round picks and cap flexibility for the first time in recent memory. Whether fans want to admit it or not, things are looking up for the hapless Knicks.