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  • Writer's pictureJoshua U.

An Ode To The 2022-23 New York Knicks

Well — that was some ride, wasn’t it?


Let’s timeline this out. The Knicks -- MY Knicks -- over the past two decades, had largely been reduced in the NBA media as the biggest laughingstock in the sport. Perennially rated as the most valuable NBA franchise (Forbes), their play on the court… didn’t quite often match up, to say the least.


If it wasn't one thing, it was another. If it wasn't both those things, the other, more dysfunctional shoe was sure to drop soon. The Knicks since the early 2000s had fucked up in nearly every way imaginable. Bad front offices with a Ph. D. in mismanagement led to horrific organizational decisions, which led to a often piss-poor and lackluster product on the Madison Square Garden floor.


I'm not gonna spend too much time in this column on guys like Scott Layden & Isiah Thomas. I personally think their eras running the Knicks should be wiped away from our collective memories, Men In Black style.



This piece is an ode, a celebration and a show of appreciation for the current Knicks squad's success, so let's start this timeline on good times.


The Knicks traded for perennial All-NBA scoring savant Carmelo Anthony in February of 2011. The excitement and enthusiasm around that Knicks squad before the 'Melodeal' was high. The team, led by free-agent acquisition Amar'e Stoudemire and offensive-minded coach Mike D'Antoni, fielded a winning record and was already in solid position to make the playoffs. That excitement skyrocketed after the Carmelo acquisition. Anthony was born in Red Hook, Brooklyn and was about to become the leading man for his hometown team.


The Melo era as a whole, to put it kindly... could've definitely gone better. When an NBA franchise is blessed enough to have a superstar talent hitting the floor for them every night, it must move with precision, calculation, poise and a certain level of shrewdness. I would... NOT use any of those words to describe how the Knicks operated during this time.


Here's the thing: When you want to trade for a star, naturally you have to give a lot up to achieve that goal. The 2010-11 Knicks gave up a WHOLE LOT to land Melo, stripping away the infrastructure of their team in the hopes of Anthony and Stoudemire picking up the slack. They made the playoffs in 2011 and 2012, but bowed out feebly in the first round each time to superior, more well put-together teams (Boston and Miami respectively.)


Then came the 2012-13 season. That off-season, the Knicks prioritized experience in their signings. Adding to a roster already fielding Anthony, Stoudemire, dynamic sixth-man J.R Smith, and the defending Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, the Knicks went out and got PGs Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni and brought back Raymond Felton, who went to the Nuggets in the Melo trade. The Knicks also brought in multiple grizzled frontcourt vets in Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, and Rasheed Wallace. This all culminated in a 54-win season and a first-round victory over the aforementioned Celtics. Definitely something to build on.


You recall my previous point about the importance of a calculated, shrewd front office?


I wouldn't call pissing away the momentum of the best season in decades for Andrea Bargnani very calculated.


But, alas, that's what the Knicks did, trading away a first-round pick to do so. It made little sense at the time and it played out even worse on the court. The Knicks dipped from 54 wins to 37 in 2013-14, and went from the East's two seed to down at ninth. So, what was next for the Knicks? Why not another wild swing at a quick fix?


Enter the Phil Jackson era.


Phil Jackson, the Knicks' President of Basketball operations from 2014-17, is pictured here yawning intensely during a home game at Madison Square Garden.


And all its glory.


The 11-time champion as coach was tasked by owner James Dolan with pulling the Knicks back up to relevance after a down year. What followed instead was some sick shit J.K. Rowling couldn't even have written up. The Knicks followed up their down year in 2013-14 with their worst season in franchise history in 2014-15, winning only 17 games. This netted them the 4th overall pick, which they used on future All-Star Kristaps Porzingis. Despite the Melo/Porzingis pairing, the Knicks missed the playoffs each subsequent year up until both players were traded, and Jackson was finally dismissed. It wound up being a 7-season playoff drought until the 2020-21 season.


This season, led by new team President Leon Rose, first-year Knicks HC Tom Thibodeau, 2nd-year wing RJ Barrett, FA signing Julius Randle, and mid-season trade acquisition Derrick Rose, marked the first tangible success for the franchise in what seemed like forever. The squad won Knicks' fans hearts back with tenacious defense, and a steady offense led by Randle and his All-NBA, 24/10/6 campaign. The season ended with wannabe villain Trae Young taking a bow on the Garden floor, but we don't gotta discuss that right now. The Knicks were back!


Until they weren't.


In eerily similar fashion to the 54-win Melo Knicks: bad free-agent signings derailed the group. Newcomers Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier did not fit well, and the Knicks slid from 41 wins in 72 games and the 4th seed, to a 37-45 record, not even qualifying for a top-10 seed and a play-in berth. Shit got so crucial, Julius Randle engaged in back-and-forth with Knicks fans, even giving them a "thumbs-down" in the middle of a game in response to boos.



Randle's thumbs-down gesture -- a gesture he defined as a "shut-the-f----up" to the Garden fans, became the defining image in a disappointing Knicks' 2021-22 campaign.


Leon Rose & company faced a defining moment in the offseason. Make or break time.


Jalen Brunson, up to the point of the Summer of 2022, had lived quite the bountiful

basketball life. Brunson was born in New Brunswick, NJ in 1996, to mother Sandra and father Rick Brunson, who played for the Knicks from 1999-2001 under then-assistant coach Tom Thibodeau. Jalen, in his teen years, played ball at Stevenson High in Illinois, and put together a remarkable run there, which included 2 Illinois Player of the Year selections, 3 AP All-state selections, and the honor of winning Illinois Mr. Basketball. During this time, Brunson had idolized Derrick Rose, who at this time was playing MVP-level basketball in the same state for the Chicago Bulls. Brunson then went on to Villanova University, where he only expanded his legend.


Jalen Brunson led the Villanova Wildcats to two National Championships as the starting point guard in 2016 and 2018, and was named College Basketball Player of the Decade in 2019 (Sporting News).

2 national titles. The USBWA Oscar Robertson Trophy. AP College Player of the Year. Naismith College Player of the Year. The John Wooden Award. The Bob Cousy Award. Jalen Brunson's college career was defined by nothing but winning -- and received widespread recognition for doing so. Yet somehow, he still slipped to the 2nd round of the 2019 Draft, selected 33rd by the Dallas Mavericks.


Fast-forward to the 2021 offseason. Brunson had proved himself as a prominent piece on the Mavs' roster alongside Luka Doncic. Mark Cuban had the chance to offer Brunson a 4 yr, $55 million extension to remain with Dallas -- a contract that Brunson has repeatedly stated he would have accepted if offered. Instead, it wasn't, and Brunson had the year of his NBA career to that point. The Mavericks started the 21-22 postseason with Doncic hurt -- meaning a leading role for Brunson on offense. Brunson took that opportunity and did what he'd done his entire life. Produce and win. Brunson averaged 27.8 PPG, outplaying & eliminating the Jazz and Donovan Mitchell (much more on him later). The Mavs got Doncic back and advanced all the way to the Conference Finals. Brunson had further proved his worth as a quality NBA point guard and now was too expensive for the Mavs to retain (for some reason).


The Knicks saw Brunson as a valuable enough commodity that they hired his dad Rick as an assistant coach to Thibs before Jalen even hit free agency. With maybe a teensy-weensy bit of tampering, The Knicks and Brunson agreed to a 4 year, $104M deal. The contract was widely ridiculed by the "Knicks-For-Clicks" media and fans alike. They even came up with a new nickname for the new Brunson-Barrett-Randle trio! The Mid 3. Creative! Regardless, Jalen was now signed on to be the PG of the future.


He wound up doing & meaning so much more than that.


If we're paying homage to the Knicks season that just commenced -- a season that saw them go 47-35, finish 5th in the East, and win a playoff series for the first time in 10 years -- we have to start with Brunson. Brunson changed the culture and tenor around the franchise with steady, efficient play on offense and his unwavering leadership in the locker room. He set his regular season career-high in points three separate times -- 38 against the San Antonio Spurs on January 4th, 44 against the Milwaukee Bucks on January 9th, and a 48-point masterclass against Spida and the Cavs on March 31st. He averaged a career high 24 PPG and ratcheted it up to an even higher level once the playoffs got started -- with 28 PPG in postseason ball. The season ended with a loss to the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the conference semis, but he went out swinging with a 41-point performance on a night where nobody else showed up.


An ode to the rising star of New York City hoops, and the best Knick PG since Clyde Frazier.


An ode to Julius Randle, who needed a bounce-back from his much-maligned 2021-22 campaign in the worst way. Randle is a frustrating one -- he has the rare capability to dominate with his brute physicality and unique skill every single night. It's really only one player in the NBA that can stop Randle... himself. Randle has a propensity of being the root of his own pitfalls, but this season saw #30 regain control of his New York Knicks narrative. Randle averaged a career-high 25 PPG, thriving alongside Brunson, who took a big chunk of Julius' playmaking responsibility away for the better. When he was on, he was ON -- overwhelming opposing defenses with his size, strength, and skill. He scored a career-high 57 against Minnesota on the Garden floor, with chants of M-V-P raining down upon him. Randle had an incredible season all the way around, making the All-Star team for the second time as a Knick, and was named to the All-NBA team, also for the second time in three seasons. Randle played every single game for the Knicks up until a bad ankle sprain suffered against Miami on March 30th, causing him to miss the final 5 games of the regular season. Randle returned in the playoffs, and struggled mightily while clearly being hobbled. It was now the second All-NBA season that preceded a dramatic drop-off in the playoffs for Randle, who is by far the most polarizing player in the eyes of Knicks fans. There's very little nuance in conversations involving him: some fans are immensely grateful for Randle's role in bringing the Knicks back to prominence. The other portion of the fanbase is tired of his inconsistent play, view him as a moody malcontent, and can't wait to see him shipped off to another team. He provided unforgettable moments, like his improbable game-winner in Miami to cap a 43-point night, as well as regrettable moments, such as getting in Immanuel Quickley's face during a pre-halftime, on-court argument in Orlando.


Knicks' Julius Randle celebrates his game-winning, fadeaway 3-pointer vs the Miami Heat on March 3rd, 2023.


Regardless of how you view Julius, there's no denying that it was a great season for him. Randle turning his trials into smiles was seen coming by very few inside the Knicks' fanbase and around the NBA. Shout out to him.


An ode to RJ Barrett -- who many Knicks fans, including myself, left for dead before the playoffs commenced. RJ had a very up-and-down regular season. Were there a few stretches of brilliance? Yes, absolutely. There were many more stretches full of head-scratching shot attempts & lackluster defensive play. Knicks fans may not have been as irate towards his growing pains -- he is only 22 after all -- if not for the entanglement of his name in the Donovan Mitchell saga over the summer. Mitchell was a star on the outs with the Utah Jazz, and their GM Danny Ainge was beginning to field offers for 'Spida'. All eyes pointed towards the Knicks as the perfect fit. Mitchell's from the Westchester area. His dad is an employee for the New York Mets, and Spida is also a diehard Mets' fan. The Knicks had a chance to draft Mitchell in 2017... didn't happen. But now was NYK's chance to right their wrong. It was widely believed that RJ was going to be in the eventual deal to send Mitchell back home. It was only a matter of when.


Until it wasn't.


Out of nowhere, the Knicks gave Barrett a 4 year, $107M, "poison-pill" contract, ending NY's pursuit of Mitchell, barring a miracle. Ainge pivoted and dealt Mitchell to the Knicks' conference rivals, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Naturally, the pressure was placed on RJ to produce, and produce BIG. But whether it was because of injury -- he suffered a freak right index finger dislocation and laceration in January that brought one of the best stretches of his career to a screeching halt -- or just poor play in other instances, he wasn't producing to the level of his heightened expectations. This, of course, angered the fanbase, and he was very much on notice ahead of the Knicks' playoff battle against the Cavs, and... oh, look at that! A matchup against the man he wasn't traded for in the first round. Poetic.


After struggling in the first two games of the series, Barrett showed up and showed out.


He scored 19 points on 8-12 shooting in a Game 3 victory. RJ then followed that up with an efficient 26 point performance, thoroughly outplaying Mitchell (11 pts, 5-18 FG) in Game 4. He had the Garden crowd delirious and praising his name.


"R-J BARR-ETT! R-J BARR-ETT!"


It was beautiful. Knicks fans finally seemed to embrace their former #3 overall pick as he balled out on the biggest stage. He recorded another 20-point game to close the Cavs out in Game 5, and continued his poised play against Miami, scoring 24+ in four out of the six games in the series. Just think about this: in the span of 11 games, RJ reversed the narrative on his young career from "draft bust" to "playoff riser", essentially telling Knicks fans at-large to take him out of their trade machine scenarios. A 1-10 final outing in Game 6 vs Miami stung, no doubt. But bigger picture? RJ made a statement this postseason.


RJ Barrett celebrates a made field goal against the Cleveland Cavaliers, in the midst of a playoff run where he recorded six 20-point performances in 11 games played.


Speaking of Barrett -- and Mitchell for that matter -- here's an ode to the other Knicks draftees, the rest of the young core. Immanuel Quickley finished as a finalist for the 2023 Sixth Man of The Year award with his elite two-way play as the leading reserve. As great as Jalen Brunson was this season, Brunson also missed 14 games. When the Knicks needed him, IQ stepped up in a starting role -- a role that saw him average 22, 5, and 5 when called upon. This includes a 38-point performance in a 2OT win in Boston, where he was, to put it the same way Walt "Clyde" Frazier would, dancing and prancing around the TD Garden floor.


IMAGE: Knicks' Immanuel Quickley jumps for joy in celebration in the midst of his career night in Boston.


An ode to Mitchell Robinson, who made the jump straight from high school to the Knicks' organization and has been a steady improver each season. Robinson can kind of remind you of clay, how his raw athletic talent & lean body has been molded into a chiseled physique and a uniquely great shot-blocking ability. Mitch also became an absolute force on the glass, securing endless second-chance opportunities for the Knicks through his relentless offensive rebounding. This helped the Knicks to an insane top-5 finish in Offensive Rating, in a season where they were a bottom-third shooting team. The Knicks might not have vanquished the Cavs as easily as they did if not for Mitch's dominance over "twin-towers" Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley.


An ode to Quentin Grimes, who was a key part of one of the top-rated starting lineups in the NBA this season. Q-Dot provided timely threes (shot 38% from behind the arc) and quality defense on star guards and wings. He also provided a classic Garden moment in Game 5 of the Conf. Semis vs Miami. After getting clipped by Miami's Bam Adebayo on a screen, Grimes went down in pain, holding his knee. However, sensing the importance of the moment in a 6-point game with a minute left, Grimes quickly got back into the play, switched onto Jimmy Butler, and took his cookies with an storybook-type steal to help seal the game for the Knickerbockers.


Quentin Grimes' late-game steal on Jimmy Butler gave the young 2-guard an iconic hustle moment in Madison Square Garden lore.


An ode to Obi Toppin, unquestionably one of the most beloved Knicks on the squad. Drafted 8th overall in 2020, Obi has consistently lit fire under Knicks fans with his high-flying dunks and steady offensive improvement. With Julius Randle's late-season ankle injury came plenty of opportunity of Toppin, who capitalized on it with some huge scoring performances in the final stages of the regular season & with plenty of stretches of poised play and quality three-point shooting in the playoffs.


An ode to Isaiah Hartenstein, the first-year Knick and reserve big-man, who epitomized the toughness of the squad, playing all 82 games, providing consistent hustle and poise when called upon.


An ode to reserves Deuce McBride, Derrick Rose, and Evan Fournier, all of whom spent a majority of their time this season out of coach Thibodeau's rotation, yet stayed ready for their opportunities and heightened the Knicks' new culture of professionalism with their positive attitudes and constant support of their teammates. Rose was a huge part of the Knicks' 41-31 season as the 6th man, but had to impact winning in a completely different role this season -- a role he took in stride.


One last player: An ode to Josh Hart. The Knicks were enjoying a good, solid season before the trade deadline. They SOARED after trading for Jalen Brunson's former college teammate and co-national-champion.


Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart, who won a national title as Villanova Wildcats in 2016, now look to lead the Knicks back to championship contention alongside one another again.


Hart is sort of an enigma -- a jack-of-all-trades type player. He doesn't do anything elite, really. Yet, he can demoralize teams in so many different ways, whether it's making timely threes, collecting offensive board after offensive board, making key defensive plays in clutch time, or consistently converting on coast-to-coast layups in transition. Hart is a much-needed type of swiss-army knife that any team that seeks to win a title needs. It's no accident, nor is it a coincidence that the Knicks immediately ripped off 9 consecutive wins after acquiring Hart. He's fully expected to ink a multi-year extension with New York this summer, news that every Knicks fan (at least the sensible ones that didn't mind Cam Reddish being dealt for him) should welcome with great enthusiasm.


Lastly, an ode to Tom Thibodeau. Thibs is the definition of a throwback coach. In the era of load management and decreased minutes for stars, Thibs continues to zig while everyone else zags. He isn't quite the minutes terrorist that he used to be: no Knick ranked in the top 15 in MPG. He'll still ride guys out in emergency situations such as Game 5 vs Miami, as Brunson and Grimes BOTH went all 48 minutes in that one with the Knicks facing elimination. For all of Thibs' faults (I personally don't hold the belief that he'll be the leading man when the Knicks are seriously contending for championships) ... it's two things about him that can't be denied.


He's an outstanding culture-setter.


And, also: he absolutely bleeds orange and blue.


The Knicks had a bad habit of running through coaches such as Derek Fisher, Jeff Hornacek, and David Fizdale -- all of whom consistently failed at rallying their troops to play with enough pride and effort defensively. Thibs came right in and had the Knicks at the top of the defensive ranks in his first year at the helm. Thibs also has a rich history with the Knicks' organization: He was an assistant coach under Jeff Van Gundy with NYK from 1995 to 2002. Thibs grew up a Knicks fan by virtue of his father -- they spent many games watching the brilliance of Walt Frazier and Willis Reed on display. Coaching the Knicks is Thibodeau's dream job, he's stated such on multiple occasions. Yet, he headed into the 2022-23 campaign with his job in serious jeopardy. In fact, it was on the brink of erasure after a 10-13 start riddled with embarrassing & gutless home losses. Thibs then made the decision on Dec. 4th to trim an overloaded rotation to 9 guys, removing Cam Reddish and others from regular playing time. This move defined the Knicks' mid-season revival, as they took off and ripped off multiple 8+ game winning streaks. Thibodeau's redemption arc is similar to Randle's. Both disappointed greatly in the previous season, but both bounced back to make the Knicks a relevant factor again in the East.


All of this sets up the most pivotal Knicks' offseason in recent memory, and that's not even being hyperbolic. They're expected to have cap space after Rose and Fournier's contracts inevitably come off the books. With a tough, playoff-seasoned young core & a bevy of draft capital, the Knicks have the ammo required to swing a deal for a superstar, should one, or a couple, become available. They have their franchise player, a star in Brunson. They have Barrett and Randle, who've proven to be good supporting pieces... but good enough to contend for chips? I don't think so, which means the Knicks have interesting decisions to make on both, should it be a one-or-the-other type situation. I didn't reference the last pivotal NYK offseason at the start of this piece for nothing. The Knicks' 2013 offseason was a failure of nasty & horrific proportions, which set the franchise back over a decade trying to save face and recover. The Knicks find themselves in a similar spot this summer. Do well, and Knicks fans will continue to lose their fucking minds supporting this team as we build towards a title with key trades and smart signings.


Knicks fans shut down 7th Avenue on multiple occasions throughout the team's playoff journey, celebrating home wins in Games 3 & 4 against Cleveland and Games 2 & 5 vs Miami.


Should they fail, and they risk the chance of falling back into NBA purgatory (or worse), Jalen Brunson's premium-value contract would be wasted and Knicks' fans fervor would shift to volatility and hostility.


No pressure!


But, for now... What a ride that season was. I mean, really. This team captivated the city, and with the help of the Brooklyn Nets' downfall, reinforced that New York will and will ALWAYS be a Knicks' city. I will never forget this team and their fight, their toughness, and their resilience -- they responded every single time their backs were up against the wall until they just couldn't anymore. They pushed back against every single corny narrative presented against them, most notably getting "the one that got away" in Donovan Mitchell and his Cavs up outta there in just 5 games. The L to 8th-seeded Miami definitely hurts, as the Knicks largely beat themselves with a trip to the Conference Finals at stake. But there's now a key opportunity for the squad to use that disappointment and heartbreak as an engine and motivator to strike back in the years to come.


The ball's now in their court. The front office, the coaching staff, and the players. They're all on notice.


Hopefully they've learned their lesson from the previous two summers following winning seasons, with the Andrea Bargnanis, Kemba Walkers and Evan Fourniers of it all.


Time to see how they respond.

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