After going through the customary post-game handshakes and offering a few positive cliches to the media, there wasn’t any reason for the New York Knicks to feel good about themselves as they headed to the locker room following last Friday’s 116-111 victory in Milwaukee.
While desperately needed, the victory served as a depressing reminder that the Knicks hadn’t won a single game since defeating the mediocre Orlando Magic at home on December 22. And throughout the six-game slide that immediately followed that pre-Christmas win at the Garden, head coach Jeff Hornacek’s squad had been exposed as a defensively vulnerable team with questionable depth, an injured superstar, and an extremely uncertain future.
By now, the Knicks were supposed to be among the Eastern Conference elite and scouting sharp-shooters ahead of February’s trade deadline in an attempt to catch the Cleveland Cavaliers during the season’s second half. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, and after the Knicks acquired Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Brandon Jennings and Courtney Lee during the off-season, even some skeptics had this team locked in to the conference’s playoff picture as a legitimate threat to LeBron.
As one of the Knicks’ only consistent positives, second year standout Kristaps Porzingis has taken on a bigger role than expected despite his youth. But the youngster isn’t blind to his team’s many shortcomings, and Porzingis recently told the media that the Knicks have a long way to go before becoming the team that so many are expecting them to be.
”In the moment we were four games out of .500, I said it—I don’t see ourselves as that good of a team yet,” said a concerned Porzingis. ”We were still growing. We were winning games, but we still had a lot to learn. It was a good moment based on our talent, but we weren’t there yet and now it’s showing. We got to figure this out and keep growing as a team. It’s not coming together yet. It’s frustrating.”
Perhaps most frustrating is the fact that the Knicks [17-22], who were sitting in 11th place entering Wednesday night’s action, have even struggled to keep pace with last year’s 32-50 team. Through their first 39 games of last season, Derek Fisher’s Knicks stood at 19-20 before falling flat on their collective faces. But those Knicks didn’t drop a fortune to start a former league M.V.P., a recent NBA Defensive Player Of The Year, and previously under-appreciated shooting guard Courtney Lee, alongside Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony in an attempt to win now.
Thus far, point guard Derrick Rose has been at the heart of New York’s problems. On Monday, Rose used an unexcused absence to skip New York’s cross-conference loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, and Hornacek chose to bench the former Chicago Bull for the entire fourth quarter of recent games against Milwaukee and the Indiana Pacers due primarily to late-game inconsistency and his often reckless approach, making way for throwback rookie Ron Baker.
While Rose was the answer to New York’s point guard problems a few months ago, his rumored rift with Hornacek and a series of sub-par performances has some fans hoping that Baker will experience a Jeremy Lin-like rise that will magically move the Knicks back into the playoff picture. In the meantime, Baker is just grateful for an opportunity that he’s been waiting for since the summer.
”At the beginning of the year, I had a meeting with Jeff [Hornacek] and he had mentioned something about January,” said Baker via The New York Post. ”If I stayed on the right path as I did in pre-season, I’ll be fine. I wasn’t concerned after that meeting, but I’m trying to keep improving obviously.”
Along with porous perimeter defense and a lack of offensive chemistry, the Knicks’ growing list of concerns also includes the shoulder injury that continues to plague Anthony, and to a lesser extent, the achilles injury that recently caused Porzingis to miss a trio of consecutive contests during his team’s six-game slide.
Regardless of what Phil Jackson envisioned for his new-look Knicks, it’s safe to say that it didn’t involve a healthy Rose being benched for a former Wichita State walk-on named Ron Baker, and after acquiring what are supposed to be several high-price pieces of New York’s playoff puzzle during the off-season, The Zen Master obviously wasn’t planning to entertain trade offers for his shiny new point guard ahead of next month’s deadline.
But that’s the reality Jackson has helped to create, and at some point, the franchise must forget about his sparkling resume and history in New York, and hold him responsible for leading the Knicks into what already looks like a very expensive disaster.