How The East Was Lost

by Russ Bengtson

The New York Knicks had their last All-Stars back in 2001, when Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell made the trip to DC. Since then, they’ve had plenty of All-Star players on the roster, but none have managed to reach that level again while wearing the blue and orange. Just in case you’ve forgotten anyone, here’s a complete list (with their All-Star appearances in parentheses).

Larry Johnson (1993, 1995)
Glen Rice (1996-98)
Stephon Marbury (2001, 2003)
Penny Hardaway (1995-98—yeah, he was only a four-time All-Star)
Dikembe Mutombo (1992, ’95-98, ’00-02)
Antonio McDyess (2001)
Vin Baker (1995-98)
Steve Francis (2002-04)
Antonio Davis (2001)

This doesn’t even get into the should-have-been All-Stars (either by talent or reputation) like Jalen Rose, Tim Thomas, Zach Randolph and Keith Van Horn.

Isn’t it an indictment of EVERYBODY involved with the Knicks organization since then? When you specialize in trading for past-their-prime players who make a big splash in name only, doesn’t that make you a bad GM? When you bring in guys who were All-Stars just a few short years before, and they can’t even crack the starting lineup of a lottery team, doesn’t that make you a bad coach? This isn’t just aimed at Isiah Thomas, mind you—he wasn’t the one who traded Marcus Camby, Mark Jackson AND Nene’s rights for Antonio McDyess.

But Isiah does bear a good share of the blame. He has a reputation for drafting extremely well, mainly based on his days in Toronto. Many of his picks here have been heralded with a great deal of fanfare. And for what? Channing Frye, who was selected eighth overall in 2005 and praised to the heavens, was unceremoniously shipped out of town (and hasn’t been heard from since). Nate Robinson hasn’t played in the past two games. Renaldo Balkman’s minutes have decreased. And Mardy Collins, Wilson Chandler and Randolph Morris aren’t in the rotation at all. Only David Lee has gotten serious minutes, and even his game seems to have slipped. Free agent signings have been even worse. Jerome James has been—at best—ineffective, and Jared Jeffries looks like a shell of his former self.

As for the trades, the Knicks almost always seem to come ahead talent-wise. Isn’t it time that someone questioned why? That, perhaps, maybe in EVERY instance, the Knicks have taken on players that no one else particularly wanted? Isiah has shopped impulsively, bringing in player after player regardless of how they’d fit in to the Knicks system (assuming there even is one) callously casting off those who don’t work—Francis, Mutombo, Jalen Rose, Maurice Taylor. Others are buried on the bench—primarily Malik Rose, the one guy on the team who’s actually won a championship, and presumably knows something of success. He’d be a natural locker room leader if he only played every once in a while. And if the other players would listen to him.

What kind of team are the Knicks going to be? Will they be a post-based team built around Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph? Then maybe think about moving some of the spare parts to surround them with three-point shooters (other than the supremely streaky ones they have) in order to space the floor better and give Eddy and Zach room to work. Are they going to be an up-and-down team that tries to outscore people? Then move Curry and Marbury, and bring in a Camby-type center (ironic, huh?) and a point guard who wants to run. Are they going to be a stifling defensive unit? Then, um, trade everybody and start over.

That’s what bothers me the most about the Knicks (and I’m not even a fan, I just go watch them a lot)—I can’t figure out for the life of me what kind of team they’re trying to assemble. And I don’t think anyone involved with the team knows, either.