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The Knicks Long Journey to Relevancy is Finally Over

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The road of a New York Knicks fan is a long and difficult one. The typical fan is passionate about the game. It is the same reason why, despite the mountain of disappointment over the last few years, the Knicks have almost always being in the top ten in NBA attendance records. As it stands, New York is fighting for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and leading the way is a young roster led by head coach Tom Thibodeau.

2000-2010: Floating in the Middle of Nowhere

Every Knicks fan can attest to the journey filled with failure and epitome over the past few decades. We have had a few bright spots that never quite seemed to materialize. The Knicks had a few diamonds such as Stephon Marbury and Allan Houston, but never enough to warrant any legitimate aspirations in the playoffs. The right-hand man of Marbury was David Lee in an era that was plagued with some controversy, but also kept the team somewhat above ground.

The 2009 and 2010 seasons saw both Marbury and Lee depart from the team, leading to a 2011 signing of Amar’e Stoudemire; a signing that was underwhelming given the star-studded class led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. When the ‘Big Three’ formed in Miami, the Knicks felt the need to answer as best they could. The first answer was signing Amar’e Stoudemire.

Jason Miller, Getty Images

2011-2017: Carmelo Anthony’s Homecoming and Exile

New York stuck their hand into the player development process they have been on the previous seasons, as they participated in a 12-player trade that brought Carmelo Anthony into the fold. As big of an acquisition that was, the Knicks paid a costly price. They traded Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov and two draft picks to acquire Anthony, along with Chauncey Billups and three others from the Denver Nuggets.

In hindsight, this was the right move for the Knicks to make, but it came at a cost. Their depth was depleted, as they also needed to part ways with Eddy Curry and Anthony Randolph. That resulted in a total of six players from their rotation gone, but they finally had a legitimate superstar in his prime with Anthony.

The Knicks put together a legitimate team going forward. They brought on a mix of veterans such as Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler to go with young studs like JR Smith. They eventually received brief, but great contributions from Jeremy Lin. The Knicks ultimately fell victim to a strong defensive team in the Indiana Pacers and never made it past the second round during this era.

Injuries and controversy, along with the hiring Phil Jackson as an executive in March of 2014, officially marked the end of that small window the Knicks had at playoff success. Jackson immediately had a polarizing impact. He attempted to leave his mark by hiring Derek Fisher as head coach and also brought in Lamar Odom. This foreshadowed of things to come, but it wasn’t all negative. Jackson left a positive impact when he decided to draft Kristaps Porzingis during the 2015 NBA Draft with the highly-anticipated fourth overall pick. At the time, the move was certainly met with criticisms all around the league from both fans and analysts.

Jackson and the front office clearly saw something we didn’t, as it became apparent that Porzingis had the potential to become the face of the franchise and perhaps could be the light at the end of the Knicks’ struggles.

The water boiled as it pertained to Jackson and his two star players in Anthony and Porzingis. To the disdain of many, Jackson blamed the team’s shortcomings on Anthony, which proved to be a direct reflection of the feelings that were beyond the cameras.

The falling out ultimately saw Carmelo traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a future draft pick in September of 2017.

Shortly after, another falling out forced the Knicks to trade Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for two draft picks, Wesley Mathews, DeAndre Jordan and Dennis Smith Jr in February of 2019. Even with the persistent injury history of Porzingis, the move squeezed optimism out of Knick fans.

For the first time since 2016, the Knicks had some legitimate cap space to make a move. The team had the opportunity to sign two players to maximum contracts and were also in line to for a top pick during the 2019 Draft. Players such as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Zion Williamson were in the sunglasses of Knicks fans who were ready to cruise back into relevancy and potential NBA Finals aspirations for the first time since the mid-90s.

In typical Knicks fashion, they lost out on three potential stars. Durant and Irving wouldn’t bat an eye their way and joined the Brooklyn Nets. New regulations to the NBA Draft cost New York their odds at bringing in Williamson, as they settled for his teammate in RJ Barrett with the third overall pick.

Duane Burelson, AP Images

The Turning Point

The additions of Barrett and Julius Randle weren’t terrible, but the familiar feeling of being underwhelmed fogged up the sunglasses to relevancy. It was clear that the Knicks needed to go under serious construction to rebuild both their reputation and the overall culture of the franchise after years of mediocrity. Amid that disappointment, the Knicks made perhaps their biggest signing of the century.

In June of 2020, New York hired Wesley Johnson to be their new Executive Vice President. The individual responsible for most the franchise’s struggles, James Dolan, slowly faded to the background and Johnson began to leave his mark on the franchise. Johnson is recognized as one of the most respected individuals in the league amongst the players and restored much of the team’s lost credibility.

Suddenly, star players weren’t so quick to write the Knicks’ off of their desired destinations. Rumors circulated that Chris Paul was interested in being traded to the Knicks towards the end of his run in Oklahoma City. After solid play from the new core led by Randle and Barrett, it seemed like New York might have been heading towards another Marbury/Anthony situation where they dip into their development to acquire a big name. Except, this time they didn’t. This was a clear indication of things changing in New York.

After the shortened 2019-2020 season, the Knicks entered the 2020 NBA Draft with three picks and plenty of cap space. The Draft provided optimism after the front office selected Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley. Entering the 2020-2021 season, Barrett was ready for his sophomore season and to continue his development. Randle was very upfront about his disappointment of his play during his first season in New York and promised to have made adjustments to translate to better on-court play.

While Toppin hasn’t gotten proper playing time under his belt, Quickley very quickly ingratiated himself with fans due to his visible confidence and hustle on the floor. Barrett has taken more steps towards become a presence on the floor with flashes of elite play as he is seeking some consistency to truly be a major key to the team’s success.

The Knicks are sixth in the Eastern Conference with a 31-27 overall record. There may be reason for fans to still have their doubt after decades of disappointment, but this team appears to be on the rise.

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