Jeff Hornacek had about as much chance to succeed in New York as Pete Rose had to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame. And it stinks, because Hornacek has always been nothing but a class act and, believe it or not, a good head coach.
But the Knicks have always been a franchise that has made the wrong moves. They’ve zigged when they should have zagged and ran when they should have passed…
Until they hired Scott Perry.
For a change, there’s a general manager in Gotham City that understands the patience that a true rebuilding project requires, and with Carmelo Anthony in Oklahoma City, Perry doesn’t have the same implied pressure on him that Jackson did.
Sure, you can make the case that Jackson made a few boo boos during his tenure in New York (and we’re being kind when we say “a few”), but the unenviable predicament in which he found himself was being stuck between a rock and a hard place—or, more appropriately, being stuck between a Carmelo and a Kristaps.
When the Knicks acquired Carmelo in 2011, he was a 26-year-old superstar whose best years were ahead. Even though the Knicks traded the farm for Anthony, the hope was that another star or two would want to join forces with he and Amar’e Stoudemire badly enough to make it happen. With either Chris Paul or Dwight Howard—either of whom could have become Knicks if things played out a tad differently—the Knicks would have been capable of challenging LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
Obviously, that never happened, but the expectations that the franchise and its fans had of Anthony didn’t diminish, even as his skills did. As a result, the perception of the Knicks, both from inside Penn Plaza and outside, was that the Knicks were always one or two pieces away from becoming a conference contender. That false hope led to things like trading for Andrea Bargnani and Derrick Rose and signing Joakim Noah.
The two things that Perry has working in his favor are his prior experiences in Detroit and Orlando and the history of a franchise that’s been best at doing exactly the types of things that shouldn’t be done.
Based on how he’s conducted himself over the course of his first season on the job—beginning with the way he dealt with the trading of Carmelo Anthony—Perry has already shown that he at least has the chops to not roll over like a lapdog.
From the beginning, his promise to the fans of the Knicks has been to embrace a full rebuild of the team and to not try to take the very shortcuts that have doomed the squad time and time again. Jackson began tearing things down, but instead of razing the foundation, he began building on it, and that started when the Knicks re-signed Anthony to a five-year, $124 million extension back in July 2014.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, by the time Jackson had been ousted, he’d already used the ninth pick in the 2017 NBA Draft on Frank Ntilikina. And that’s not to say that Ntilikina is a bad selection and won’t be a good pro, it’s only that we’ll never know whether Perry would have shown better aptitude and had the clairvoyance to select local product Donovan Mitchell.
The con to that is that it will have taken us almost one year on the job to see whether Perry still had the eye for talent that he did back when he worked in Detroit, Orlando and Seattle.
Although we are still a few weeks from knowing where the Knicks will pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, with the hiring of his own head coach and the rights to his own first round pick, what the Knicks do on Perry’s watch this summer will officially begin the clock on his righting the ship in New York and showing that the Knicks have finally found the man that can end the franchise’s futility.
And no, that’s not to say that the Knicks need to make the playoffs next season. It’s only to say that whoever he believes to be the right man for the job better be.
While we sit here and see Ben Simmons emerging into every bit the player we thought he could be when the Sixers selected him with the first overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, it’s easy for Knicks fans to point at the team in their backyard and suggest that the key to turning a franchise around is tanking.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
Sure, tanking can help the process, but without the proper infrastructure and priorities in place, it’s less than half the battle. Ever year, diamonds in the rough are selected in the draft. Franchise-caliber players can be found inside of the lottery just as they can be found outside of the lottery.
The key to turning a franchise around isn’t tanking—it’s intelligence.
Teams have whiffed with the first or second pick and others have thrived in the late lottery. So whether the Knicks end up with a top three pick this June or the ninth, he needs to make it count.
He needs to make it count just like he needs to do the same with his first head coach.
What should be somewhat reassuring, at least to this point, is that Perry has helped the Knicks become younger and he’s continued to express the correct sentiment in everything that he’s said publicly.
Best of all, without the false expectations that having an aging superstar breed, the only timeline that the Knicks need to be concerned with is their own.
Kristaps Porzingis certainly seems to have an icy relationship with the franchise, and if there is no contract extension signed, it will cause fans of Porzingis to panic. But the truth of the matter is that while Porzingis has shown some flashes of potential, he hasn’t come anywhere near living up to the hype that he’s generated and he hasn’t even come close to proving that his body can withstand the wear and tear that being a franchise player will be subjected to.
He’s nowhere near the caliber of player as Karl-Anthony Towns or Joel Embiid. Nikola Jokic has proven more than he has. Porzingis hasn’t shown anywhere near the capability of Carmelo Anthony at this same stage of their careers.
If there’s one thing we should all agree on, it is that concerns about Porzingis and whether or not he will be put off by the team embracing rebuilding should have no impact on the path Perry believes to be most prudent.
Porzingis simply hasn’t earned that right.
So yes, over the next few months, we’ll find out a lot about Scott Perry.
But if we’re to judge him off of what he’s said and what he’s already shown to this point, he may have already told us all we need to know.
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