The New York Knicks are the NBA’s most valuable franchise. During the current NBA season, Forbes estimated their value to be $1.1 Billion. They have the most famous basketball arena in the world, the fabled Madison Square Garden. Their fans are universally acknowledged as some of the greatest, most loyal and knowledgeable basketball fans around. Despite being the most valuable franchise and having one of the most historic franchises, the New York Knicks have not enjoyed very much success. The Knicks were founded in 1946 and have won only two NBA Championships in their history, in 1970 and 1973. Since their last title in 1973, the Knicks have advanced to the NBA Finals on only two other occasions, in 1994 and 1999.
Since the turn of the century, the Knicks have been one of the worst franchises in the NBA. The have been the picture of dysfunction and have not been able to sustain any level of success. They have always been a team mired in salary cap trouble and whenever they do manage to generate cap space they immediately waste it on the wrong players. They have not drafted well or developed any of their young players. They are in danger of missing the playoffs in a historically weak Eastern Conference and do not even have a first round pick in one of the best drafts in recent years. While this current season has been hugely disappointing, it is endemic of how the Knicks have operated over the past ten years. The following list shows ten of the worst decisions decisions made by the Knicks in the past decade and highlights why they are serial underachievers. Only decisions made starting in 2004 are part of this list.
10. Hiring Phil Jackson – $ 12 Million a Year
Phil Jackson is one of the best coaches in NBA history. He has won eleven NBA titles with two different franchises. He has the highest winning percentage for a coach in the history of the league. When it comes to coaching, Jackson simply has the Midas touch.
However, Phil Jackson has no experience as a basketball executive. His hiring by the Knicks reeks of desperation and resembles big name hires that went awfully wrong in the past such as Isiah Thomas and Larry Brown. Taking a chance on one of the best coaches in NBA history is defensible, but $12 million annually for a rookie executive is excessive. There have been questions regarding whether Jackson would spend the majority of his time in New York. Some pundits have flatly stated that he would not be interested in scouting some of the smaller colleges. While these concerns may be unfounded, $12 million a year for an executive who would rather work for the Los Angeles Lakers and has not prior experience in his current role is not a good idea.
At the same time, the reasons this is only number 10 is that we might be wrong and that this may end up propelling the Knicks to glory. Knowing the Knicks, they’ll probably stand in their own way.
9. Trading for Andrea Bargnani – 2 years, $23,362,500
When the Knicks traded for Andrea Bargnani from their division rival Toronto Raptors, they already had the most expensive front court in NBA history. With the addition of Bargnani, they had four front court players earning more than $11 million in a season. The addition of Bargnani was curious as he had struggled mightily in his last two years with the Raptors and fans were only too happy to see him leave. With the Knicks, Bargnani has had some embarrassing moments, especially on the defensive end. His addition has not helped the Knicks and after posting a 54 win season in 2012, the Knicks are struggling to make the playoffs in a bad Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Raptors are currently third in the Eastern Conference and a virtual guarantee to make the playoffs this season.
8. Hiring Mike D’Antoni – 4 years, $24 Million
When Mike D’Antoni was the head coach of the Phoenix Suns, his teams won an average of 58 games a season. The Suns were perennial Western Conference contenders and were one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. Despite the regular season success, the Suns never made an NBA Finals appearance in D’Antoni’s tenure. Pundits often criticized the teams inattention to defense and the fact that D’Antoni never played more than eight players throughout a season. Pundits also believed that without Steve Nash to run the Suns offense, the team would falter. In 2008, D’Antoni signed to be the Knicks head coach but he did not have Nash to run his fabled ‘seven seconds or less’ offense. Instead, the Knicks struggled on offense, D’Antoni clashed with incumbent point guard Stephon Marbury and the Knicks missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons. When Amar’e Stoudemire signed with the team in 2010, the team enjoyed a modicum of success until D’Antoni ran Stoudemire into the ground, playing him too many minutes. He clashed with Carmelo Antony and was replaced by Mike Woodson in March 2012.
7. Resigning J.R. Smith – 3 years, $17.95 Million
Most of the 2012/2013 season was a good one for J.R. Smith. The Knicks guard won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award and had his most consistent NBA season. Things took a turn for the worse in Game 3 of the Knicks first round playoff series against the Boston Celtics. Smith needlessly elbowed Jason Terry and got suspended for one game. Upon his return, he was not the same player and struggled throughout the second round series against the Indiana Pacers. His value plummeted and his only serious suitor during free agency were the Knicks. Despite all the warning signs and off court controversy, the Knicks decided to re-sign Smith. In their zeal they guaranteed a roster spot to his younger brother Chris Smith. J.R. has continued his struggles from last season and has exhibited more on the court immaturity than production.
6. Letting Jeremy Lin Leave via Free Agency
For a few weeks in the early part of 2012, Jeremy Lin was the most talked about player in the NBA. The young guard exploded out of nowhere to become an international phenomenon. He made the struggling Knicks relevant after two weeks of excellent basketball. He seemed the perfect fit in Mike D’Antoni‘s system. He looked like a borderline All-Star caliber player and had some of the more memorable moments of the 2011/2012 season.
Lin was injured down the stretch of the 2012 season and missed the playoffs. He was a restricted free agent and the consensus was the Knicks would re-sign him. Not only was he the best point guard on the roster, but he was a potential marketing jackpot due to his meteoric rise and Asian heritage. Instead, the Knicks let him sign with the Houston Rockets out of spite. Lin, who wanted to return to New York, received a three year contract offer for $25 million from the Rockets that would pay him $15 million in his final year. The Knicks were unhappy with the terms of the final year and instead of biting the luxury tax bullet, they let him go and signed Raymond Felton instead.
5. Signing Jerome James – 5 years, $29 Million
Jerome James averaged 4.3 PPG and 3.1 RPG for his career. In his most productive season, 2002/2003, the 7 ft center averaged 5.4 PPG and 4.2 RPG. Yet after the 2005 season, the Knicks signed James to a $29 million dollar free agent contract. The Knicks discounted a seven year sample size because James averaged 12.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in eleven playoff games. James was a backup center with the Knicks and never remotely approached those playoff averages. He only played in 86 games over his first two seasons with the Knicks and only four games after D’Antoni took over the team. His tenure with the Knicks was marred by injury but James also did not work on his conditioning and subsequently gained a lot of weight. The Knicks eventually traded him to the Chicago Bulls who waived him and ended his career.
4. Signing Eddy Curry – 6 years, $60 Million
The reason why Jerome James was a $29 million backup center was because immediately after the Knicks signed him, they proceeded to sign Eddy Curry. Curry had some mysterious health issues while playing with the Chicago Bulls and refused to submit to a DNA test. The Bulls traded him to the Knicks who signed him to a $60 million contract in 2005. Curry had a couple of decent seasons with the Knicks before health and personal problems derailed his career. Injuries kept him away from the court for extended stretches and his conditioning suffered. At one point, Curry had ballooned to over 350 pounds and was unable to be productive in Mike D’Antoni‘s fast paced offense.
3. Hiring Larry Brown – 5 years, $50-60 Million
When the Knicks signed Larry Brown to be their head coach in the summer of 2005, they were hoping the New York native would resuscitate the franchise in a similar fashion to Pat Riley. Brown was coming off two consecutive NBA Finals appearances with the Detroit Pistons and was acknowledged to be one of the best coaches in the NBA. The best word to describe Brown’s time with the Knicks is disaster. The Knicks made Brown the highest paid coach in the NBA with a five year contract worth between $50-60 million. Brown immediately clashed with almost all his players, especially Stephon Marbury. Brown led the Knicks to their worst season in franchise history with a record of 23-59. Brown was subsequently fired, but he reportedly walked away with an $ 18.5 million settlement.
2. Signing Amar’e Stoudemire – 5 years, $99,743,996
In the summer of 2010, the New York Knicks thought they would attract LeBron James to sign a free agent deal. LeBron declined, citing the dysfunction of the organization and chose the Miami Heat instead. The Knicks settled on Amar’e Stoudemire and signed him to a five year, $99,743,996 contract. This was a monumentally stupid decision and has hampered the Knicks since. Stoudemire was let go by the Phoenix Suns because they did not trust his knees. His knees were so bad that the Knicks could not get insurance for them. After half a season of sensational play, Stoudemire’s knees deteriorated and he has been a shell of himself since. Unfortunately for the Knicks, his contract runs until the end of 2015 with a further $23,410,988 owed.
1. Wasting the Amnesty Clause on Chauncey Billups – $14.1 Million
While signing Amar’e Stoudemire was a stupid decision, the Knicks had the potential to get away from his onerous contract. After the 2011 lockout, NBA teams were awarded an amnesty provision allowing them to amnesty a contract and have it not count against their salary cap. Given Stoudemire’s contract and his visibly deteriorating health, it appeared the provision was tailor made for the Knicks. Instead of saving the provision for Stoudemire, the Knicks hastily used it to amnesty Chauncey Billups. Billups was in the final year of a contract that paid him $14.1 million. He was coming of an injury, but he was an expiring contract that would have been a trade asset at the very least. Even if they kept him all season it would have been one year. Instead the Knicks amnestied Billups to facilitate the signing of Tyson Chandler and left themselves no salary cap flexibility until Stoudemire’s contract ends.