The season is mercifully coming to an end tonight, at least for the dreary Knicks. The contest between the Knicks and Pacers is only really meaningful for the Indiana side. The Pacers have two games remaining, including tonight, and sit in a tie with the Pistons in the standings. The Pacers own the tie-breaker with Detroit, so they occupy the 7th seed, but there’s still room for things to fall apart. Obviously, the 7th seed is the more attractive position because it results in a date with the Raptors versus the 8th seed’s inevitable meeting with Lebron’s Cavaliers. The Pacers play the Knicks and Milwaukee, while the Pistons play Miami and the Cavs, although the Cavs have announced that they’ll be resting all their key players in the season’s final game. You have to wonder if they’ll actually do that if the 7th and 8th seeds are still up in the air after tonight. You’d like to think they’d honor the 82 games by playing their regulars part of the time, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the case. Anyway, the Pacers ought to be able to sweep the remaining two games, which is where the sad Knickerbockers come into play.
There’s not much to say about tonight’s contest. The young guys will see more time and hopefully we’ll be treated to the emergence of Jerian Grant as a viable lead guard. That’s a nice story. Derrick Williams has been carrying water for the depleted Knicks for some weeks now, and that’s been fun. Carmelo Anthony, amidst persistent speculation about his presence in New York beyond tonight, is questionable to finish out the string. No matter how many times Melo has said he’s committed to New York, the idea that he may ask for a trade will not die. It’s understandable, but it has colored the season in a particularly cynical way throughout.
A lot of stories are dragging along behind the Knicks as the season comes to an end, like so many tin cans on the fender of an old car. Will Phil wiggle out of his contract to go to LA? Will Melo demand a trade? Will the Knicks do anything worthwhile in free agency? And, my personal favorite, will Kurt Rambis be the head coach, or will Phil Jackson look outside the Triangle community for a new leader.
I expect Phil Jackson to be here next year. I expect Carmelo Anthony to be here next year. I expect the Knicks will make solid, but unspectacular moves in free agency to shore up the guard position. I expect Kurt Rambis will be on the coaching staff, but the big question remains….will the Knicks look to a coach with a better profile to lead the way? I’m much in favor of Tom Thibodeau as a coach. I haven’t always felt that way, but I think the Knicks are in need of some toughness. None of the players on the current roster bring a level of toughness required to compete at a high level every night. There are no powerful leaders on the floor. Melo isn’t that sort of guy. Porzingis could be, but he’s still a kid. RoLo has some intensity, but lacks the profile to really be taken seriously in that regard. The Knicks may or may not be able to add a player with that level of toughness in the offseason, but they can add the toughest coach in the business. Thibodeau is sure to bring a very hard edge with him, which New York loves and desperately wants. The “zen” in Phil Jackson’s system requires controlled aggression and a simmering intensity that bridges “being in the flow” and “dominating an opponent.” The team personality must be tough and unified.
I don’t know any more than anyone else what’s going to happen. If anyone tells you they know what the Knicks are going to do, they’re hustling you. There’s going to be a lot of cynical speculation because that’s what the Knicks mediasphere is fueled by, but there’s just as much room for optimism as there is cynicism. Some things went very right this season. I won’t recount them here, but the Knicks made real progress in a number of areas, despite the disappointing collapse and odd firing of Derek Fisher.
For tonight, anyway, the way to watch the Knicks is to cheer on the potential to be Pacer spoilers. Watching some of the less publicized members of the team get some spin is fun, but beating the Pacers and thrusting them into a matchup with Cleveland would be sweet….as unlikely as it is.