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Earl Monroe knows a thing or two about basketball and what it’s like to win a championship in New York.
The Hall of Fame guard, who, in 1972-73, played on the last Knicks team to win an NBA title, also understands that there is only so much waiting a fan base can do before it gets tired of losing.
But for fans clamoring for a deep run into June, “The Pearl” has a simple message: Be patient.
“I think the fans are anxious for a winner,” Monroe told Yahoo Sports during a Delta Air Lines promotional event where fans were given a chance to win a free round-trip flight to London to see the Knicks play Milwaukee on Jan. 15.
“I was pretty confident that this team would be better last year and I was pretty confident this team would be much better this year.”
Sitting at 5-34 -- the worst record in the league -- the Knicks’ woes remain among the biggest stories in the NBA, between Carmelo Anthony’s nagging knee injury and Phil Jackson’s curious front office moves, there is no shortage of fodder for the back pages of the New York tabloids.
Just this week the Knicks stole headlines by essentially gifting Cleveland troubled guard J.R. Smith and former rising star Iman Shumpert as part of a three-team trade that also involved Oklahoma City. The move, which followed the offseason trade of former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton, was viewed as the final nail in the coffin for New York’s season.
All of that taken into account, Monroe, like many of the most optimistic Knicks fans, believes the lost season may work in the team’s favor and gave his former teammate a vote of confidence.
“I think if you’re going to lose, you might as well lose in a certain way where you can get the young guys playing time,” Monroe said.
“Knowing Phil [Jackson], he’s pretty calculated in the things that he does so I think he figured we’ll go into the season, see what we have and if it’s not working then we’ll just disband and get ready for the future.
“I think they are moving in the right direction. They have a lot of cap space, a lot of areas to put people in, so we have to hope.”
The Knicks have their eyes on Marc Gasol, Kevin Durant and a slew of other high-profile players set to become free agents over the next two years, but the team has gone through this process before, preparing for an all-star free agent class during the 2010, and to a degree, coming up short.
“One of the things that I see, when you think about Amar’e, when he came, that changed the concept of who the Knicks were going to be, but then unfortunately he got hurt, took a backseat [to Anthony] and we started dipping back,” Monroe said.
Even the upcoming draft, in which the Knicks will be fighting with Philadelphia for the highest odds of landing the top pick, isn’t a sure quick fix to the team’s woes (unless someone places an envelope in a freezer).
“There’s no guarantee that you’re going to get the number one guy,” Monroe said. “Hopefully, if you’re going to get a guy, you want to get a guy like a LeBron James that is going to change the face of your franchise. I don’t know if that guy is out there, I know they are looking at the young guy from Duke [Jahlil] Okafor, but you still have to build a team with the core guys you have around.”
To his credit, Monroe does have a point: There truly is hope for Knicks fans, because when you hit rock bottom like New York has, there is nowhere to go but up.