NEW YORK — Only the New York Knicks could spend $70 million and get worse.
But that’s why despised owner James Dolan’s woebegone franchise remains the laughingstock of the NBA.
There’s no plan. No direction. No identity. No superstars. And no hope.
Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry claimed everything was fine going into the 2019-20 campaign — even after trading Kristaps Porzingis, striking out in free agency and signing four power forwards in an all-out effort to win now.
The only problem with all of that — nothing is fine.
Mills and Perry were quickly forced to admit as much after Dolan made them face the media during an impromptu press conference on Nov. 10.
The Knicks are currently on a seven-game losing streak — including a 132-88 blowout loss to the Bucks on Monday night in Milwaukee.
They are 4-17 (second-worst in the league), compared to 7-14 at this point last season when they finished a league-worst 17-65.
They have trailed by 20 or more in eight of their 17 losses. They rank last in offensive efficiency and 23rd in defensive efficiency — an insult to the glory teams of the 1990s.
Embattled coach David Fizdale (21-82 with the Knicks) is on the hot seat, the likely scapegoat for the front office’s incompetence.
Mills (167-346 with the Knicks as president and GM) and Perry are under fire as well.
It’s an organizational failure from top to bottom. And it all starts with Dolan, who has lorded over two decades of dysfunction at Madison Square Garden.
Everything continues to go wrong. Monday night served as New York’s latest debacle. Knicks fans deserve better than this.
“I don’t feel like we came in with the idea that we could beat this team from the beginning,” Fizdale said after the Knicks were demolished by Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. “And that was what was most disappointing. They got whatever they wanted whenever they wanted, and we never took a real stand.”
The Knicks have a laundry list of issues.
Flawed roster construction
It remains comical that Mills suggested on media day that Dolan felt the Knicks were successful in free agency despite missing out on Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and Kemba Walker. Instead, New York added Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Elfrid Payton and Wayne Ellington.
The results have been about as expected.
Randle (three years, $63 million) has been able to score (17.3 points per game). But he hasn’t shot the ball well (44.9 percent from the field, 25 percent from 3-point range and 66.7 percent from the free-throw line) and has been turnover prone (3.4 per game). He’s also a subpar defender. Morris (one year, $15 million) has been the best of the bunch, connecting on an NBA-high 52.4 percent of his 3-pointers. The Knicks could presumably get something for Morris (18.7 points per game) via trade down the line. They could certainly use Payton, who has missed the last 18 games due to a hamstring injury.
Randle and Morris — in increased roles — have had to rely heavily on creating out of isolation sets due to a lack of playmaking. The Knicks rank last in field-goal percentage (42.2), free-throw percentage (67.4) and assists (19.6 per game).
“The roster is just a mess,” an NBA scout told Yahoo Sports.
Untenable situation for Fiz
Fizdale is in a strange predicament. He needs to win to keep his job. And that means often relying on veterans. But that mentality goes against what should be the organization’s goal — playing and developing young players.
Yet it’s the unfortunate hand Fizdale was dealt by Mills and Perry. Fizdale hasn’t gotten results, but it would be tough for anyone to have success coaching this roster. Bad teams consistently find a way to lose games — whether they’re close or not. Either way, the team’s no-show in Milwaukee was very disappointing, given its lack of energy and effort.
For what it’s worth, Knicks players have consistently backed Fizdale.
“We’re the ones out there playing,” Portis said on Sunday. “He can’t go out there and play for us. Obviously, everybody points at the head coach with that. But it’s on us to go out there and perform well.”
Fizdale is in the second season of a four-year, $22 million contract. So at least he’s well-compensated if he does get canned.
Just look at these troubling stats from Monday night:
Kevin Knox: two points, 1-for-9 shooting
Dennis Smith Jr.: four points, 1-for-7 shooting
Mitchell Robinson: four points, 14 rebounds, 0-for-4 FTs, three fouls in his first five minutes
RJ Barrett (who has been mostly good): two points, 0-for-9 shooting
There is talent and potential with this group. But under the direction of VP of player development Craig Robinson, there’s been a lot of inconsistency and some regression. Knox is shooting only 37 percent from the field and has been benched by Fizdale recently because of his poor defense (a recent neck injury to Morris moved Knox back into the lineup). Smith is shooting only 35.2 percent. Robinson has tremendous athleticism, but hasn’t been able to stay on the floor due to foul trouble (he’s fouled out four times this season).
And then there’s Frank Ntilikina, who’s certainly shown flashes — especially on defense — but doesn’t bring much to the table offensively, save for the occasional spot-up jumper. Optimally, the Knicks would want to find out as much as they can about Knox, Robinson and Ntilikina (in the pick-and-roll). But again, there’s that whole winning thing — even though the organization has consistently shown it can’t win.
Barrett, 19, is a reason for hope. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft is averaging 14.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. Barrett has shown an ability to get to the basket, but he’s also struggled with his shot.
He’s shooting just 39.6 percent from the field, 31.7 percent from 3-point range and 53.3 percent from the free-throw line. Again, it goes back to player development.
Barrett certainly has the potential to be a great player. And the Knicks need to find a way to keep him trending in an upward direction.
Because not much else is for this franchise.
In the meantime, let the Masai Ujiri rumors continue. And start checking your 2020 mock drafts as well.
Just imagine the sight of LaVar Ball yelling at his son, LaMelo, from his courtside seat at MSG with Dolan and Spike Lee looking on.
The circus would only grow. But the thought of the tantalizing 6-foot-7 point guard wearing blue and orange sure seems intriguing, because — contrary to popular belief — everyone benefits when the Knicks are relevant.
The No. 1 overall pick is up in the air, with Ball, Memphis’ James Wiseman and Georgia’s Anthony Edwards in the conversation, and that’s where the Knicks are now.
Just don’t let them fool you into thinking that tanking was the plan all along. It wasn’t. Not even close.
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