The phrase “in crisis” loses some of its heft when it’s applied to nearly every moment of a team’s existence. The Knicks are “in crisis” by definition, even when they’re playing well. They are always loudly and uneasily being whatever they are. When they were rolling along last year — draining threes at an astronomical rate and finally making good use of Carmelo Anthony — it felt like the team was glowing harshly, like a lightbulb that’s about to blow. Knicks fans were the kind of happy you get after consuming half a bottle of something. The inevitable playoff comedown, when Tyson Chandler fell apart and J.R. Smith stopped making shots, was giddy truimph’s inverse. The Knicks didn’t suffer valiant defeat; they flamed out.
The NBA’s most carnivalesque team is suffering a different sort of affliction this year. At 3-8, they are functioning like a meal you might whip up at 2 a.m., out of the contents of your understocked fridge. The New York Knicks are a mustard sandwich of basketball.
One consequences of this is that Mike Woodson likely will be fired, if the team doesn’t make a significant turnaround sooner rather than later. CBS’s Ken Berger wrote on Thursday that he can see a not-farfetched scenario in which Woodson gets canned, Herb Williams takes over in the interim, and the prospect of John Calipari making a return to the NBA is raised for the umpteenth time. The reason this is a distinct possibility, Berger claims, is because of the more-significant-than-you’d-think influence that agents have — in particular, CAA’s influence on the Knicks — but also because the Knicks can’t do much else besides make a flashy coaching hire.
It’s generally accepted, despite the well documented hysterics of the Knicks’ fanbase, that the people who pack Madison Square Garden each night are reasonably knowledgeable and committed to the franchise. This is kind of a ridiculous idea, ascribing a quality to a group composed of millions of individuals. (We’ve been over this before with the Cardinals; they don’t have “the best fans in baseball” because that’s not a thing that actually exists.) Still, let’s suppose that most Knicks fans understand how the league works and where their team stands in its hierarchy. Why would they want Calipari?
As #Knicks as he would be as a coach, there’s no evidence that Calipari would be any good. His lone stint in New Jersey 15 years ago was a disaster, and there’s no guarantee that his familiarity with recruiting and cultivating 19-year-old NBA-ready talent will translate to success managing a roster that’s going to be stocked with proven pros, not college-aged phenoms. A decision like this would grab headlines, but how positive would they be? Calipari would be nothing heading into next season besides high-profile and new. That will buy him, what, a two-week grace period?
I know why Berger sees this as a possibility. It’s a very James Dolan thing to do, and the idea has been floated frequently in the past. What I find troubling about it is that it suggests that a lot of sports teams (not just the Knicks) see the fan as someone who needs to be placated. If there’s not a great product of the floor, we need sideshows and celebrities. I like spectacle as much as the next person, but it’s thin and fleeting.
If the Knicks continue to go downhill, and they decide in the offseason that they genuinely believe in John Calipari, that’s one thing. But if Dolan and his band of puppets look into Calipari because they’re trying to make noise in a crowded sports marketplace, they would be better off playing it straight with a fanbase that’s supposedly intelligent.
Here’s the reality, something I think most fans know: The Knicks can’t significantly alter their future for a while. They’re capped out and (under the new CBA) unable to make any sign-and-trades. The team we’re seeing now likely will be the team we watch for the next couple of seasons, until some contracts come off the books. What would serve both the Knicks and their fans, if they want to make a meaningful change, is to hire a coach they are confident can elevate the players they have now, and then oversee a retooling of the franchise two years down the road. In the NBA, you can’t snap out of a tailspin with one showy move, usually. It’s a long, slow climb.