Each week during the 2023-24 NBA season, we will take a deeper dive into some of the league’s biggest storylines in an attempt to determine whether the trends are based more in fact or fiction moving forward.
This week's topic: The New York Knicks are fun again
It shouldn't be so difficult to field a fun basketball team in Manhattan, but James Dolan has done his worst.
His New York Knicks have been so bad for so long that their fans find a fourth seed cause for celebration, and all it took was base-level competence from a front office with a bold, new strategy: Acquire good, young talent. This ran counter to previous investments into aged, injured or genuinely disinterested former stars.
Eddy Curry is not walking through that door.
Since assuming shot-calling duties four years ago, Leon Rose has drafted Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes and Deuce McBride, signed Jalen Brunson, Isaiah Hartenstein and Donte DiVincenzo and traded for OG Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa and Josh Hart. He hit a home run (Brunson), another extra-base hit (Anunoby) and a bunch of singles — enough to make you forget that he gave away Obi Toppin and added Evan Fournier.
Of course, Rose has not hosted a media availability since a virtual conference at the height of the pandemic, which is weird because his team is performing well and happens to be in the world's largest market. Maybe he doesn't want to face questions about allegations against the team owner of sexual assault and trafficking a woman to disgraced former film producer Harvey Weinstein. Or maybe he just wants to do his job.
Whatever the reasons, New York's brass is acting as if the team's first-round victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers last season didn't match the franchise's total series wins in the previous 22 years. And maybe that's a good thing. For once in Dolan's tenure, against his worse judgment, the Knicks are letting their own good basketball team speak for itself — rather than the terrible or house-of-cards iterations of rosters past.
In another era, the Knicks would've cashed in all their chips for Chicago Bulls wing Zach LaVine, prayed his knee didn't give out and somehow continued to foster a career loaded with lottery appearances. Not this edition. Rose instead landed Anunoby and kept enough assets clear to keep chasing another upgrade.
Funny how all the Knicks needed to do was keep things simple. Improve incrementally.
What the Knicks have done in response is rip off 11 wins in 13 outings, posting a league-best net rating in that span (plus-15 points per 100 possessions). Their run includes dominant wins over the West-leading Minnesota Timberwolves and defending champion Denver Nuggets. They are 28-17, in line for a home playoff seed. Their top-rated defense (103.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) in those 13 games is the best of any team since the 2019-20 Milwaukee Bucks, who, if you'll recall, added Jrue Holiday to win a championship.
The Knicks are the right piece away, too, from legitimate title contention. They are not there yet. No team for which Julius Randle takes 18 shots a night can be fully trusted offensively. I'm not sure Dejounte Murray is the solution. LaVine isn't. Donovan Mitchell, the New York native, could be an awkward fit next to Brunson.
The right piece might not become available before the trade deadline, but any number of stars could become disgruntled by the summer. What if the Philadelphia 76ers hit their second-round ceiling again (courtesy of the Knicks)? Cost-cutting will come due for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Is Zion Williamson not long for the New Orleans Pelicans? The Phoenix Suns could implode. Much hope will be dashed come playoff time.
Point being: The Knicks have built a real foundation, and that's all it took to generate excitement in New York. Weird how that works. Not even Brunson's All-Star starter snub — and he deserved Damian Lillard's spot — could harsh the mellow from a 38-point win over Nikola Jokić and Co. on Thursday.
What is happening in Manhattan? The Knicks are actually fun again.
Determination: Fact. The Knicks really are fun again. Or for once.