WHAT THE KNICKS DID, FREE AGENCY EDITION (Day 1, Part 1)

Summary: Most of what the Knicks have done under Perry & Mills is defensible and at some point people just have to concede that Dolan has mostly stayed out of operations, as he promised.

Sunday was the first day of NBA free agency and people were coming off the top rope on the Knicks with intensity; people I didn’t even know were basketball fans. I’ve been a Knicks fan since Patrick Ewing was drafted. So I have caught those #LOLKnicks Ls, like Keith Damn Hernandez standing on first. I don’t like it, but you put what we’ve put on the floor for two decades and the one-liners write themselves.

That said, people are gonna make me do a thing I never thought I’d do. They’re gonna make me (gulp) defend the loathsome James Dolan. You simply cannot write the story of how the Knicks got to where they are after 2013 without casting Phil Jackson as a central villain (too). If you don’t follow the team like that, fair enough. But if you call yourself a journalist or analyst you’re just being lazy, dishonest or both.

Why does it matter? Well, by pretty much all accounts, when Dolan hired Jackson he stayed out of basketball decisions and has stayed out. So the mess that Scott Perry is cleaning up is mostly Phil’s. (That ghastly Tim Hardaway, Jr. contract is on Steve Mills.) When people claim that Durant spurning the Knicks was inevitable, because “look at how they treated Porzingis,” that’s fair but it is also superficial. Phil Jackson damaged that relationship, full stop. He spurned a rebuild much of the fan base begged for to re-sign Carmelo Anthony. He regretted it before the ink dried, then passive-aggressively shifted blame to Anthony. When Porzingis publicly defended Anthony the 70-something Jackson publicly shanked the kid. That move went a long way toward his firing. Porzingis, perhaps rightly, was leery of the “new” regime, which includes people from the old regime. At the same time, the new regime (also rightly) said, “We’re not good with Porzingis. If we’re ever going to burn it all down it has to be this summer, where between the FA market and the draft there are 4-5 franchise-altering talents in play.” They pivoted to arson, and got what I still think is one of the better deals of the past few seasons.

Much of the #LOLKnicks vitriol yesterday came late in the evening when a report surfaced that the Knicks wouldn’t offer Durant the max because of the injury. There’s little to gain in debating the semantics, but I doubt there was ever any offer. This seemed obvious last week when the Knicks said publicly that they’d scrutinize the injury. The conditions changed and it just made sense for both parties to walk away. That blows, but the Knicks were trying to buy Durant’s gravitational pull–his capacity to attract another max talent along with other quality players–not just his jump shot. They needed both. Without both it wasn’t the right gamble. It’s a more sensible gamble for the Nets.

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