When Phil Jackson decided to trade away J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cleveland Cavaliers for basically nothing in return, and then waive Samuel Dalembert after his rough beginning to the season, popular opinion stood that the Knicks had officially begun to tank.
Interestingly enough, the Knicks have actually stringed together a series of competitive, fun-to-watch games recently that would say otherwise. After their embarrassing 16-game losing streak came to a halt against the New Orleans Pelicans sans Anthony Davis, the Knicks have managed to achieve a 5-2 record over the last 7 games, which actually accounts for more than half of their win total to date.
They have even managed to rise from the cellar of the NBA, avoiding the worst record in the league by winning those four games. They now stand 1 game ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have the worst record at 8-39, and they are only .5 games behind the Philadelphia 76ers for the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference.
Talk about being optimistic!
However, some would argue that the newfound resurgence of the Knicks isn’t a good thing, that even if they win as many games as they can, the Knicks cannot escape being one of the worst teams in the league. This season, losing is inevitable.
So, why don’t the Knicks just tank the rest of the way? Here are some pros and cons:
- Cap Space: With the Smith-Shumpert trade and Amar’e Stoudemire’s contract coming off the books in 2015, the Knicks will have roughly $24 million to work with. Going all-out for someone like Marc Gasol would make a splash, but it wouldn’t leave much room to acquire other talented free-agents such as Wesley Matthews or Paul Millsap. Jackson’s work is pretty much cut out for him this offseason.
- Lottery Pick: It’s safe to say that the Cleveland Cavaliers will not get the first overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, thanks to LeBron James’ return. With one first-round pick and the second-worst record in the NBA, the Knicks have a great chance at landing the number one overall pick. This year’s draft prospects may not have the same flair as last year’s, but Jahlil Okafor has been the overwhelming favorite to be the first overall pick due to his NBA-ready body and post-presence. The Knicks could also go with point guard Emmanuel Mudiay from the Guangdong Southern Tigers in China, or even center Frank Kaminsky from the Wisconsin Badgers. Regardless, tanking will guarantee the Knicks a good pick in the NBA lottery.
- Carmelo Anthony’s Health: Anthony has been on the record stating that he will eventually opt for surgery on his sore left knee. The Knicks are clearly not going to make the playoffs this season, so allowing Anthony to play these meaningless games could potentially aggravate or even worsen his condition. It would make sense for the team to shut Anthony down after the All-Star break, but of course, he won’t go down without a fight.
- Pride: These are the New York Knicks we’re talking about! Even though they haven’t won a championship in 32 years, no one can accuse the Knicks of not competing in games purposefully. Rumors circulated that their I-95 rivals, the 76ers, were tanking in the beginning of the season when they started off 0-17, but Philadelphia players have firmly stated that nobody on their team has lost or would lose games on purpose because it wouldn’t be in their competitive nature to do so. It seems likely that hell would have to freeze over before Carmelo Anthony would allow the Knicks to purposefully lose games.
- Free Agents: Phil Jackson’s biggest task this offseason will not only be to sign a handful of talented free-agents to the Knicks, but to convince them that they can actually win a championship in New York. And why should they believe him anyways? Let’s be real, is Marc Gasol really going to consider leaving the annual championship-contending Memphis Grizzlies for the worst team in the Eastern Conference? If the Knicks don’t start winning as many games as possible, Jack might need to start wearing all 13 of his championship rings to his free-agent meetings, a la Pat Riley.
- Learning Experience: Derek Fisher might have thought the Knicks would have a rough start to the season, but he definitely didn’t expect it to be this rough. On the bright side, because it’s clear that the Knicks literally have nothing to lose at this point, Fisher can start to experiment with Carmelo in the triangle offense. The silver lining is that it basically gives Anthony a free season to work on playing in the offense and learning his role. Also, teaching the young players like Tim Hardaway Jr. should be the focal point of the rest of season, as they will be useful role players in the 2015-16 season.
Clearly, even though they will not make the playoffs this season, the Knicks have begun to start fighting and competing in games again. Whether or not they should is still up for debate. There is more upside to tanking than there is to fighting it out, but it doesn’t seem likely that the Knicks will do so.