The 2007-2008 Knicks definitely didn’t meet expectations. Built by Isiah Thomas, Scott Layden, and Jim Dolan (more on him in a bit), the team finished near the bottom of te league. A starting frontcourt of Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry had the Knicks front office dreaming of a dominant paint duo, but it wasn’t meant to be. Not to mention, the Knicks also had 7-1 big man Jerome James on the roster. The same Jerome James who parlayed a strong ‘05 playoff run with the Sonics into a 5-year, $30-million contract from the Knicks and proceeded to average three points per game in his first season with the Knicks.
From Curry, to Z-Bo, to Jerome James, to Stephon Marbury and all the way on down, the Knicks struggled. But that was only one of many underachieving teams put together by the Knicks braintrust during the late ‘90s and ‘00s. Here’s a brief look:
1996: Anthony Mason traded for Larry Johnson
Mason for Johnson on paper seemed like a great trade for the Knicks, considering how great LJ had looked through his career. Once Johnson came to the Knicks, his back began to deteriorate at a rapid pace and his massive 12-year, $70 million contract crippled the team’s payroll. Mason, on the other hand, was a hard-nosed player that the Knicks faithful loved and went on to have the best statistical season of his career during his first year with the Hornets and was an All-Star in 2001. While LJ is responsible for one of the best moments in Garden history, he never made another All-Star appearance and didn’t average more than 15.5 points again. Even worse, his massive contract held up any potential roster moves to improve the team.
2000: Patrick Ewing traded for Glen Rice, Luc Longley, and Travis Knight
Instead of letting him ride out into the sunset and finish his career as a Knick, the front office shipped Ewing out of town. While Ewing was certainly a shell of himself at this point, the Knicks took on $90 million worth of payroll through 2004.
2002: Marcus Camby, Mark Jackson, Nene for Antonio McDyess
Despite a history of serious knee injuries, the Knicks took a gamble and made a draft night move for Antonio McDyess in ‘02 when they sent Camby, Jackson, and Nene to Denver. McDyess, who was a budding superstar before being plagued with knee problems, re-injured his knee in a preseason game and had another surgery. He ended up playing just 18 games for the Knicks and was shipped to Phoenix in 2004 as part of the deal that brought Marbury to New York.
2003: Latrell Sprewell traded for Keith Van Horn
Spree had his fair share of troubles during his stint in the NBA but was adored by Knicks fans while he was in New York. Sprewell, along with Allan Houston, led the Knicks to the NBA Finals as an eight-seed during the lockout-shortened 1999 season. An All-Star in 2002, Sprewell was shipped to Minnesota in a four-team deal that brought Keith Van Horn to Broadway. Van Horn didn’t last a year in New York while Sprewell helped the Timberwolves reach the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 2004.
2006: Trade Trevor Ariza and Penny Hardaway for Steve Francis
Another deal that hurt both the payroll and chemistry of the Knicks, the front office flipped a promising young player for Stevie Franchise — who still had two years left on his max deal. The combination of Francis and Marbury in the backcourt didn’t work while Ariza went on to win a championship with the Lakers and is still a highly-productive player in the NBA.
Here is a list of highly-touted players who didn’t work out in the Big Apple: Jalen Rose, Tracy McGrady, Penny Hardaway, Tim Thomas, Fred Jones, Dan Dickau, Cuttino Mobley, Larry Hughes, Darko Milicic, Brian Cardinal, and J.R. Giddens. Along with that, here’s a quick look at the players drafted by the picks traded by the Knicks to acquire most of the aforementioned players: Omer Asik, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joakim Noah, and Gordon Hayward.
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Since Jeff Van Gundy left in 2001, the Knicks have been coached by the following:
Don Chaney (2001-2004): 72-112, 0 playoff appearances
Lenny Wilkens (2004-2005): 40-41, 1 playoff appearance
Larry Brown (2005-2006): 23-59, 0 playoff appearances
Isiah Thomas (2006-2008): 56-108, 0 playoff appearances
Mike D’Antoni (2008-2012): 121-167, 1 playoff appearance
Mike Woodson (2012-2014): 109-79, 2 playoff appearances
Derek Fisher (2014-): Good Luck
Seven head coaches, four playoff appearances, only one coach with a winning record. Not exactly the recipe for long-term success.
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James Dolan, who was recently named the most powerful person in New York sports by the New York Daily News, and is the son of Cablevision founder Charles Dolan, became more hands-on with the Knicks right around the time Ewing was gone and the team was just starting its downward spiral. As Executive Chairman of The Madison Square Garden Company, Dolan has left his prints all over the Knicks and is somehow responsible for nearly every move the Knicks have made since 2000.
The Knicks relationship with the New York media changed under Dolan, and the Knicks also employed Isiah Thomas and Scott Layden and kept them around even after consistent struggles and losing, while getting rid of Donnie Walsh — the best thing to happen to the Knicks in the 2000s.
It’s been a constant struggle for New York and its fans over the last 15 years. With Phil Jackson in tow and a new era seemingly on the horizon in 2014-15, perhaps this is the year the Knicks turn it all around and become an Eastern Conference power once again.
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When the Knicks won the first ever NBA Draft Lottery in 1985, the Garden faithful believed their basketball savior had arrived in the form of Patrick Ewing, the Kingston, Jamaica-born, Cambridge, Massachusetts-raised, John Thompson-coached, 7-0, shot-blocking machine with a mean streak. The expectations surrounding Ewing’s entrance to the league were so high an NBA scouting director claimed, “We’ve had the Mikan era, the Russell era, the Kareem era…now we’ll have the Ewing era.”
For a fanbase and organization who found amazing success throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Knicks bottomed-out in the early ‘80s. The selection of Ewing seemed like a God-send; one of the premier franchises in sports was granted what was thought to be once in a generation talent. Ewing wasted no time making his presence felt and won the 1986 Rookie of the Year award, then led the Knicks back to the playoffs in 1988. The big man certified himself as one of the best players in the NBA and helped the Knicks climb their way back to being a perennial playoff team throughout the ‘90s.
One of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history, Ewing ended his career as the Knicks’ all-time leading scorer, an 11-time All-Star, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and with career averages of 21.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. Despite the accolades and skills, Ewing never won an NBA title and joins Charles Barkley and Karl Malone as the best players to never win an NBA championship.
Since Ewing’s unceremonious departure from Manhattan in 2000, the Knicks haven’t even come close to winning a championship. For a fanbase that declares itself one of the best in the world, let’s hope this year is a return to 1973 glory.
The fans continue to pack out Madison Square Garden and expect championships, but the Knicks haven’t been able to come through. To celebrate the legend Pat Ewing’s 52nd birthday, here’s why.
Follow Peter on Twitter at @Peter_M_Walsh