The Teen Wolves Take Manhattan

I got chills walking up 8th avenue, and it wasn’t from the wind tunnels created by the Manhattan skyscrapers. Midtown was lit up with lights, traffic, and people; and Madison Square Garden was draped in a uniformly Knickerbocker blue and orange. Rightly or wrongly, New York City has been widely regarded as the “Mecca of basketball” and it would be disingenuous of me to write a book about basketball without attending a Knicks game.

Madison Square Garden has had its share of historical events. Moments from the 94 NHL Finals commemorate and decorate the arena walls. The once mighty Big East capped every regular season with a conference tournament; providing countless college basketball memories that held as much desperate intensity as the NCAA tournament. It never dawned on me that events like George Harrison’s Concert For Bangladesh, or the famed 9/11 music benefit took place at MSG.

The Garden’s luxurious and clean interior  (and ticket prices) evokes the decor of a high-end hotel. I did not see one piece of litter on its grounds (inside or out) and the staff was extremely courteous and polite. From a visual aspect, there is not a bad seat in the building, however; the seating areas are super cramped. There is zero leg room and I had no where to even put my jacket and notebook.  Lack of comfort aside; my seats were fine (I was fortuitously sandwiched between two attractive women–one an older Italian and the other a younger Eastern European) and I could see the whole court from the 200 level.

New Yorkers are not an easily impressed lot, so it was no surprise that the player introductions were such an elaborate production. A Knicks game is no different from any event you’ll see on Broadway. I can imagine the Knicks’ marketing department faces a pressure that can only be matched in cities like Chicago, Miami, and  Los Angeles where the game is only part of the entertainment package.

I’ve never attended an NBA game where the team was so generous with their team swag. They must’ve busted out the  T-shirt cannons every other full timeout. It was like they couldn’t give those t-shirts away fast enough. “You get a t-shirt! You get a t-shirt! YOU get a t-shirt!” It was kinda fun.

I especially liked the reoccurring Celebrity Row bit that happened at every timeout. This particular Friday night was a bit celebrity starved because they best “celebs” they could find were former Giants punter Sean Landetta (who got the second loudest applause), actors Ansel Elgert and Juan long,  Larry Wilmore, and Joe Budden (who got the loudest applause).

There was even a program on a Jumbotron where you could see who’d be performing during each timeout. I’d seen the Knicks City Dancers on television, but they were even more mesmerizing to watch in person. The dance choreographer put together some great numbers that were executed to perfection. I couldn’t help but think that having Knicks Dancer/choreographer on one’s resume has a certain cache attached to it (which then made me wonder if being an  In Living Color Fly Girl was something you did right before becoming a Laker cheerleader or vice versa but I digress). As of today, I will anoint the KCD’s as the best dance team in the NBA.

My only complaint was the halftime “entertainment” of musician Theo Katzman and his equally boring bandmates. Katzman’s uncle must have greased Knicks owner James Dolan’s palms, because I don’t see how someone could have sat through an audition by Theo without recognizing its  wackness. I took the opportunity to walk the arena concourse during his set.

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The game itself was fun. Minnesota was in town and they have a few interesting players, but their roster shows very little direction as to what their goals are for the team. There were a ton of people ready to pencil them in for that 8th seed in the west just because the team had hired Tom Thibodeau. People are looking for all sort of excuse for why Minnesota isn’t playing well. My opinion is that Thibs was a bad fit and the team just isn’t that good.

I gotta say, I’m still not sold on coach Thibs as a head coach. It feels like he didn’t learn a thing from his stint in Chicago, and I’m worried that his style will grind down the bodies of  Andrew Wiggins, Karl Anthony-Towns, and company the same way he did to the Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Luol Deng Bulls teams (look at the time on the clock during this infamous ACL injury).

For some reason, no one batted an eye when Timberwolves owner gave Thibodeau boatloads of money to be a head coach and GM (pretty sure Jeff Van Gundy, a proven teacher and ambassador for the sport, was available), even though he’s never had any front office experience. Now if a player has a problem with Thibs the coach, they  have to deal with Thibs the GM to resolve it. This misfire by Taylor may set the Timberwolves franchise back 3-5 years and undo all the progress that Flip Saunders worked so hard to create within the organization.

I can’t imagine going to work and having to hear his voice and see his face for the majority of the day. The guy barks non-stop and he has the perpetual expression of someone who hasn’t had a bowel movement in so long that their colon leapt into their upper stomach and just stayed there. He probably belongs in the college game as a head coach–though I wouldn’t send my kid to go to his school and be yelled at by him.

Minnesota needs to figure out what they want to do going forward. Zach Lavine is showing some promise, but he relies too much on his (erratic) 3 point shooting, and his decision-making is questionable at best (the only player he creates shots for is himself). It was smart to put Lavine at shooting guard position because he doesn’t have to facilitate the offense– but he isn’t that great of a shooter yet. I was big on him getting traded until I noticed his 2.24 million dollar salary– a steal for a player with his athleticism.

The biggest problem is that Minnesota has no veteran role players who can contribute on a larger scale. That is fine if they want to do just develop the young guys they already have, but to hear the way Thibs screams at them, you would think they wanna make a run at the playoffs. If that is indeed the case, they will need to make a trade (and that may not even be enough to make the top 8 in the west).

Ricky Rubio clearly needs out of Minneapolis, and Minnesota needs to move on from the Spanish point guard. Its been seven years since the 2009 draft and it is time to recognize Rubio for the kind of player he really is. He is Rajon Rondo light. He plays decent defense and is a good distributor, but he still can’t shoot, and he doesn’t finish at the rim consistently. I think the Timberwolves should see if Philly will bite on a trade for Nerlens Noel (a defensive big who doesn’t need to score), Ersan Iylasova, and Gerald Henderson. Maybe it takes Minnesota throwing in Brandon Rush and Jordan Hill (and a draft pick swap) to make it work, but it wouldn’t hurt to try.

At this point they need to see if Kris Dunn can play or not (He has a Chauncey Billups kind of swag about him–he has played okay in what little run he has gotten and he seems to be soaking in all the lessons the league has to offer a rookie) , and why waste a year with him on the bench, if  the team won’t make the playoffs anyway? If they don’t trade Rubio and he walks away for nothing, then they start next year with the same questions at the PG position possibly wasting another year from your superstar player’s careers. A Rubio trade would benefit both parties, T-Wolves get something in return and Rubio gets out of town. If he doesn’t like where he ends up, he can just play the year out before signing with Golden State next season as Steph Curry’s backup (imagine them on the court at the same time late in quarters).

The next 10 games for Minnesota may decide if they make a trade, or stand pat with what they have. If they go less than .500 over the next couple of weeks, you will probably see a deal made. Either way, it is already clear to me that they don’t have the horses to make a playoff run, and I doubt even a trade would be enough to make it a reality. I think every move made by the coach/front office should be made with next year in mind. Unfortunately I suspect that this collection of young talent will go the way of the “3 J’s” Dallas Mavericks and the 2011-2013 “RunOKC” Thunder.

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The Knickerbockers have not made much progress from last season to this season. The Knicks won the game despite having poor floor spacing, terrible ball movement, and more bad shots than good shots. They have an okay nucleus of players that are just enough to get butts in the seats, but offensively they are an eyesore. I kept looking over in Phil Jackson’s direction trying to guess what he thought of such a putrid display.

I’m surprised Jeff Hornacek hasn’t explored the possibility of a Brandon Jennings and Derrick Rose backcourt. The team looked much better offensively when Jennings (who is a really fun player to watch in person) was on the floor, as he is a better shooter and distributor than (the not as explosive as he used to be) Rose; whose jump shot is still broke.

For all the crap that critics like to give Phil Jackson, the current personnel of this team may be best suited for the Triangle. Running P/R plays for Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony may work, but it doesn’t mean its the best option. This team has no clearly defined identity and the Triangle may be the best remedy for such an assortment of good, but not great players. My biggest disappointment from the game I attended was that Jeff Hornacek let the players like Kyle O’ Quinn and Brandon Jennings cool down on the bench after having really productive first halves. Jennings never got back in rhythm but O’Quinn managed to come back in at the right time and give the Knicks what they needed to win the game by grabbing timely rebounds and making big shots.

When I first sat down to my seat, I was concerned that the crowd would be your typical NBA crowd in a tourist city. For many fanbases, the diehard fans  get priced out of games, and this affects the fervency of the atmosphere. In other words, I though the crowd was lame. But then something happened, every time there was a hustle play, or the Knicks managed to get a 50-50 ball, or a big defensive stop, the crowd would roar in a way I’d only seen at Kansas Jayhawks home games. The fans cheered excitedly when they were supposed to and occasionally got super loud.

The familiar chants of “DEFENSE” in unison with the house organ took me back to the 90’s when I was a kid watching Knicks games on television. It gave me goosebumps. It sucks that they are so bad, because Knicks fans deserve a winning team and the NBA is a better league when the Knicks are relevant.

Win or lose, New York City fans really care about their teams (well maybe not the Nets, but I think they should be moved to Seattle). Knicks fans were constantly trolling anyone who made the mistake of wearing their Timberwolves gear (the best insult I heard was “your mother is a really nice woman………but your grandmother is a filthy whore.” This was a TIMBERWOLVES game!!).

As crass as they can be, I enjoy their passion and enthusiasm. Attending Knicks and Mets games have provided me with the type of special experiences that I haven’t felt in many places here in the U.S.A. (I’m convinced that New York is the last American city that I can see myself living) There is an authenticity to the NYC sporting events that is unique to only NYC. You never forget where you are the whole time you are at the Garden. It is one of the few arenas left in the league where the event itself takes a backseat to the arena.

BM

 profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at FullsassStudios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com

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