The New York Knicks have less than 15 games left in the season. As the losses pile up and tempers flare, it’s only a matter of time before the divide between players and coaching staff widens.
The NBA season is always full of high-stakes drama. When teams are faced with the reality that the playoffs are no longer a possibility, every scar, no matter how small or large, starts to open.
The small disagreements between grown men that seem trivial on the surface, become those full-blown, expletive-filled shouting matches that “leak” their way to the press.
The subliminal messages in post-game interviews, that are usually brushed to the side, start to drive a narrative of dysfunction and helplessness that the New York Knicks are most likely heading towards.
Now, there are teams that lose but don’t experience a mutiny or have an “every man for himself” type of attitude. Just look at the Brooklyn Nets or the Philadelphia 76ers from the past few seasons.
Both teams have most of their organization on the same page, and even in losing seasons, you hear about how Brett Brown and Kenny Atkinson get their players to play hard most nights.
If you asked me earlier in the season, I would’ve said that this team would never quit, that it just wasn’t in their DNA. Jeff Hornacek appeared to agree. Back in December, the Knicks were above .500 and Hornacek made some profound comments about his squad.
Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News quoted Hornacek as saying,
“These guys are going to fight until the end of the season no matter what our record is. A lot of young guys, they know we’re working not just for this year, but for the next couple of years to get better at certain things. So there won’t be any quit in these guys.”
Since the All-Star break, the Knicks are 3-9, losing five games by at least 10 or more points. Losing was expected, especially after the Knicks fully embraced the youth movement and started experimenting with a backcourt of Emmanuel Mudiay and Frank Ntilikina.
However, Hornacek has become increasingly frustrated with the team’s defense and lack of effort during key points of the game. After an early March loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Hornacek ripped his players’ effort.
Marc Berman of the New York Post quoted Hornacek after the game as saying:
“No defense — we only had one quarter we kept them under 30. It was a terrible defensive effort.’’
During the same postgame, Hornacek also went after Michael Beasley,
“We got to have everybody playing well . We don’t have KP out there. The guards struggled tonight. They had played well the last few games. And we need to get something out of Michael on both sides of the court.’’
But Hornacek isn’t the only one frustrated. Beasley has also been outspoken regarding the team’s recent play.
After a loss to the Portland Trailblazers, Marc Berman of the New York Post, quoted Beasley, saying,
“Not sure. I don’t call the plays.”
This most recent quote coming only days after Beasley voiced frustration regarding his teammate’s bad habits in ball movement, and not playing the “right way”.
And along with Beasley, Courtney Lee has also been vocal with disappointment aimed at the team’s defensive effort and inconsistency in overall play.
Al Iannazzone for Newsday quoted Lee after a blowout loss to the Toronto Raptors,
“I think you should be mad at yourself if you watch film and your teammates are calling you out. You should not want to let them down, and if you’re seeing that it’s you repeatedly, if you don’t make that adjustment, then that’s just telling us you don’t care. So I definitely at points get frustrated with it.”
Now teammates getting on each other is usually more well-received when a team is winning. On one hand, it’s encouraging that the Knicks are still trying to work out the kinks on defense and trying to hold everyone accountable. Yet, in a losing season, this team is likely headed toward more negative post-game comments and frustration as opposed to cathartic “eureka” moments.
Plus the majority of this team has only been together for one season. Currently active and playing, Lance Thomas, Lee, and Kyle O’Quinn are the only Knicks that were on the team last season. Teams that have continuity and a clear hierarchy can lean on their captains and culture when things go south.
And while Thomas and Lee are great leaders, they can only do so much.
Aside from the team’s defense, the development of young players has also become a sore spot for some of the Knicks players. Enes Kanter, who is never shy around a microphone, had some interesting comments about the team’s direction. Ian Begley of ESPN wrote,
“Let me tell you something, man: They can develop guys in the G League. This is not the time to develop young guys, or whatever, because we’re trying to win games here,”
Kanter has also been upset about his minutes during the fourth quarter. In general, it just seems that there has been some bubbling tension between coaching staff and players that will continue to fester until the season ends.
One has to wonder how this will affect Hornacek’s job security going into next season. How will the exit interviews play out? Will there be more frustration that leaks out to the media?
Also, with Kristaps Porzingis set to miss a large portion of the 2018-19 season, and potentially more losing on the horizon, can we expect more of these same issues for this group next year?
As usual, there are many questions with the Knicks and few answers that seem neither certain nor comforting; these Knicks may be headed towards a dark couple of weeks, but hope springs eternal once again as the Knicks will be lottery bound for the second season in a row.