RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Tanking should be a forbidden word in Madison Square Garden as the New York Knicks build towards a more sustainable future.

Tanking is a buzzword popularized in large part thanks to the Philadelphia 76ers unabashed effort to lose on purpose in hopes of a top draft pick. Teams had long “tanked” games down the stretch in an effort to angle for draft picks, but the Sixers turned tanking on its head by deciding to do it for three years straight.

That type of exaggerated tanking looks to be a way of the past. The New York Knicks are in the rebuilding stages, much like the Sixers were a few years ago, but a radical race to the bottom is not something the Knicks should be taking part in this season.

There may be some Knicks fans salivating over the prospect of Adam Silver announcing Zion Williamson’s name proceeded by, “The New York Knicks select…”

But it’s unwise for New York to place all their eggs in one basket this year. They must stay away from outright tanking. The good news for anti-tankers is that reports suggest the organization has no interest in the practice. Ian Begley of ESPN is reporting that general manager, Scott Perry was noticeably upset when the team was struggling against the Atlanta Hawks — another team likely to find themselves at the bottom of the standings.

This advances the belief that the Knicks have no interest in tanking. They have said as much on the record. Of course, no team will acknowledge that it’s tanking because the league will punish that kind of talk with a fine (ask Mark Cuban).

But it’s more than simple lip service from the front office and the coaching staff. They may not have the talent to win many games this season, but they won’t lose for lack of trying and there are a few excellent reasons for why not.

Luring A Free Agent

The Knicks are not attracting a free agent after tanking this season. The rift between Draymond Green and Kevin Durant sent Knicks fans scurrying to photoshop KD in a Knicks jersey. Fans seem to be under the impression that the Knicks are a top free agent destination when New York hasn’t been that spot for the better part of the last 20 years.

There are rumblings about Steve Mills and Scott Perry changing the perception of the organization. That’s a positive step forward for the franchise, but it means nothing if the Knicks finish this season at or below 20 wins. No star is joining that team.

Stars like Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Klay Thompson are going to go somewhere they believe they can win a championship. Without a readymade team, the desire to sign with the Knicks may not be there for a top-level free agent. Of course, the Knicks don’t have Kristaps Porzingis this year, but that’s no excuse for the recent string of brutal losses from Fizdale’s squad.

The Knicks have lost their last three games by a combined 67 points. It’s wishful thinking to expect a superstar to want to sign on the dotted line for that. Of course, Porzingis’ return will help stabilize the Knicks mightily, but his first games back in the lineup won’t flip a switch and turn the Knicks into a 50-win team.

Locking up a superstar in 2019 free agency isn’t something the Knicks need to do to be successful, but there’s no doubt they will make a play for someone in 2019. How the current Knicks perform could play a crucial factor in their offseason pitch.

The Unicorn's Return

There are no plans to rush Porzingis back before he’s completely healthy. In fact, calling this a redshirt year for the Latvian and holding him out until the 2018-19 season is an intriguing option. It leaves no potential for KP to suffer a setback on the court this season and it also ensures the Knicks will lose a few more games this season — resulting in better odds in the lottery.

But good luck trying to tell Porzingis to stay off the court. There has already been one incident this season regarding Porzingis’ rehab. Coach Fizdale told the media he hadn’t started sprinting yet and the seemingly disgruntled big man took to Instagram to post photos of himself running along with a photo of UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov saying, “This is number one bullshit.”

Some fans blamed the media for the perception created by the media, while others saw the situation as something of Fizdale’s making. Either way, Fizdale later clarified his comments and doused the potential fire. This was a communication breakdown, but it was solved with haste.

We can all agree that Porzingis was miffed by the public perception that his rehab is moving slowly. He later made comments to GQ via Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“It’s good that it’s coming to an end, but in many ways, it’s been a blessing in disguise,” Porzingis said. “I’ve learned so much about my body and myself. My vision is much clearer on many, many things.”

That sounds like a player who is itching to get back on the court. If they decide to shelve him for the entire season for health-related reasons, he may not like, but he will understand the decision. If the Knicks keep Porzingis out of action this season with lottery positioning in mind, the star big man would have a legitimate gripe with the organization. Porzingis is the superstar and much of the future rests on his shoulders — treat him like it.

Uncertainty In The Draft

It’s easy to lose yourself in the gravity-defying dunks of Zion Williamson. He’s Charles Barkley with Shawn Kemp’s athleticism. The types of plays he makes are superhuman. He’s not the consensus No. 1 pick for next June, but his tour de force in his freshman year could be enough to catapult him to the apex of the draft. The Knicks would be lucky to have Williamson. His athleticism is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

But their chances of landing Zion are slim, even if they tank their way to one of the worst records in the NBA. The draft lottery changed this year. It gives more teams an opportunity to sneak up to the top of the draft and it leaves open the possibility for an all-time bad team to fall out of the top four completely. The lottery will be much more predictable this year than it has in past years.

The likelihood of teams jumping over one another is far greater than it ever has been. Even if the Knicks finish with the third-best lottery odds, they could drop down as low as seventh in the draft.

via Tankathon

Moreover, Zion’s highlight-reel dunks are making fans overlook the fact that this draft class could be one of the worst in recent years.

*ducks incoming projectiles from Knicks fans*

Knicks fans won’t want to hear it, but the 2019 draft class is projected by many to be one of the worst talent pools in recent years. It may not seem that way with Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish tearing it up for Mike Krzyzewski in Durham. Nonetheless, the jury is still out on the 2019 class.

This perception could change. After all, the draft is still seven long months away and things can change a lot during that time. Furthermore, the scouts could be wrong about the talent in this draft class. We won’t truly know how the draft stacks up in history until the draftees have had at least five years in the league. That does nothing for us now, unfortunately.

That being said, the draft could end up being top heavy, which would be an incentive to tank and ensure a spot near the top of the lottery. But no draft pick is ever a sure thing and now tanking carries more risk than it had in previous years. There is far too much uncertainty surrounding the lottery and the draft itself for the Knicks to ever consider an aggressive tank-job this season.

Final Thoughts

The Knicks were never tanking. The perception that they might is downright silly for multiple reasons. The team is trying to put its best foot forward to attract a franchise-changing superstar in offseason. Additionally, Kristaps Porzingis’ potential return should supersede any jockeying for lottery positioning. Finally, the volatility of the lottery and the draft itself should disincentivize the Knicks from the outright tank.

Not to mention, the Knicks will lose enough games this year even if they aren’t tanking. Allow Fizdale to experiment with his talent and let the chips fall where they may.

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.