The New York Knicks and James Dolan are no stranger to controversy, but the latest drama raises far more questions than Dolan could answer.
If nothing else, New York Knicks owner James Dolan was forthright and honest in his interview with “The Michael Kay Show” on ESPN Radio. He spoke about a wide range of topics including his most recent incident with a fan, the team’s confidence heading into free agency, trading Kristaps Porzingis, and whether he plans to sell the team.
The powder keg that was the impetus for this interview was Dolan’s recent altercation with a fan who told him to “sell the team.” The Knicks owner confronted the fan and security intervened.
James Dolan bans a #Knicks fan from MSG for telling him to “sell the team”.
🎥: TMZ Sports pic.twitter.com/VUX8Xvqi61
— The Majors TV 🎥 (@themajorstv) March 9, 2019
Dolan admitted that he “took the bait” and he shouldn’t have in that situation. He also stated that his plan was to invite the fan to the next game and take him to meet the players. But that won’t happen anymore. According to Dolan, the fans set this up as an “ambush.”
In the interview with Kay, Dolan says that the fan ambushed him in a plot to bait him into a reaction and sell the video to TMZ. MSG released security footage of the fan and a friend making their way towards Dolan.
VIDEO: Here's the video from inside @TheGarden leading up Saturday's much talked-about encounter between James Dolan and a fan. Dolan referenced this
during an exclusive interview with @TMKSESPN pic.twitter.com/bKlC9yFgCe
— 98.7FM ESPN New York (@ESPNNY98_7FM) March 12, 2019
A fan heckled the owner of the team and Madison Square Garden’s policy is absolute: “Our policy is and will continue to be that if you are disrespectful to anyone in our venues, we will ask you not to return,” an MSG spokesperson notes.
This altercation will fade from the news cycle in the coming weeks, but it’s unclear if this will have a lasting impact on the Knicks.
Moving on, Dolan offered unique insight into the future of the team. It’s no secret that the Knicks are loading up for free agency this summer. With a free agent class including Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, among others, the Knicks have two max slots open.
James Dolan is confident the Knicks will have "a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents." pic.twitter.com/4DEkv2yDOZ
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) March 12, 2019
“New York is the Mecca of basketball, right? And we hear from people all the time,” Dolan said. “From players, from representatives about who wants to come. We can’t respond because of the NBA rules, etc. But that doesn’t stop them from telling us and they do. And I can tell you from what we’ve heard, I think we’re going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.”
Is anyone else tired of hearing the “Mecca of basketball” argument when it comes to free agency? When was the last time that actually worked as a recruiting pitch on a major free agent? Amar’e Stoudemire was a big signing but ultimately resulted in nothing. Other than Stoudemire, the Knicks have a gruesome track record with attracting marquee free agents.
Durant chose the Golden State Warriors in 2016 because they are one of the best organizations in the league and it was an opportunity to win. In other words, the Knicks are going to need to craft a better pitch than simply telling free agents they can play in Madison Square Garden and live in New York.
Moreover, if top-notch players have already told the Knicks that they are coming, what are they thinking after Dolan has shouted it from the rooftops? Are those players who said they want to come still going to have interest after this interview?
What If They Whiff?
To his credit, Dolan did talk about the current players on the team and the plan the team has in place. The Knicks have no shortage of young talent.
“The thing about the team now is that it’s very young,” Dolan said. “And you take a look at some of the players that we have and they won’t be the centerpiece of the team. But as complements to the centerpiece of the team. We’re developing them right now. And you get guys like, you know,” Dolan paused for a moment to look at his notes, “Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo [Trier] and Noah [Vonleh] and [Damyean] Dotson and the whole team. They’re all getting better.”
There’s no real issue with this sentiment from Dolan on its face. But there is a big if involved here. If the Knicks can’t entice major free agents, they are stuck with what they feel are complementary players.
Are the Knicks really that confident that they are landing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving? Will the front office feel pressure to sign lesser free agents like Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris if they whiff on the bigger fish? It feels like they are backing themselves into a corner to a certain extent with these comments.
Furthermore, how do Knox and Robinson feel when they hear that they won’t be centerpieces of the team? Of course, Dolan was likely referencing the immediate future of the team, but it still comes off as a strange thing to say about the team’s two most recent draft picks.
The Porzingis Problem
We’ve heard about the Porzingis trade ad nauseam and we are going to continue to hear more until the full story comes out. Dolan didn’t want to “put words into his mouth” which is completely fair. It’s probably for the best that either side hasn’t divulged the full story of what happened.
“I don’t wanna talk for him,” Dolan responded when asked if it concerns him that Porzingis didn’t want to be in New York. “He has to explain or not—it’s up to him—about why he didn’t wanna be here. I thought our guys tried really hard to integrate him into the organization, to make him feel welcome, etc…Like I said, I don’t wanna put words into his mouth. But when he came in and said to us ‘I don’t wanna be here. I’m going to leave at the first chance I get and I wanna be traded.'”
But we do know that, unequivocally, Porzingis wanted no part of the Knicks organization. There were always signs that he was unhappy and that all came to a head on Jan. 31. And love the trade or hate the trade, there is still one big question that needs to be answered. Why didn’t Porzingis want to stay in New York? He’s still holding off before discussing what went wrong.
“I had a very good experience in the city, but I still find it difficult to talk about the Knicks,” Porzingis said to NBA Spain. “Everything happened a short time ago. In the summer, when things settle down, I’ll talk more extensively about that.”
We have to reserve judgment on this situation until we know the facts. But it’s not a great look for an organization when its best player will do anything and everything in his power to leave. It’s even worse when the team is months away from trying to sell star free agents on the organization.
He's Not Going Anywhere
For fans looking for Dolan to sell the team, that’s not happening. Dolan asserts that he has no plans to sell the team despite what he said to Ian O’Connor back in December.
“Just for the record, I am not selling the team,” Dolan told ESPN. “And I am not quitting and neither is Steve [Mills], and neither is Scott [Perry], and neither are any of the players…And to be honest, most of the fans get it. They really do.”
Does Dolan receive unfair criticism at times? Of course, anyone who is in his position of power is bound to catch some undeserved flack.
But does he bring it on himself as well? No doubt about it. Was it right for the fan to go out of his way to heckle Dolan and catch it on video? Maybe not, but as Dolan admits himself, he “took the bait.”
If this interview showed us anything, it’s that he’s not willing to back down from controversy. He took this issue (and the fan) head-on, for better or worse.
The Knicks will play their next home game on Sunday against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. I expect Dolan to be sitting courtside, but I have no idea what to expect from the Garden crowd.