RJ Barrett, Ignas Brazdeikis
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Being a New York Knicks fan isn’t easy, but this season has plenty of reasons to not just write the team off as a losing squad.

It’s never easy being a New York Knicks fan.

The tough squads of the 1990s were good but always ran headfirst into Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the playoffs. The two times New York did reach the NBA Finals, in 1994 and 1999, the Knicks were dispatched by the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs.

Every season since has been defined by one of two things: losing and disappointment, and sometimes both. Save for 2012-13’s playoff tease, the Knicks’ reputation speaks for itself. The team has some die-hard fans and plays in the country’s largest media market, but has nothing to show for it.

And yet, the fans stay. Not even front office ineptitude or player acquisitions-gone-wrong keep them away from Madison Square Garden’s hallowed halls. The New York Knicks have not made the playoffs at all in the last five years. Yet, they have ranked in the Top 10 in attendance each of those seasons.

The point is because the New York fans once experienced such highs, they roll with the lows. The hope remains things will again be the way they once were, whenever that may be.

This season, however, could be the turning point for the future, and everyone should be excited.

Years of abuse

Have a conversation with any Knicks fans, and any of the following subjects may be discussed. Some may reminisce about Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing’s prime years and how sad it is he never won a ring. Others might immediately complain about Isiah Thomas’ front office tenure setting the franchise back years.

Older ones may immediately reference Willis Reed playing injured in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, and still leading the New York Knicks to victory. The Knicks’ reputation today may not be the best, but people still look at the team fondly for various reasons.

However, most fans today, especially the younger ones, will focus on the negative and what could have been. What if Allan Houston hadn’t received a max contract and the team tried to trade for Chris Webber? Suppose Kenneth Faried or Tobias Harris was drafted in 2011 instead of a reach like Iman Shumpert? Suppose Isiah Thomas was never the coach or GM?

The list of what-ifs goes on and on but doesn’t take away from one key possibility.

In 2019-20, the conversation may finally change.

Youth and excitement

The reputation of the New York Knicks’ front office speaks for itself. Isiah Thomas doled out bad contracts and traded too many draft picks. Phil Jackson insisted on using the triangle offense despite it being archaic, and also notably clashed with Carmelo Anthony. Owner James Dolan’s reputation speaks for itself.

Except, this current Knicks regime seems committed to rebuilding the right way instead of the fast way. Team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry didn’t go into panic mode when Kristaps Porzingis asked for a trade. Nobody was overpaid when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving signed with the Brooklyn Nets in free agency instead of the Knicks.

No, the Knicks instead remained calm and let the rest of free agency play out. Julius Randle was signed to a three-year deal following a breakout season with the New Orleans Pelicans. Great depth signings in Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson were made. Neither man’s deal will clog future payrolls.

And let’s not forget rookie RJ Barrett, who will be a star once he develops his offense. This Knicks team isn’t just one big-name player and a bunch of young depth guys. Everyone has a clear role and a great coach in David Fizdale to show them the way.

The 2019-20 New York Knicks are, for lack of better word, a team.

Final thoughts

The Knicks won just 17 games last year and despite the much-improved roster, probably won’t even sniff the playoffs in 2020. The rest of the Eastern Conference is just too good from the defending champion Toronto Raptors to the crosstown rival Nets.

But it doesn’t matter. One way or another, the New York Knicks will be a better team this season. Mitchell Robinson will take a giant step forward in his development and so will Dennis Smith Jr. Randle will flourish as the team’s go-to scorer as Barrett develops.

And it all goes back to what was established earlier. Knicks fans know this cycle. They remember the highs, which is why they are willing to suffer through the lows. Times were better all those years ago, so logic dictates the cellar-dwelling days will eventually come to an end.

This season may not be the one, but the Knicks are headed in the right direction. The light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter and fans should keep running toward it.

Otherwise, what’s the point of rooting for the New York Knicks at all?

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.