Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington, Marcus Morris
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

After falling to a season-worst nine games below .500, the New York Knicks are leaning on the veterans in the locker room.

Danny Small

NEW YORK, NY—After loading up to sign two max free agents in the offseason, the New York Knicks whiffed in tremendous fashion. The backup plan? Signing a slew of veterans to team-friendly deals in the hopes of becoming a competitive team in the Eastern Conference at the very least.

Unfortunately for Knicks fans, the “competitive” aspect of “Plan B” is still a work-in-progress, but there is still some optimism in the locker room. With proven veterans like Wayne Ellington, Taj Gibson and Marcus Morris Sr. on the roster, the team is hoping that this 4-13 start is just a minor setback for a major comeback.

Morris is putting together one heck of a season so far and although New York ultimately fell short against the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, he was one of the offensive standouts on the night. His 26 points led the Knicks and most of his damage came from beyond the arc (7-for-8).

“He’s not wavering. That’s the thing I love about him,” Knicks head coach David Fizdale said to reporters after the 103-101 loss to the Nets on Sunday. “He is the main guy bringing us in and constantly picking these guys up and making them understand that it’s a long season.”

In addition to Morris, 11-year veteran Wayne Ellington understands what it’s like to go from Eastern Conference cellar-dweller to a playoff hopeful. His 2016-17 Miami Heat started off the season 11-30 before rallying to finish 41-41. Those Erik Spoelstra-led Heat narrowly missed out on a playoff spot, but the turnaround is an example of a team flipping that switch.

“Wayne Ellington went through a year when they started the year 11-30 and finished the season 30-11 down in Miami,” Fizdale recalled. “He is a great person for them to understand that it may not happen right away for us, but if we stick together and we keep plugging away at our details and challenging each other, then we can get over the hump.”

Ellington was asked about that team following Fizdale’s comments and he feels like the Knicks have a similar makeup to that Miami roster.

“It takes a lotta character to make a flip like that and I think we’ve got that in the locker room,” Ellington said after posting a season-high 28 minutes that included four three-pointers. “We’ve got the guys for it, guys that are hard-nosed, guys that aren’t going to quit or rollover. You know, guys that are going to blackout all the outside noise.

“That’s what it takes. It’s tough, it’s not easy to win in this league and that’s what I continue to tell the young guys. I see a lot of similarities to that [Miami] team when we went 11-30 and then flipped the whole thing and went 30-11 to finish the season. I don’t plan on us going 11-30, but I think that we’re going to have a breakthrough sooner or later.”

Taj Gibson, who brings his own wealth of experience to New York, echoed some of Ellington’s sentiments. In his 10 seasons prior to coming to the Knicks, Gibson’s teams made the playoffs eight times. Regular-season success has become somewhat of a routine for the Brooklyn native and he’s trying to figure out how to help turn things around.

“In the games when we’re in the hunt, it comes down to execution in the fourth and we always had one or two plays off,” Gibson said. “We just got to rectify it and it’s a tough, bitter taste for me because I’ve been in the playoffs my whole career. But one thing about is that you’ve got to continue to work…Nobody’s going to feel sorry for you. You’ve got to just continue to get better and everybody in this locker room is optimistic.”

Gibson also went on to talk about the wide-open nature of the Eastern Conference. Despite the fact that the Knicks are last in the standings, they only trail the eighth-place Orlando Magic (6-9) by three games.

“Nobody’s really running away just yet…We’re still optimistic and we still understand that if you get three wins in a row, you’re right back in the hunt,” Gibson said.

Making a serious run at a playoff spot will be easier said than done, but this is the attitude the Knicks should embrace. Of course, from an outside perspective, a playoff run from this team looks highly unlikely.

However, perhaps that “us against the world” mentality is what the Knicks need to start grinding out some wins. The last time their backs were against the wall, New York put together four positive performances in a row.

Wins against the Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers were offset in part by heartbreaking losses to the Charlotte Hornets and Philadelphia 76ers. That being said, the two wins in a four-game stretch was undoubtedly a step forward for a team that began the season with a 2-9 record.

But since that 2-2 stretch, losses to the Nets and San Antonio Spurs have put a halt on any forward moment the Knicks thought they had. The upcoming schedule is daunting, to say the least. New York’s next six games are all against likely playoff teams this season. They follow that up with a four-game road trip on the west coast.

It’s gut-check time for these enigmatic Knicks and if they plan on making it through this season in one piece, they’re going to need the vets in the locker room to help turn the tide.

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