Dawn breaks over Gotham and a new season of basketball is upon us. James Dolan, mercurial owner of the New York Knicks, strolls anonymously through Madison Square Park, headphones piping the Talking Heads’ “Once In a Lifetime” to that curious space between his ears. Even at this hour, there is a palpable energy on the streets. Dolan picks up his pace as he turns westward on 33rd street, a silhouetted Garden appears on the horizon. Dolan asks himself “what is that beautiful house?” His thoughts drift to the oh-so-painful past and that fruitless quest for championship glory, but he quickly dispatches any semblance of regret, pivoting to the future. Dolan asks himself, “where does that highway lead to?” He notices a faded Danilo Gallinari jersey hanging in the window of a dilapidated bodega, and Dolan asks himself, “am I right, am I wrong?” And as he reaches the the intersection of 33rd and 7th Avenue, Dolan asks himself, “my God, what have I done?!”
Yeah, so… about that.
Notwithstanding the fact that no one on the planet has the slightest idea what Dolan’s inner monologue sounds like, by now we can probably conclude that introspection is not one of the man’s fortes. After all, we needn’t look any further than the Knicks’ recurrent seat-of-the-pants roster moves and management directives to prove said hypothesis. For more than a decade, JD (as his friends call him, probably) has deployed a “shoot first and ask questions later” approach to running the franchise. Yes, this is the man who felt compelled to spend ONE BILLION DOLLARS renovating his leased property sans assurances from the City of New York that MSG will remain a permanent fixture at its present location.
Where there’s an impulse, there’s a way.
Of course, that is precisely how the Knicks landed the soon-to-be-opting-out-of-his-contract Carmelo Anthony. It’s formulaic, really. Desire + Impulse + Stubbornness = Star Player Acquisition. The thing about star players, though, is that there’s a bunch of ‘em and impulse is but one way to land one. NBA Championships, by contrast, are singular and much more difficult to obtain. Every new season brings with it the nuanced, long-term plans of contending franchises in search of a title. Unfortunately, though, impulse-buying an O’Brien trophy isn’t much of an option; you can’t exactly pick one up at the checkout counter of your local CVS with a delicious Mrs. Fields cookie and the latest issue of US Weekly.
But I don’t think Mr. Dolan ever got that team-building memo.
How else to explain why dynamo-guard Iman Shumpert is reportedly still in the doghouse for attending a prearranged business trip to China instead of fully participating in the Summer League — mind you, 3rd-year NBA starters with playoff experience are rarely asked to play with guys who are unlikely to be in the league, but I digress. How else to explain why — pending J.R. Smith’s return — despite Shumpert’s fantastic playoff run last year, the Georgia Tech product still hasn’t definitively secured a starting role. Instead, the Knicks forced Shumpert to somehow “compete” with a guy who couldn’t play, and who torpedoed New York’s 2012-13 playoff chances, is coming off a selfishly-delayed knee surgery and still faces a five-game suspension for smoking marijuana. How else to explain why the late Glen Grunwald is gone after a 54-win campaign, jettisoned in favor of a former team executive with little to no basketball acumen. (Lest we forget that under Steve Mills previous stewardship, things didn’t exactly go so well.) And how else to explain why one of the Knicks’ precious few roster spots was given to Chris Smith?
In the end, there is no explanation necessary. These are the New York Knicks and James Dolan, for better or worse (but mostly worse, if history is any indication), is the owner of the franchise. Clearly, Dolan has yet to ask himself, ”well, how did I get here?,” but that’s okay. As fans, we’ll do what we always do: ”letting the days go by,” pondering that very question. Hopefully, this season won’t end up ”same as it ever was.”