The lack of top free agents landing with the Knicks has cast a spotlight on the uncomfortable idea that the New York franchise is not leveraging its location to the best of its abilities, namely, its seemingly out-of-the-way Tarrytown practice facility.
After the Brooklyn Nets beat out the Knicks in free agency, much of the conversation centered around the various reasons why Brooklyn now presents a more appealing, countervailing New York–based option. The culture, the connections to cool people, the better, young roster; all that stuff.
Another detail that I noticed was repeatedly included as a factor: the facilities. The Nets have literally rebuilt their organization, and that includes a state-of-the-art, 70,000 square-foot, $52 million practice facility with views—the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) Training Center—in a waterfront warehouse in Industry City, Brooklyn, which general manager Sean Marks quickly began using to impress draft prospects.
Here’s the 2016 Nets touring the facility for the first time:
In that clip, ex-Net Thaddeus Young says: “I timed myself from my condo building to here, it’s about five minutes…I can come and spend some time here late at night, you know like I like to do, just go to the gym…Just being in the area already…It is definitely a great thing for me.”
On that note, here’s D’Angelo Russell doing what Thad Young and I presume many NBA players like to do: get shots up at night, which he was conveniently able to do as a Brooklyn resident. Looks pretty darn chill:
On the other hand, about 23 miles from Madison Square Garden and just under four miles from the Westchester Knicks home arena, lies the Knicks’ (and Rangers’) practice facility in Tarrytown, White Plans, Westchester:
Here’s a closer glimpse into the Madison Square Garden Training Center. From Westchester Magazine:
The MSG Training Center in Tarrytown is nondescript by design—they don’t want droves of fans lining the streets outside waiting for autographs. In fact, it’s so nondescript that we made several U-turns before we found the front entrance. Most passersby wouldn’t know that inside the blue-gray building is 105,000 square feet of practice, workout, lounge, and office space for three different professional sports teams.
Hell yeah. It continues (keep in mind this was when The Madison Square Garden Company owned the Liberty also):
Aside from the two regulation-sized basketball courts and an ice rink, each team—the NBA’s Knicks, the WNBA’s Liberty, and the NHL’s Rangers—has its own wing of the building that includes an 1,800-square-foot weight room; locker room; steam room, whirlpool, and cold plunge; players’ lounge with leather sofas, massage chairs, 42″ HD television, pool tables, and Ping-Pong table; video editing rooms; a tiered classroom with high-back theater seating; and coaches’ offices.
O.K., that all sounds decent enough. Plus, it’s supposedly undergoing a major renovation this summer (which would indicate that they won’t be changing practice venues anytime soon.) Honestly, the facility itself probably isn’t really an issue for anybody.
But it’s still a little bit self-owning that the Knicks—whose only appeal for stars (and primary contributor to their franchise value) is their location in the heart of New York City—chose to build their practice facility outside the city. Just check out some excerpts from a 2016 New York Post article about Jeff Hornacek moving morning practice to the Garden out of convenience. See if you feel like the players are thrilled about the location of the practice gym:
The Knicks practice in Westchester — in Tarrytown — so the convenience of living in that county kept players from being city slickers…[Said Jeff Hornacek:] “Guys like being here where they don’t have to have a big trip [from Westchester] coming in for the game. We’re trying to do more shootarounds here because of it. It’s difficult for the Whites Plains guys.”
[Joakim] Noah admits “traffic’” going up to Tarrytown can “sometimes be bad,” so he’s looking at adding a Westchester apartment for convenience….”I don’t care if anyone lived in the city. I just wanted to live and not commute to games and I hired a driver to take me there,” [Derrick] Rose said. “For Westchester, I leave very early.”
The inconvenience is probably overblown because a lot of players enjoy living in Westchester, and West Siders can hop right on the highway. But, if you would prefer to live in most locations in the city, it’s not an ideal daily commute. A lot more twenty-somethings want to live in Brooklyn than the Upper West Side.
Ultimately, I don’t actually believe that the location of the Knicks practice facility is one of the primary reasons why the Knicks haven’t lured stars. Yet, Jared Dudley reportedly did pitch free agents on the Nets’ facilities, and in the above video of the Nets touring the facility, Shane Larkin says: “I remember free agency, talking about the facility and what they thought it was gonna be. And I mean it’s amazing…just fully bought into the whole Brooklyn pride thing, living in Brooklyn.” A quick Google or Twitter search will bring up countless results of reporters, players, and others commenting on the world-class, luxurious nature of the HSS Training Center. (And for what it’s worth, here’s Mike Conley—yes, I know he was traded—blown away by the Jazz facilities.)
As the Knicks re-evaluate their appeal as a “premier” free agency destination and brand after losing out on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, it’s just another thing the world’s fifth-most valuable sports franchise is unable to offer to help get any semblance of an advantage (especially considering the Knicks don’t exactly hit it out of the park in meetings). Perhaps more than anything, it’s just a daily annoyance of playing for the Knicks for some players, and another reminder of why the Knicks organization is perceived as trailing behind much of the league, and certainly their crosstown rival.
The Knicks will be the first to tell you their soon-to-be-renovated Tarrytown facility does in no way deter possible free agents—they did sign seven players—but it remains a distraction and point of contradiction to the idea that the team can home-grow its brand in the roots of New York City—something the Nets have successfully done this summer. Plain and simple: The Knicks’ brand is New York, yet the Knicks opt to take the organization outside the city every morning while on homestands.
In today’s NBA, we see players increasingly making decisions predicated on reasons beyond basketball: where they want to live, what’s good for their brand, where they want to do business, etc. The Knicks can’t offer winning, culture, ownership, nor stability—just New York. But considering the living limitations brought on by the practice facility, they might not even offer the best New York–based lifestyle in town anymore.