Zapote, Costa Rica -- The memories of Patrick Ewing gracefully draining a jump shot to the delight of the Garden crowd, Larry Johnson hitting a clutch 3-pointer to sink the Pacers in the playoffs, and Willis Reed limping onto the court, with one leg, and leading the Knicks to an NBA championship, are long gone. Those fond memories have been replaced by the cruel reality of Bruno Sundov in the starting lineup, Frederick Veis' name being read on draft night, and longtime Knicks' play-by-play announcer, Marv Albert, biting his way into infamy.
There is no nice way to put it; the Knicks have become a joke. The once, truly proud NBA franchise, which plays in the Mecca of sporting venues, is now just a mediocre basketball team, playing in front of a half empty, and mostly quiet, arena, where Liza Minnelli bobble-head night is a bigger draw than the Celtics.
The Knicks' problems, though, go much deeper than recent coaches and players, and are squarely on the shoulders of the front office and ultimately, the ownership. Part of that problem was addressed recently when former Detroit Pistons "Bad Boy," Isaiah Thomas, took over as General Manager and immediately began to shake things up. Within days Thomas, who had been a GM before with the Toronto Raptors, traded half the Knicks team and brought back hometown hero, Stephon Marbury, in an eight-player deal with the Phoenix Suns.
Then, to no one's surprise, Thomas fired coach Don Cheney and replaced him with the NBA's all time winningest coach, Lenny Wilkens. What was surprising was that Thomas didn't take over the coaching reins himself, which many sports pundits thought would be the case.
"In today's NBA, if you don't have a hot young star, or a slew of future Hall-of-Famers in your lineup, you had better be winning," said BetCBSports Senior Odds Maker, Dan "The Man" Johnson. "There is no tolerance anymore for teams, with the history and prestige that the Knicks have, to be in perpetual rebuilding mode. Those fans are not paying $15 for a hot pretzel, and $200 a seat in the upper level of the Garden, to see a team go 66-106 the past two seasons, average 70 points a game, and lose their best players to free agency, injuries, and retirement."
Something has to be done to stop the bleeding and, so far, Thomas appears to be both capable and focused on turning this legendary franchise around. The Knicks have struggled since their last trip to the NBA finals, in the strike-shortened 1999 season, but have started to gel with their new lineup of players and Wilkens behind the bench. The Knicks are definitely within reach of making the playoffs with a good second half of the season.
Can Wilkens make good for the disaster he created in Toronto, and lead the Knicks back to glory? Will Marbury and Penny Hardaway take the Knicks' rag-tag lineup to the Promised Land?
BetCBSports has released the following odds on whether the New York Knicks will make the 2004 NBA playoffs: