On LeBron James and the New York Knicks: A Discussion in the Clouds

By: Mr. Downtown '92

According to NBA Insiders at ESPN, writing their “Ultimate ‘Grade A’ Mock Draft,” the New York Knicks will likely draft an undersized and defensively-challenged guard from the University of Oklahoma named Trae Young with the ninth pick in the 2018 NBA Draft (Update: the Knicks drafted Kentucky’s Kevin Knox, passing on Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr., whom I believe is going to be a star). There are concerns regarding Young’s recovery from a recent back surgery and I’m not convinced that he is the best running mate for rising-star Kristaps Porzingis, himself coming off an injury-riddled season. But, this is what the Knicks do: They make mistakes (see: Update). Mistakes that seem obviously moronic given enough hindsight. Examples from the last 15 years include the hiring of Isiah Thomas as president of basketball operations (December 2003), signing underachievers like Jerome James to sizable contracts, and trading for hometown products Stephon Marbury (’04) and Carmelo Anthony (’11). There are plenty of more mistakes I could list but, as a current resident of New York City, I’m not going to do the Knicks like that.

I bring up the recent past of the Knickerbockers because of a video I watched concerning LeBron James’ impending departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers (again). Max Kellerman and Stephen A. Smith were discussing which team “needed” LeBron James more: Was it the Los Angeles Lakers or Gotham City’s Knicks? The NBA’s two biggest markets have been eluded by success during this decade of small-ball and now the greatest player of our generation is a free agent yet again, meaning Knicks fans can begin to daydream once more of the franchise acquiring its first-ever superstar.

That’s right, the New York Knicks have never had a true superstar on its roster.

This is the grand revelation granted to me by Kellerman and Smith. Both Talking Heads discussed Patrick Ewing, a phenomenal center and future Hall of Famer in his own right, as the closest entity to a superstar the Knicks have ever had. But, it’s agreed upon that he was a notch below transcendent talents such as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Shaquille O’Neal. Plus, he never won a championship—the three men I mentioned did.

Bernard King, the “King of New York,” son of Brooklyn, once had back-to-back 50-point games against the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks, but he was no superstar. He was one of the greatest scorers to ever play the game, ascending into the top 50 on the all-time scoring list with a vast array of moves on the perimeter and the paint. But, as Kellerman points out, he was not an “above the rim-type player.” This is in distinct contrast to contemporaries like Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Michael Jordan, whose mastery of the air led to their being two of the most influential figures in basketball history (i.e., superstars). King’s description would also apply to the Knicks’ last high-profile acquisition: Carmelo Anthony. Melo’s time in NY was defined by frustration and disappointment, both from Anthony’s momentary lapses of reason and the Knicks’ ineptitude as a franchise. A melancholic homecoming that ended in a whimper, to say the least.

Should we even really discuss the Marbury/Isiah Era?

Earl “the Pearl” Monroe and Walt Frazier: Legends amongst men, but not superstars.

Chances are, LeBron James ends up in Los Angeles and doesn’t win another title. However, Los Angeles is on the up-and-up: Players (see: Kawhi Leonard) want to play in Los Angeles. They want to be in Los Angeles. The Lakers have the cap space to sign two superstars this summer and immediately ascend to the top of the basketball world yet again. Players aren’t salivating at the thought of playing in New York and they haven’t for a while.

Even if LeBron never won a title for New York, and he won’t, it would change the face of this franchise if he played 41 games at the Garden every season for the next three to five years. As LeBron nears his mid-30s, I have full faith that his game will adapt to an inevitable physical decline. Imagine that? A graceful older LeBron dishing out at least a dozen assists every night as Kristaps realizes his full potential and Spike smirks on the sidelines.

We’ll have battles, which we’ll lose, with Philadelphia and Boston, but a bit of order will be restored to our increasingly chaotic world because one of the best to ever do it will live in the Mecca of basketball.

 

So, my question is: What would a late-career LeBron James mean to the New York Knicks?