Patrick Ewing had been in the building earlier in the day. Alonzo Mourning was there, too. A little later on, Pat Riley, in all his tailored splendor, strolled by with a smile. Dwyane Wade warmed up on the court and just before tip-off, he shared an embrace with Carmelo Anthony.
These were living ghosts haunting a building that is waiting not only for it’s next era, but merely it’s next win.
Only now do we see just how significant 2011 was for this franchise. Melo dared to take this stage at a time when others only wanted to make cameos, just to avoid having too much exposure to the critics. Now the Knicks are hoping to find another star who is willing to do the same.
Wade was one of those stars who was always happier as a guest. He, like LeBron James, opted against coming to New York for the warmer, breezier atmosphere in South Florida, while Melo wanted the cold, harsh winters that matched the intensity of a basketball city that was starved for something to believe in.
“He embraced being here,” Wade told a group of reporters before the game. “Not a lot of athletes can embrace what comes with playing in The Garden and playing in New York. Carmelo embraced it.”
In case you missed it, the Knicks showed Dwyane Wade much respect and class during his final game at Madison Square Garden.
Sure, it was short-lived and Melo’s fading athleticism, compiled with some roster decisions and the firing of Mike Woodson, led to an ugly ending for Melo’s era. But that’s not really what should be the focus right now. Instead, the Knicks need to highlight what Wade just said as they prepare for perhaps the most important offseason in 20 years. To lure Kevin Durant from the Warriors or Kyrie Irving from the Celtics — or both — will take more than just an impressive production of celebrity messages and Power Point charts on the financial benefits to playing in the biggest market in the world. It’s gonna take one simple question:
It’s not just a question to ask a Durant or a Kyrie, it’s a question they need to ask internally. Why is what Wade said true? “Not a lot of athletes can embrace what comes with playing in The Garden and playing in New York.” There has to be more to this than media pressure, otherwise the Yankees wouldn’t be able to sign anyone.
Then again, maybe the Yankees offer some insight. Once they got away from trading youth and overspending (early 1990s), their most successful eras were based on a core of players they drafted and developed. From there, they added significant players who wanted to be part of what was already established. They’re in the midst of doing that again.
Ewing was drafted, so he didn’t have a choice. But before Riley arrived, Ewing had been through so many coaching and front office changes and the team had failed to find him a second all-star, so he was looking to get out and find stability (sound familiar?). It was Riley who met with Ewing before he took the job and convince the star center to buy into him. Riley promised Ewing they’d build a contender and within two years the Knicks had one of the best records in the league and within three years they were in the NBA Finals.
The problem is after four years, Riley was gone.
The Knicks of the present are facing another moment-of-truth with pending restricted free agent Kristaps Porzingis and also with their rebuild. There will be a lottery pick that could turn into another star. There’s also salary cap space (and the ability to create more) that could advance the cause overnight.
It could happen if someone like Durant or Kyrie embrace the stage, but you can’t ask them to do it alone. How much more attractive is that stage with a healthy Porzingis and lottery pick that could land one of a handful of dynamic players in the college game today?
– Melo was on hand to watch his close friend, Wade, play one of his last games at the Garden, but Melo made it clear he wasn’t ready to talk retirement. “I’ve had some good years in this building,” he said. “I look forward to coming back and playing in this building some more.” He’s technically property of the Chicago Bulls, who acquired him in a trade with the Rockets last week. But the Bulls are expected to either deal him or waive him before the Feb. 7 trade deadline, so Melo has remained in New York and has been training in his gym. He received a standing ovation when introduced on GardenVision with the “Once a Knick, Always a Knick” presentation. The video went viral and got a lot of reaction from NBA players. Wade re-tweeted the video and said, “This felt right.” LeBron also re-tweeted it and said, “Well deserved.” I’ve written this earlier this season and it bears repeating, all athletes when they do retire need a “home”, which is the team they most identify with from their career. Melo may have started in Denver, but there’s no doubt New York is home and this was a good night for some healing after how things ended here. You can’t forget the first four years he was a star here and the team was very competitive.
– Enes Kanter included himself in the “Once a Knick, Always a Knick” conversation with a social media post after the game acknowledging some people in the crowd who started a “We Want Kanter” chant late in the game. Kanter waved to the group from the end of the bench. Before the game, David Fizdale responded to a question about Kanter’s accusation that the coach has not communicated with him about his reduced role. Fizdale said, “I’ve really tried to communicate face-to-face with him every step of the way.” He then pointed out specific times he actually did talk to him, such as when the decision was made to start Luke Kornet in Milwaukee on Dec. 27 and also after the team returned from London, when Mitchell Robinson was back in the lineup. Fizdale said he also address Kanter in front of the entire team during the shoot-around on Friday before the Brooklyn game. That night is when Kanter told reporters, “I wish he’d communicate with me. I see him every day, he hasn’t said a word to me.”
– In the wake of the Kanter situation, it’s worth noting is this quote in the New York Post from Trey Burke, who was also moved out of the rotation in favor of younger players: “It’s hard, we’re human. You want to pay and you find yourself out of the lineup. You can do two things: you can mope and pout about it, or you can try to figure out getting better for when your opportunity comes back around.” With the shoulder injury to Emmanuel Mudiay and now a sore groin for Frank Ntilikina, Burke was thrust back to service and he’s played very well.
– These games are all following the same script lately, where the team competes for three quarters and has one debilitating quarter that costs them the game. This time it was the third quarter, where the Heat outscored the Knicks 26-8 to start the second half and built an 81-70 lead going into the fourth. The Knicks had led 58-52 at halftime and had been playing well. They did manage a run in the fourth quarter — as usual — to make it a game. Tim Hardaway Jr. (22 points) hit a three with 4:01 to go to tie the score at 90. But then came some bad possessions and a couple of Wayne Ellington how-did-he-hit-that threes sent the Knicks to their 11th straight home loss. Burke had 16 points, Daymean Dotson added 14 points and Allonzo Trier had 11 points.
– Mitchell Robinson had some good moments with 6 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks in 22:49 and Fizdale called it a victory that Robinson only had 2 fouls.
– Kevin Knox continued to struggle with just 4 points on 2 of 6 shooting in 22:11. Fizdale opined that the 19-year-old may be hitting a bit of a rookie wall again and it shows in his lack of activity in games. He also could be missing Emmanuel Mudiay, who sets him up for 20% of his shots.
– Wade and the Heat will be back at The Garden one more time this season, March 30. It’s a Saturday night, so you can probably expect a lot of those tickets will be in the hands of Heat fans once again. Wade has made a routine on this farewell tour to do a jersey exchange with an opponent after every game. He signs a jersey and leaves a personal message. He exchanged with Tim Hardaway Jr., who grew up in Miami and said Wade “was an idol to me” during his most impressionable years. Part of the reason why Hardaway Jr. wears No. 3 was for Wade.