There is one way, and only one, where the surreal events of Thursday afternoon make even a little bit of sense at Penn Plaza. Monday, July 7
There is one way, and only one, where the surreal events of Thursday afternoon make even a little bit of sense at Penn Plaza.
Monday, July 7 figures to be one of the lightest news days of the summer. It’s the first day of baseball’s All-Star break, so the Mets and the Yankees will be dormant. It’ll be the first day back to work for most of us after the Fourth of July holidays, so we’ll all be a little sleepy and in need of the jolt that would allow this to all seem even remotely reasonable:
A large gathering at Madison Square Garden. Two honored guests sitting near a podium, and because we are fair, they can be any two of the following three names: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving. Elsewhere, roaming among the Knicks brass, is Zion Williamson, flashing that bright smile of his, back for a second big day following his introduction as the Knicks’ first-round draft pick a few weeks earlier.
There it is.
Snap a picture of that scene with your mind’s eye.
Because that is the only way to believe the Knicks, as an organization, didn’t suffer the worst nervous breakdown in the history of professional sports in our town on Thursday. That is the only way to justify Kristaps Porzingis going from franchise foundation to ex-Knick in what felt like 15 minutes. That is the only way to explain the Knicks wrapping their carefully laid rebuilding plans with TNT and blowing the whole thing to Kingdom Come.
That is the only way this makes even a stitch of sense.
It’s almost a stretch to call this a gamble: This is beyond a gamble. This is borderline reckless, and the only thing keeping it straddling that border is the notion that at the close of business Thursday, the Knicks are the proud owners of $74.6 million in salary-cap space, which shakes out to two max free-agent deals.
Of course, that begs a couple of questions:
1. If you are any of those three free agents, what about the Knicks, as currently constituted, makes them even remotely appealing?
2. Wasn’t one of the only appealing things about the Knicks the possibility of teaming with KP?
3. Is there any reason to feel at all confident that Scott Perry and Steve Mills are even remotely capable of pulling off a parlay like this?
4. Would you feel confident in entrusting the prime of your career here?
Because the most curious thing that happened Thursday was this: After relentlessly selling their fans and their city on the value of their mission — a full rebuild, no shortcuts this time, short-term pain in exchange for long-term gain, patience, patience, patience, and all of this done with the idea that Porzingis was central to all of it — the men who ran the Knicks simply changed their minds.
You would hope it wasn’t entirely a product of frustration with Porzingis, whose vast gifts have always been offset by the prickly desires of he and his brotherly agent mouthpiece to have an entitled say in the way things are run, in addition to his inability to actually stay on the court. The Porzingis brothers are a headache, but when you have a headache you take a couple of Tylenol, you don’t usually order up a guillotine.
So it is only logical that there has to be a viable Plan B in place. Except these are the Knicks. There is no track record that insists this is true at all. There are a few people in the NBA — Pat Riley, R.C. Buford, Danny Ainge, Masai Ujiri — who, if they’d pressed the nuclear button like this, your first inclination would be to say, “OK. Let’s see what they have in mind here.”
No one has ever said that about Scott Perry.
No one has even tried to ever say that about Steve Mills without bursting out laughing.
But if you are a Knicks fan, what other choice do you have but to swallow hard, close your eyes, and hope Mills and Perry aren’t conducting a basketball Jonestown, coaxing you over the edge with them? The player around whom so much of the Knicks has been invested is on his way to Dallas now, and he isn’t coming back. And you have no idea who is going to replace him.
Unless you buy into the fevered dream of July 7. Unless we are all talking about this magnificent show in the newspapers of July 8, and checking in with the overworked Garden box office, and counting the days till the season starts. It sounds like a work of fantasy.
But it had better be something else. Otherwise it wasn’t merely the Unicorn Era the Knicks flushed away Thursday afternoon. Then it was the franchise’s very viability swirling around the bowl, too.