It’s obviously never inherent for competitors to want to lose, nor is it for their supporters to root for their teams’ losses, even when they all know that in a much larger sense that losing might be better than winning in the short-term.
Yet here we are again with the New York Knicks in late March, with just over two weeks left in another lost season.
Knicks fans know their club isn’t going anywhere this year and they’re also well aware that the more New York loses down the stretch, the better chance at eventually building a winner all Knicks fans can be proud of with the help of as a high draft pick as possible.
Of course, it’s that mentality which brought New York (following a franchise-worst 17-win season three years ago) — second-year forward Kristaps Porzingis — otherwise known as the Knicks’ only real hope at the moment for producing a possible cornerstone to build around for potentially many years to come.
Many Knicks fans see the forest through the trees in that way. But not all do, or even if they subscribe to the same theory, are they able to convince themselves to abandon their own innate instincts to root hard for their team no matter what the situation.
“Those are the fans that we appreciate,” said star forward Carmelo Anthony, whose 21 points complemented Porznigis’ 25 points and a game-high 27 from point guard Derrick Rose as the Knicks (28-46) snapped a five-game losing streak at Madison Square Garden on Monday night with a 109-95 win over the Detroit Pistons (34-40), who fell 1½ game behind Miami for the final playoff spot in the NBA’s East Conference.
“Those are the fans that regardless of what the situation is, [or] what’s going on, they’re there standing up, sticking with us. Those are the fans that we truly appreciate.”
The victory moved New York to 11-2 this season when the Knicks allow fewer than 100 points, as opposed to the drastically different 17-44 when they surrender triple digits.
On opposite sides of the New York’s locker room, both Anthony and Rose said they could “drive [themselves] crazy” trying to figure out why the type of solid effort at each end of the floor against the Pistons was so infrequent over the course of the season, particularly at a time when it frankly doesn’t help the Knicks much to win any more this season, whereas Detroit had far more for which to play.
Although Anthony — who has gone through 80 teammates, four general managers and five head coaches during his six-plus years in New York since arriving from Denver toward the end of the 2010-11 season — would gladly welcome the addition of an immediate impact-making draftee in June, he nor any other player on the Knicks roster or among New York’s coaching staff has it in them to intentionally try to make that happen.
He said, “It’s hard to come into a game saying, ‘We’re going to try to lose a game.’ It’s hard to do that. I don’t know how you do that, I honestly don’t.
“Mentally, I think we really needed this win… just to get that winning feeling back.”
From the Knicks’ standpoint, it’s just about impossible for players and coaches who’ve spent most of their lives trying to win, to think about playing any game with any intent of losing, even if it’s to further a greater goal down the line.
Seemingly speaking for his teammates as much as for himself, Rose said, “The season didn’t go exactly the way we wanted it to go. All I can control is my work ethic and going out there and being professional and playing as hard as I can… we’ve just got to go out there and finish the season strong.”
Seeing value in that stance, head coach Jeff Hornacek said of New York’s 14th win in 50 games after the Knicks started the season with the same number of victories in 24 contests, “It’s better than losing. Guys keep playing, keep fighting. We always talk about maybe there’s something that happens at the end of the season that maybe we can get some momentum for next year.”
Contrary to that view among many Knicks fans, however, next year has to start now, with New York losing as often as it can to have the best chance possible at being able to choose another difference-making player like Porzingis.
Starting the night in a three-way tie with Orlando and Philadelphia for the league’s fourth-worst record, playing an effective spoiler to Detroit dropped the Knicks’ to the sixth spot in this year’s Tankathon, a half-game behind idle Philadelphia and one game in back of Orlando, which lost by 19 points in Toronto.
Although there was plenty of cheering from Knicks fans at the Garden who were delighted to see New York play well, there others on Twitter who were concerned.
“Knicks winning, Magic losing and Kings will probably lose tonight (though they later won at home, by one). Gonna go from 4th to like 6th with a chance at falling further,” one fan commented.
When I noted that Anthony, en route to an impressive 17-point second quarter, has scored 11 less than seven minutes into the period — including seven points in a 45-second span — another Knicks fan chimed in, “Bench him!”
A short time late, another Knicks fan jumped in, “Melo need to chill…don’t mess up the tank.”
When I responded to that same fan that New York had the tanking backwards at that moment — with the Knicks ahead 73-59 a little over two minutes into the third quarter, as Orlando trailed at halftime in Toronto, 73-57 — I was told, “It’s like they havnt learned from the past 15+ years.”
Still, for every Knicks fan that’s hoping New York won’t win another game until next season (and there are countless), there are likely just as many if not more who share the view of New York Sports Day’s own Kristin Ferrara, who defiantly yet very supportively said, “I’m all for the Knicks winning. I’m a Knicks fan. Never root for a loss.”
A very respectable take, with that kind of team loyalty.
But so is that of Knicks Nation which is only rooting for the bad now to turn into the far better later.
And there’s the sharp divide, with Knicks fans being as united as any fanbase in the NBA with rooting for victories from late October through February, but then going in completely opposite directions on that notion every March and April in recent years.
Perhaps Hornacek will make the decision for both groups soon, when he could soon decide to cut minutes for players like Anthony, Porzingis or Rose in favor of some of the Knicks’ young bench players, who could help New York tank simply through their inexperience and lesser degree of talent.
“Maybe, as we go down the stretch,” Hornacek said of that idea. “We don’t want to end the season a on a really horrible note and take that into the summer… [maybe] we’ll get a win or two [more] and hopefully the young guys get more minutes.”
In the meantime, Hornacek fully appreciates the tanking sentiment. But he also said (with a wry smile) that maybe going about things the right way — playing to win, even when there might be far more to gain by losing — could somehow cosmically shape the Knicks’ fortunes in the way New York desperately hopes.
“That’s understandable,” Hornacek said of some Knicks fans rooting for losses in New York’s final eight games of the season. “When you’re not in the playoffs, everyone looks at what’s the best draft pick you can get. It’s hard. Players don’t want to lose, coaches don’t want to lose.
“Sometimes, I think, that may work out for you. You just play and maybe that’s the good karma, and you get a good ping pong ball, I guess.”
Perhaps, especially when for all we know, karma might have some mystical tie-in to the zen meditations practiced by team president like Phil Jackson.
Ultimately, it may not matter anyway, as the Knicks, in a deep first round, may very well be able to land the player they need even if they win some more games and fall two or three spots lower, to the eighth or ninth pick.
Either way, the debate among Knicks fans will continue for the rest of this season as it has before around this time.