Playoff berth ends miserable stretch for Knicks
Even while chasing championships in Detroit, Chauncey Billups couldn't help but notice the comedy of errors playing in New York.
Larry Brown, his beloved coach with the Pistons, lasted just one tumultuous season with the Knicks before a contentious parting that went all the way to Commissioner David Stern's office. Isiah Thomas, one of the all-time greats as a Detroit player, became a spectacular failure here as a coach and executive.
In New York City, the Motor City and beyond, the Knicks had become a punch line.
''Anything that goes on in New York is everywhere. It's not just in y'alls' papers, it's kind of everywhere,'' Billups said Monday, a day after the Knicks clinched their first playoff berth since 2004. ''So I followed that, man, and it was, it was kind of unpleasant to see that.''
OK, so maybe the Knicks weren't quite the Clippers. The longtime losers from Los Angeles have been the NBA's standard when it comes to failed franchises.
On the court, though, the Knicks were even worse. From the start of the 2004-05 season to the end of 2009-10, only the Minnesota Timberwolves were worse - by three wins - than New York, which compiled a .352 winning percentage, according to STATS, LLC.
Throw in a sexual harassment lawsuit against Thomas and Madison Square Garden by a former franchise executive, the drama involving Stephon Marbury, and it seemed everyone was laughing at the Knicks.
''What I found here is that everyone wants to mock the Knicks because they don't really want to see them get good,'' team president Donnie Walsh said. ''I didn't. In Indiana, I did not want to see the Knicks get good because they could be good for a long time.''
Maybe they're on their way.
Though the Knicks' drought matched Minnesota's for the NBA's longest, they won't be an inexperienced club when they return to the big stage in less than two weeks. Billups, Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony have all played deep into the postseason, meaning the Knicks' core would be as tested as anyone outside of Boston among Eastern Conference teams.
''We have three guys who expected to be there,'' coach Mike D'Antoni said. ''So it's not like, 'look we did.' This is a normal day for them.''
Nothing about the Knicks was normal before Walsh and D'Antoni arrived in 2008.
Shortly after Thomas was hired in late 2003, he thought he had the franchise player who would lead the Knicks to perennial playoff appearances when he acquired Marbury from Phoenix. They would make the postseason that spring before they were swept by the New Jersey Nets.
Marbury would eventually feud with Thomas and just about everyone else, including Brown, who went 23-59 in 2005-06 before Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan fired him and attempted to withhold the remaining four years on his contract, saying Brown was fired for violating MSG rules. The matter went before Stern before the sides eventually settled.
Anthony, like Marbury and Brown a Brooklyn native, was too busy with his own career in Denver to pay much attention to what was happening in New York. But he could tell how much it meant that playoff basketball back was coming back to New York from the excitement of the fans following Sunday's 123-107 victory over Cleveland.
''As fans and as students of the game, we know how hard it was for the New York Knicks, the franchise, and for the city to have to go through that, not making the playoffs year in and year out, not having nothing to look forward to in the postseason,' Anthony said. ''So now we want to change that.''
D'Antoni, a regular 50-game winner in Phoenix, had to endure two 50-loss seasons in New York while the Knicks implemented Walsh's plan to clear enough cap space to sign two superstar free agents last summer. Stoudemire was the first and he vowed the Knicks would return to prominence, making the clinching victory special for him.
''Any time you accomplish a goal, you really have a sense of pride,'' Stoudemire said. ''After that game last night, I felt extremely emotional. I sat down with friends and family and were having a conversation about the hard work that took place to get to this point, and so we really cherished the moment last night, but now it's time to get back on track.''
The Knicks (38-38) will spend the remaining six games trying to finish with their first winning record since going 48-34 in 2000-01. They are 1 1/2 games behind the 76ers for the No. 6 seed, with a game in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Then it's on to what they believe is the first of many postseasons. The misery of the last six years is over, and Anthony says the standards are higher now.
''We've just got to win games,'' he said. ''We have a team now that we want to build on, be better, compete at a high level every year, but anything less than playoffs is a failure for us from here on out.''