There are so many candidates to explain the failures and the disappointment of these Knicks. You can start with the two most-decorated members of last year’s 41-31 team that finished with the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
You can start with Julius Randle, last year’s Most Improved Player for the whole league, who hasn’t had a season anywhere close to the one he turned in last year, when he did just about everything and anything the Knicks could have asked of him . And you can start with Tom Thibodeau, whose work in 2020-21 was extraordinary but whose day-to-day output this year hasn’t been nearly anything the same.
All true. All fair. All of it.
But there was another key member of that team who showed up a few months into the program last year and was, deservedly, universally praised for adding large portions of professionalism and poise to the Knicks’ process. Derrick Rose’s maiden voyage as a Knick may have been something resembling a nightmare but his encore last season was a good story all the way around.
But Rose hasn’t played since turning in a 12-minute, 11-second shift in a 116-103 win over the Rockets in the 29th game of the season. He went for ankle surgery not long after that. The Knicks’ record stood at 13-16 after that game. They are 20-26 since. Add in the five games Rose had missed earlier and the Knicks are 21-30 without him.
Tom Thibodeau said before Monday’s game with the Bulls that Rose’s status for the rest of the season is up in the air. He’s been running, working on his conditioning, doing basketball drills, but no contact. It seems pointless at this point to have him do that just to return for a couple of meaningless games.
“Look, all teams have injuries,” Thibodeau said. “It gives other guys, younger guys, an opportunity and a chance to step up and I think our young guys have. You hope a veteran like Derrick attacks his rehab and serves as a role model for the younger players that way, and he definitely has.”
Point guard, of course, has been a chronic woe for the Knicks for years. Derek Harper was probably the last reliable one they’ve had. Raymond Felton had some wonderful spasms of prosperity for the Knicks (the first time around, anyway; it’s best to simply not think about the second time). Stephon Marbury had his segments of brilliance but his time here is not remembered fondly. Jason Kidd was terrific for the 2012-13 Knicks, but he had one foot in retirement the whole time.
This is not an uncommon complaint. There was a time when the Bulls, the Knicks’ Monday opponents, looked like they might win 65 games this year. But a terrible thing happened to them on Jan. 14, when they were 27-13: Lonzo Ball went down with a knee injury.
The Bulls are still formable. But they entered Madison Square Garden with a 16-18 record without Ball, their dynamic point guard, and half of the brilliant 1-2 free agency pickup last summer along with DeMar DeRosen. There is hope that the Bulls can get him back before the playoffs but they also halted his rehab last week.
“The feeling was, let’s really pull back on what he’s doing and let’s let him, I don’t want to use the word ‘rest’ because it’s not like he’s sitting around doing nothing — he’ll do strength training and those kind of things,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said last week. “But take a break on the running and trying to ramp him up.”
The Bulls hope they can get him back because they’ve seen what the Knicks have seen this year: life without your playmaker is no real basketball life at all. The Knicks have learned that the hard way for years, and the harder way this year, and until they are able to figure out a long-term solution…
More long nights await. And more long seasons.