Thursday, March 11, 2010

Devolution 9

Knicks Set Losing-Streak Record

With a 87-97 road loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the 2009-10 Knicks clinched a losing record.

With slightly more than a month left in the NBA regular season these Knicks couldn't level their record if they won every last remaining game. Case closed. Laaa--hooooo-zzzzzzaaaaaa-herrrrrrr.

On the other hand, if they lose every last remaining game they cannot assure themselves of a decent shot at the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft. Because former club president Isiah Thomas shipped Antonio McDyess, Howard Eisley, a 2004 draft pick, and a future protected draft pick to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway during the 2004 season. Shortly thereafter, the Knick's future pick was sent to Utah along with Tom Guggliota for some spare parts. The Knicks' pick was protected to various degrees up through 2009, and those protections kicked in as the Knicks played to a sub-.500 record in each ensuing year.

But there is no protection on the pick this season and Utah will reap the benefits of New York's many ping pong balls. In seven spins of's NBA draft lottery generator, the Jazz ended up with no worse than the No. 7 selection and were twice slotted in at No. 2. Needless to say, the pick will be a good one. And the Knicks roster will be in no way improved by it.

The structure of the collegiate/amateur drafts in most professional sports is intended to stock the rosters of the least talented teams with the top prospects in order to push them back up from the nether regions of their respective leagues. Under Thomas' watch, the Knicks routinely used draft picks in trades with other clubs. This is one (of the many) reason that the Knicks newly-clinched losing record marks their ninth straight losing season. That is a franchise record, topping the eight-year stretch of futility from the 1959-60 season through to the '66-'67 campaign.

The Knicks' last winning season came in 2000-2001. They were ousted in the opening round of the playoffs by the Toronto Raptors that year. The Jeff Van Gundy-coached squad was led by Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell, Glen Rice and Marcus Camby. Larry Johnson, hampered by a back injury, didn't play a minute in the postseason and would retire during the offseason. Mark Jackson was brought back to town in a February trade and donned the No. 31. For those keeping track at home, this was also the first season after the Knicks unceremoniously traded Patrick Ewing to Seattle.

Nine years of losing have come and gone and are still coming at Madison Square Garden. No other NBA team is mired in such a streak. Not even the Clippers, who posted a 47-35 record in 2005-06. There is also not a single team in the NHL with such an active streak. Same goes for the NFL, where the woeful Raiders are only riding the low-tide of a seven-year stretch of ineptitude. Yup, James Dolan's Knicks have been less successful than Al Davis's Raiders over the last decade. And, the Raiders are still two years away from catching up.

The only domestic professional sports league where one can find examples of such longlasting putridity is Major League Baseball - where competitive balance and salary caps are as verboten as steroids and spitballs.

The Cincinnati Reds head into the 2010 season with a nine-season losing streak of their own. And while they're being tabbed by some as a sleeper team in the National League there is still a chance they'll overtake the Knicks. Trapped in the cellar of the AL East and eating from a bucket lowered to them fortnightly by the Yankees and Red Sox, the Baltimore Orioles have an impressive run of 12 losing years under their belts. But no team, not even Dolan's Knickerbockers, can rival the Pittsburgh Pirates for recurrent failure. The Buccos have finished 17 seasons on the trot without a winning record.

So, all across the US sports landscape there are at least two organizations on a worse roll than the Knicks. And, no. One of them is not the Raiders. With the looming free agent bonanza, I think hope that a Pittsburghian streak is beyond even Dolan. But after watching this franchise reel off a nine-year stretch of winning seasons I never could have fathomed that things would get so bad. And stay that way. For so long. For nine years. So what do I know?

Well, other than the fact that potential Garden savior Lebron James was a junior in high school the last time the Knicks had a winning record. And precocious teenage point guard Ricky Rubio had just turned 9 years old when the Knicks' last winning season was about to get underway.

It's been a while. Nine years. Number nine. Number nine. Number nine...