It was a difficult year for the Knicks, a 2022 to please forget. On the surface, the numbers hardly indicate a disaster. The Knicks went 38-44 in 2022 before their New Year’s Eve game in Houston, which, compared to their previous 365-day increments, is reason to celebrate.
But given the expectations and good vibes from 2021 — especially in the first half of that year — the follow up was a letdown.
Here’s a look back at the five moments that defined 2022 as a disappointment for the Knicks:
JAN. 6, THE THUMBS DOWN
Julius Randle was a New York City sports hero during the pandemic, a story of redemption and heights few expected. He was rewarded with chants of ‘MVP’ and a nine-figure contract, which solidified his position as franchise cornerstone.
Then, as quickly as Randle and his jet pack elevated, he crashed down to the Garden hardwood.
Randle was already struggling and grumpy by the Jan. 6 game against the Celtics. The fans had turned on him quickly, perhaps quicker than Randle could tolerate after his All-NBA season in 2020-21, and they were booing him early in the game.
As he led a comeback against the Celtics, Randle converted a layup and didn’t want the fans to forget their fickleness. So as they cheered, he flashed a thumbs down. Then Randle explained what that meant: “Shut the f**k up.”
Fighting with the paying customers is always a losing battle, and the thumbs down became the flashpoint of Randle’s fractured relationship with the fanbase. We doubt today — nearly a year later — that it will ever be totally repaired.
Randle continued through a tumultuous season with multiple tantrums, which led to the predictable trade rumors and ejections. He started this campaign much better so there’s hope for a thumbs-up in 2023.
FEB. 23, KEMBA’S PERMANENT LEAVE OF ABSENCE
Walker’s signing was pumped up as an emotional homecoming and the answer to New York’s point-guard problem, but that quickly went off the rails. Walker was pulled from the rotation just 20 games into the season, as coach Tom Thibodeau had little patience for the defensive issues and arthritic knee.
A rash of injuries and COVID-19 infections forced Walker back in the lineup, but that was short lived and the Knicks were unable to find a trade partner. By the All-Star break, Walker was facing more DNPs so he pulled the plug.
“We fully support Kemba’s decision to shut it down for the remainder of the season and use this time to prepare for next season,” the Knicks said in a statement.
Although Walker had another season on his contract, nobody expected him to return.
New York’s point-guard situation only worsened because Derrick Rose, who was supposed to replace Walker, suffered a setback from his ankle surgery and never returned.
JUNE 23, THE DRAFT WITH NO PICKS
For teams and their fans in the lottery, the draft is the reward for enduring a season of failure. It’s a time to feel good about the future. But for the Knicks, the 2022 draft became a reminder of Leon Rose’s past mistakes.
With a goal of clearing cap space, Rose attached his 11th overall pick to shed the contracts of Kemba Walker, Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks in three separate complex deals. These were players the Knicks signed less than a year prior during the 2021 free agency, and they were negative assets by draft night.
So those hopes of trading up for Jaden Ivey or Bennedict Mathurin? Gone.
Or, what about drafting a steal with the 11th pick like Jalen Duren or AJ Griffin? Nope.
In the long run, the draft-day maneuvering may work out for the Knicks. They cleared the space to sign Jalen Brunson, who entered the All-Star conversation before his hip injury. They also acquired more future picks for a potential trade.
But on draft night, these were tough sells considering the pick was used to clean up mistakes.
SEPT. 1, THE BIG MISS
From the beginning of Leon Rose’s tenure, we’ve heard about how the former agent will attract stars. We’ve heard about how his cautious approach to roster building was about salvaging the assets for a run at a superstar.
It took a couple years but the perfect target emerged in Donovan Mitchell, who desired the Knicks for a homecoming and was made available by the Jazz.
But the Knicks never crossed the finish line. They negotiated for months — with, according to sources, team executives Brock Aller and Gersson Rosas taking turns as point men — but drew a hard line and were surprised when the Jazz pivoted to the Cavaliers for a blockbuster on Dec. 1.
You could argue about whether Mitchell is worth the haul in the long term, but he’s certainly playing like it as one of the Eastern Conference’s top scorers. The Knicks, meanwhile, still have their glut of future picks and nobody to use it on.
Maybe Karl-Anthony Towns or Zach LaVine become available. But neither are playing as well as Mitchell.
DEC. 28, THE HISTORIC COLLAPSE
In the long history of the NBA, there was never — not ever — a team that gave up a lead of at least nine points with 35 seconds or fewer remaining. The streak lasted nearly 14,000 games.
Then the 2022 Knicks in Dallas happened.
This game is so fresh on the mind that we don’t need to recap the entire debacle, but Luka Doncic’s stat line is worth repeating — 60 points, 21 rebounds, 10 assists. It was such a deflating evening for the Knicks that it carried over to the next game, two nights afterward, when they were pummeled by the rebuilding Spurs.
The collapse became a fitting end to a difficult year.
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