MILWAUKEE — It was the worst loss of the season, a 44-point beatdown at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks, and when it was over the Knicks could shake their heads and wonder how it happened and consider it a one-time event. But considering the worst night as a rarity diminishes just how bad things are right now on the whole.
The loss may have been the most humiliating, but it was the seventh in a row. Close losses are still losses and a 4-17 record is not an accident. The Knicks are at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and a half game better than the Golden State Warriors for the distinction of having the worst record in the NBA — and the Knicks can’t optimistically look ahead to the return of superstars such as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
The Knicks await the return of Frank Ntilikina, Marcus Morris and Elfrid Payton, who each missed Monday’s loss to the Bucks. And then maybe the next step is waiting for the next shoe to drop.
Knicks executives passed on the opportunity to weigh in on where the team is now as they had after the first 10 games of the season. At that time, in the wake of an ugly loss at home to Cleveland, Knicks president Steve Mills said, “We’re not here focused on the record. We’re focused on improvement and delivering a consistent effort . . . The solution is for us to come out and play a complete game of basketball every night.”
If they want to focus on the record, the Knicks were 2-8 when the executives spoke out and they are 2-9 since then. The record through 21 games matches the worst in franchise history. Knicks coach David Fizdale has clung to the notion that they have played well in losses to contending teams — although in the last four games there have been close losses to Philadelphia and Boston but also blowout losses to Toronto and Milwaukee.
The reality for the Knicks is that this team is not how the plan was supposed to go, so the Knicks turned to a Plan B in the summer, signing seven free agents — six of them on expiring contracts and only Julius Randle with a fully guaranteed deal for next season. The Knicks can trade those contracts beginning Dec. 15 and that might determine if the Knicks can salvage something from their summer.
The goal was to put a more competitive team on the floor with the influx of veterans after the 17-65 tanking project last season could not even coax a meeting from the top free agents. But the Knicks are already behind the pace of last year’s team and the youth development plan also has been a disappointment. So the flexibility Knicks executives spoke of when they made the moves to build this roster are all that is left — seeing if they can send out some of these contracts for either picks or players to continue the rebuild.
Fizdale, who is on as tenuous a perch as the players, remained steadfast that it will improve.
“We didn’t come out with the right mindset for whatever reason,” he said after the loss to the Bucks. “Whatever my motivational talk was didn’t take hold I guess. We’ll bounce back. We’ll get into the film. We’ll own it. we’ll watch it and we’ll get ready for another very good basketball team.”