There’s nothing more painful than watching your team go through a slow rebuild. OK, take that back. There’s nothing more painful than watching two of your teams go through a slow rebuild, which is exactly what NBA fans around here are going to be doing for the next few years.
For the third straight season, both the Knicks and the Nets missed the playoffs. This year, however, there was a major difference.
The Knicks, who are looking for a new coach to go along with their fairly new management team of Scott Perry and Steve Mills, no longer are thinking short-term and trying to pretend the goal is to make the playoffs every year. When they talk about the P-word now at Madison Square Garden, it stands for patience, not postseason.
The one thing the Knicks have going for them in asking their fans to be patient is that they will be playing at least half of the 2018-19 season, if not the whole season, without their best player, Kristaps Porzingis, who is rehabbing his torn ACL. While losing your best player is not a situation anyone would consider a positive, it does buy them some time to get things right, develop a few players and do some good things.
For the most part, that is exactly what the Nets did this season, which is why their 28-win season was so much more impressive than the Knicks’ 29-win campaign. The Knicks won only six of 27 games after losing Porzingis on Feb. 6. Six games. The Nets, by contrast, had to play all but 25 minutes of their season without point guard Jeremy Lin.
On Monday at the Nets’ training facility in Brooklyn, general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson talked about how losing Lin forced them to really take a long, hard look at every player on their team.
“When you go through something like we did with specifically Jeremy, as Kenny said, you panic for a day. It’s human nature,” Marks said. “But at the end of the day, it teaches you a lot about the other guys who are willing to step up and seize that moment. It’s really important for us.”
Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and Caris LeVert made significant progress this season, their second under Atkinson. Nobody stepped up bigger than Dinwiddie, a G League player who had a huge first half of the season after Lin and then D’Angelo Russell were injured. He not only established himself as a legitimate point guard in this league but provided one of the few highlights for the Nets when he won the Skills Challenge at the All-Star Game.
“It’s amazing when [you have a major injury] how you are depressed for a day but then you start to learn some things,” Atkinson said. “Things like, ‘Spencer Dinwiddie, man, he’s pretty good.’ Would he have gotten the same opportunity? D’Angelo goes down and now you have to tweak it. We found out a lot about our roster and our team.”
They found out the good and the bad, including the fact that Jahlil Okafor doesn’t appear to be a good fit for this team. Still, the Nets were eight wins better this season than they were in 2016-17. They ought to be even better next season; Lin is expected to be at full strength for the start of the year, giving the Nets a fairly impressive, if crowded, backcourt.
The Nets are on the slow and steady improvement plan, which isn’t always fun to watch but might be the best you can expect from an injury-riddled team that is going on its third and final year without its own first-round draft pick.
And the Knicks? Right now, no one is sure what the plan is, given that they seem to either change coaches or management every couple of years. Mills and Perry seem committed to building with young players and currently are trying to find the guy who can help develop them.
Like the Nets this season, the Knicks can get better without Porzingis. It’s just not going to be fun to watch.