2. New York And Chicago: Two Different Ways To Spell 'Mediocrity'

Speaking of John Wall and fans fixated on his NBA possibilities, we should note up front that the New York Knicks are not part of that conversation. Saying that Isiah Thomas was the Herbert Hoover of general managers isn’t really new, and yet, it just never gets old. Why are the Knicks missing out on Wallapalooza?

From a New York Daily News article this year, breaking down the winners of a trade that happend 6 years ago:

The former Knicks GM … Layden was working on a Marbury deal in the weeks before he was canned. Isiah swooped in and sweetened the deal for Phoenix with a couple of first round picks, one of which eventually was traded to Utah…

Ah, that timeless, hamhanded strategy: "well screw it, 2010 is 6 years from now, we probably won’t even need our first round pick by then." Isiah Thomas? Isiah Thomas. Isiah Thomas!!!

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It’s a story that’s illustrative not just of the Knicks current plight, but of how they got here. By making a bunch of reckless, home run-type deals, and striking out on nearly every single one. You’d think that, after the Marbury experiment failed, someone in New York would realize it’s time to switch things up. But nope. Don’t let Donnie Walsh’s 2009 temp agency of a basketball team—with 75% of the team sure to be gone after April—confuse you into thinking they’re planning for the future or something.

The Knicks are planning a gigantic gamble, hoping that they can woo one of the offseason’s marquis free agents (Lebron, Wade), and then have that player single-handedly lift the Knicks to relevance. The same thing they’d once hoped Marbury could do, by the way. It’s kind of remarkable when you think about it; Donnie Walsh and the rest of New York’s management team has painted Isiah the rube in order to buy time with New York fans… and they are doing the exact the same thing. When the Knicks pin the future of their franchise to Amare Stoudemire this summer, remember we had this conversation.

And then there’s the Chicago Bulls. Over the past decade, they’ve been every bit as maddening as the New York Knicks, and it’s really sort of tragic. It’s one thing to have a franchise like the Knicks at the bottom of the league. The Knicks are like Notre Dame by this point; there’s a presumed relevance and mystique that’s at least partially bullshit. Nobody outside New York City really cares about them as much as the media thinks. But the Bulls, on the other hand…

THAT is a glamour franchise. You’ve got one of the three best cities in America, a great arena, and the whole Michael Jordan era, which pretty much ushered in a whole new generation of fans and shaped the way we watch basketball. For any NBA fan under the age of 30, you watch basketball expecting the Bulls to be good. They don’t have to win the title every year, but with those awesome jerseys, that great midcourt logo, the player intros… The NBA is better off when Chicago has a good team.

And over the last decade, while it may seem like the Knicks have been the gold standard in NBA mediocrity, Chicago’s been right there with them. New York’s winning percentage since 2000 has been .401, and Chicago’s has been .405. It took me nearly 20 minutes to put those numbers together, and they’re probably wrong, so… be shocked! Stats! The Bulls have been just as bad as the Knicks, and save for last year’s not-quite-upset battle with the Celtics, signs of life have been scant in Chi-town. It’s all in the numbers, guys!

(Seriously, that’s the first and last time I every turn to math to try and explain myself. I have a headache, and I need a cigarette. Gosh.)

What’s most remarkable, though: these franchises, both immersed in immense levels of suckiness, have done it the exact opposite way. Where New York has overpayed for everyone, the Bulls have refused to pay for anyone. They’ve been building around young players for literally ten years, and getting rid of players like Elton Brand, Ben Gordon, and anyone else who’s good enough to maybe command more than a mid-level exception. And now, after last season’s surprising hiccup of hope, the Bulls are back to galling mediocrity.

They’ve got a team that’s capable of playing with anyone in the league, but at the same time, they’re prone to fits of EXTREMELY ugly basketball. Like, Knicks-type stuff. This past week, they played at home against a Toronto Raptors team that had given up 146 points a few days earlier, and was playing its 4th game in 5 nights. And somehow, they managed to get waxed by 32 POINTS. So, yeah: this is an awful, awful team.

And for the record, had the Bulls been willing to pay D’Antoni more money, this could all be happening differently. D’Antoni coaching Derrick Rose, New York’s version of Vinny Del Negro (Mark Jackson) would have coached the Knicks to 18 wins last season and the Knicks would have wound up with Blake Griffin, and both sides would be happy. Instead, New York characteristically overpayed D’Antoni ($24 million), and Chicago characteristically balked at matching that offer, settling instead on Vinny Del Negro. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

You get the two most aggrieved fanbases in basketball. They should have to trade Larry Hughes back-and-forth every month, just to make this whole experience a little more surreal.

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