The Knicks were blown out again on Sunday night — this time by another team not expected to make the playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers, in a rout of 108-87. That dropped the franchise to a tie for the worst record in the N.B.A. (2-8), far below the expectations its front office set before the season.
This did not go unnoticed by Knicks executives.
In an unusual move, Steve Mills, the team president, addressed the news media after the loss, with Scott Perry, the team’s general manager, standing next to him. Mills told reporters that they were “not happy with where we are — we are not where we expected to be,” after yet another defeat at home in which the team looked lethargic and outmatched. Mills said multiple times that he felt an obligation to address the rough start to the season.
“We think the team is not performing to the level we anticipated or we expected to perform at,” Mills said “We think we collectively have to do a better job of delivering the product on the floor that we said we would do at the start of the season.”
He added: “We still believe in our coaching staff. We believe in the plan that Scott and I put together. And the players that we assembled. But we also have to acknowledge that we haven’t played at the level we expected to play at.”
Asked about the owner of the franchise, James L. Dolan, Mills said he had spoken to him “all the time” over the course of the game.
“Jim still believes in the plan that we put together,” Mills said. “But he’s passionate as we are about this, so he would want us to have better results on the floor as well. But I think Jim is a fan and believes in what we’re doing. But he has the same kind of expectations that we have, and this is really about how we feel about what we should be doing.”
On the subject of Coach David Fizdale, Mills said: “We have patience. We believe in Coach, and we believe in the group that we put together. But we also know that, as Scott and I have said a number of times, we need to find a way to have a consistent level of effort and execution that has to pull itself together. It’s not good enough for us to play well for two quarters and then play poorly for two other quarters.”
Usually, reporters are addressed by the head coach and players after N.B.A. games. But the Knicks are not your typical franchise. Billed as one of the most storied teams in N.B.A. history, the Knicks haven’t won a championship since 1973 and have won only one playoff series since 2001. They haven’t made the finals since 1999. And this season has not gone according to plan either.
This Knicks team has been outscored on average by the second largest margin in the league. It has been among the league worst on both the offensive and defensive end. On Sunday, the Cavaliers led the whole game, at one point by 30 points. For perspective, even last season’s team got off to a better start, at 3-7, and ended up with the worst record in the league.
This is not how this season was supposed to go, as Mills and Perry acknowledged. Even though the Knicks were spurned by several top-level free agents, the franchise was able to add veterans like Julius Randle and Marcus Morris on short contracts, in addition to a blue chip prospect, R.J. Barrett.
Barrett, who had a hot start to the season and looked to be on his way to becoming a bona fide star, has been mired in a shooting slump — and the 4-for-11 performance against the Cavaliers didn’t help.
In addition, the Knicks’ cross-borough rivals, the Nets, added two A-list free agents over the summer that they were chasing: Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Once Durant returns from his leg injury, the Nets will be expected to compete for a championship, whereas the Knicks will have to hope to strike gold in both the draft and next summer’s free agency.
But if Mills and Perry are upset with the on-court results this season, the blame is not just on the coaching staff or the players. It was the Knicks’ front office executives who decided to sign several players over the summer who essentially play the same position: Randle, Morris, Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis. In addition, in spite of having cap space, it was this front office that was unable to recruit top free agents in a deep class. In September, Mills said that he was “excited” about how the summer had gone and that the construction was “consistent with how we said we’d build the team.” He also said, “New Yorkers are going to like this team.”
There is still a lot of season left. The Knicks will try to right the ship in their next four games against the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Charlotte Hornets and Cavaliers. The Mavericks game will be Thursday at Madison Square Garden, and is expected to feature the former franchise cornerstone Kristaps Porzingis, whom the Knicks front office unexpectedly traded last year.
Porzingis has played well for the Mavericks, whereas most of the players the Knicks traded him for are no longer with the franchise.