Why this is a Knicks team the diehards deserve
It is not the kind of thing a general manager would consider when formulating a roster. It can’t be.
It is nowhere near the top of a coach’s to-do list when figuring out what kind of team he wants, or what system he’ll use. It can’t be.
It’s never part of the equation for arguing about the criteria for genuinely great teams.
It can’t be.
Still, likeability is a thing in sports, especially professional sports, especially in 2023. Fans are going to root for their preferred teams no matter where they fall on the likeability scale, and if that means they hate-watch them the way you do a sitcom whose shelf life has passed, so be it.
If there is one pronounced disconnect between the people who root for pro sports and the athletes who play them, it is this: Fans want to believe — sometimes naively, sometimes adorably, sometimes pointedly — that the players care as much as they do.
And look: You don’t become a pro athlete without a high level of passion and personal investment. Almost all athletes care, and almost all want to win.
But it also is their job: If you have a tough day at the office, you may have an extra beer at the saloon before heading home and you may gripe to your spouse before going to sleep. But you do sleep.
Athletes sleep after they’ve lost a tough game. Fans — certainly the most rabid — often find themselves staring at the ceiling after losses. That’s the difference.
It isn’t easy being a sports fan. In truth, for every moment of glory, there are 50 — and sometimes 50,000 — that make you question why in the world this stuff matters so much to you, why in the world these games can alter your mood from glorious to grim on the whim of someone else’s jump shot.
So, yes: We like to like the teams we root for.
And that brings us to the 2023 Knicks, and that is a word you hear associated with them almost every day now. They are likeable. They are easy to root for. They seem to enjoy playing with each other.
Even grumpy old Tom Thibodeau seems to be having the time of his life coaching them every night, and that was before this winning streak grew to nine games, before they started looking like a team that’s going to be a hell of a hard out in the playoffs.
The Knicks, in good times, have always been that. They have always had a genuine and visceral appeal.
The championship teams of the 1970s graduated to the penthouse level and have been beloved for half a century. But even the Bernard King Knicks of the ’80s were very well liked. So were the Patrick Ewing teams that dominated the city’s attention in the ’90s.
And now we have this bunch. And every new chapter at Madison Square Garden is a reminder of that.
Gone are the crowds heavily littered with tourists and curiosity seekers. Slowly the faithful have returned, the ones who are there for the Knicks and not for the show, who care more about the final score than about who’s sitting on Celebrity Row.
It took some time to get there. There were early growing pains. But Jalen Brunson almost immediately announced, in his own way, that things were different, and his teammates followed suit behind him. They were 10-13 at one point. They were 18-18.
But now, since Dec. 1, they own the fourth-best record in the NBA. And they play with style and flair and intensity, all of which appeals to the basketball jones lurking inside all Knicks fans.
That reached a vital level at the trade deadline when video emerged of Brunson’s heartfelt reaction to the Knicks’ acquisition of Josh Hart, which was as pure as a kid being told he was allowed to sleep over at his best friend’s house.
Take that all the way to Sunday when, after 58 grueling minutes, with Brunson out with a foot injury, the Knicks outlasted the Celtics in double OT at TD Garden in Boston and the resulting celebration was as genuine as the law allows.
There is no denying these Knicks — like the football Giants, who similarly guided their fans on a relentless feel-good ride from September through January — care, deeply, about one another and about the games they play together.
We don’t get teams like this very often, teams that allow you to believe. And you know what? In the six days leading up to the Giants’ season-ending playoff loss in Philadelphia, there wasn’t a Giants fan extant who didn’t think their team had a puncher’s chance — and the fact that they were crushed by the Eagles neither diminishes the feeling nor lessens the excitement.
It’s the same thing with the Knicks, around whom there is now talk of maybe surprising some folks in the playoffs.
If that happens? Great.
If it doesn’t? Also great.
It isn’t easy being a sports fan. It isn’t easy to care. It’s not every day, or every year, you get a team equal to your engagement.
And when you get one? You want that ride to last forever. It’s why we keep coming back. Time and time and time again.
Today’s back page
⚾ Mets’ Jose Quintana could miss months with rib injury
🏀 Immanuel Quickley’s Knicks future is getting more complicated
🏀 Ja Morant risks losing everything as legal troubles mount
Who’s landing the plane?
When they’re not totally, absolutely, for sure still believing in Zach Wilson and his “very high ceiling,” the Jets are searching for a new quarterback for the 2023 season.
One of the most notable options came off the board Monday when free agent Derek Carr agreed to a four-year, $150 million contract with the Saints.
The Jets had met with Carr on multiple occasions, and Robert Saleh lavished the former Raiders signal-caller with praise last week at the NFL Combine.
(Aside: When a decidedly OK almost-32-year-old quarterback who just got cut by a 6-11 team pulls an on-paper annual salary of $37.5 million, yeah, that’s why Daniel Jones is asking for $40M-plus — but more on that below.)
As The Post’s Brian Costello outlines here, that leaves the Jets to wait on Plan A (Aaron Rodgers) and think through a variety of Plan Cs. Let’s take a spin:
Aaron Rodgers: [knocks hopelessly on door of a darkness cave] The future Hall of Famer is holding some NFL offseason activity hostage with his public indecision on his future. You can almost picture one of those ransom notes with letters cut out from magazines: If you ever want to see QB movement again, send a pair of second-round picks to Green Bay (and drop a briefcase filled with unmarked, non-consecutive psychedelic plants). The Jets offer a roster fit, and would allow the Packers to trade Rodgers out of the conference, though there are financials to work out. What a story this would be.
Jimmy Garoppolo: Has some prime years left at 31. He’s a free agent, so no need to give up compensation. Already took a good team with a Robert Saleh defense to the Super Bowl. What’s not to like? He’s hurt all the time.
Ryan Tannehill: The rich man’s Mike White. Not sure the Titans journeyman will energize anyone, even if he is an upgrade.
Lamar Jackson: A long shot, but the chance of adding one of the most (the most?) exciting players in the sport will linger as long as Jackson remains in a contract extension standoff with the Ravens.
The field: Tom Brady part 3? Philip Rivers? Definitely not Geno Smith.
— Jonathan Lehman
Giants, Daniel Jones on the clock ⏰
The clock is ticking down to 4 p.m. ET Tuesday afternoon — the deadline for the Giants to put the franchise tag on Daniel Jones.
As Paul Schwartz wrote in the Sports+ member-exclusive Inside the NFL Draft text conversation: “They don’t want to do it. Neither side wants it. Both sides want a long-term deal, but how much money is the sticking point.
“The two sides talked several times last week in Indianapolis at the scouting combine. It is definitely a good sign that Jones’ agents traveled to New Jersey on Monday for more face-to-face negotiations.
“It feels as if something will get done by the deadline. Until a deal is agreed upon, though, the Giants’ entire offseason will be on pause.”
So what’s the price tag? Schwartz pegs it at a four- or five-year deal in the neighborhood of $40 million per year with approximately $100 million guaranteed.
The Giants are expected to apply the franchise tag to Jones if the two sides cannot reach a long-term agreement before the deadline. In that scenario, the Giants would commit $32.4 million to Jones for the 2023 season, severely denting their available salary-cap space.
— Jonathan Lehman
Postcard from Tampa
The most popular man in Tampa right now might not even be the one the Yankees gave $360 million to this offseason.
No slight to Aaron Judge — he still draws a crowd wherever he goes around Steinbrenner Field — but these days, all eyes are on Anthony Volpe.
The Yankees’ top prospect is the fans’ clear-cut choice to be the starting shortstop on March 30 in The Bronx, and though he may face an uphill battle to break camp with the team, he sure is making things interesting through the first week-plus of games.
Before he collected a hit, two walks and a stolen base in another start at shortstop Monday night against the Pirates, Volpe had his plate full.
After early defensive drills — which included fielding high popups as first baseman Anthony Rizzo yelled across the diamond, “Don’t you dare miss this, Volpe!” — the 21-year-old spent a few minutes talking with and signing autographs for kids who had pre-game field access.
Then, after taking batting practice, he squeezed in a few more interviews with prying reporters before he got ready for the game.
There haven’t been too many dull moments for Volpe this spring, at least not while he’s at the Yankees’ complex, but the New Jersey product has handled it all smoothly so far.
— Greg Joyce
On this date in 2016, Stephen Curry became the first player to make 300 3-pointers in a single season, en route to a record of 402 that still stands. Curry has since added three more seasons of 300-plus. Who is the only other player to reach that milestone? (The Pacers’ Buddy Hield is on pace for 305 this season.)
(Scroll down for the answer.)
What to watch on Tuesday 📺
Boston College vs. Louisville, ACC tournament first round, 4:30 p.m., ACC Network
Remember when Kenny Payne was considered a drawing card for John Calipari to potentially take over the Knicks? Or even take over the team himself? Yeah, after guiding Louisville to a 4-27 record and the No. 15 seed in the ACC tournament, we’re having a hard time recalling that, too.
Hornets at Knicks, 7:30 p.m., MSG
The only question about this game should be the final margin, unless the Knicks — going for their 10th win in a row — suffer a letdown after winning their Boston marathon Sunday night while looking ahead to a tough road trip out west.
Nets at Rockets, 8 p.m., YES
It’s a matchup of two teams spurned by James Harden, one of whom may reunite with Harden after this season largely because Harden would rather be in an organization he can bend to his will than with one that could win a title. On the brighter side, Mikal Bridges has been a revelation for the Nets.
World Baseball Classic, Cuba vs. Netherlands, 11 p.m., FS1
The fifth installment of the WBC gets going with a new-look Cuba, which will feature major leaguers for the first time (including old Mets friend Yoenis Cespedes) and an interesting roster from the Netherlands, led by Xander Bogaerts, Jurickson Profar and Kenley Jansen. And hey, baseball’s new rules will not be in place, so teams can shift on defense and fidget on the mound all they want.
World Baseball Classic, Panama vs. Chinese Taipei, 6 a.m. (Wednesday), FS2
No, you won’t know many of the names (maybe Yu Chang with Chinese Taipei or Rays catcher Christian Bethancourt for Panama), but watching meaningful baseball with breakfast is worth it no matter who is on the field, right? If you are hung up on who to watch, might we suggest Jose Ramos, a Dodgers outfield prospect who showed good power in Single-A last year and in the WBC qualifiers.
— Paul Forrester
James Harden hit 378 3-pointers in the 2018-19 season, the second-highest total in history.