How to Fix the Knicks

And then let's fast-forward three years to a more recent and more public draft disaster. Mention the name Frederic Weis and any basketball fan worth his Air J's will conjure up that Olympic moment of a seven-foot-tall stiff getting dunked over by Vince Carter. The Knicks obviously scouted the European leagues—home of real players like Pau Gasol and Tony Parker—about as well as the CIA covered Afghanistan. But having made a mistake, Van Gundy made the situation worse by hard-assing Weis as if he were a college player. "Don't like it here? Go play in Europe" might work with John Wallace, but to Weis that didn't sound like a threat so much as an invitation. So they wasted a midround No. 1 draft pick on a player who'll never play for them. It's enough to make you nostalgic for "Sky" Walker.

The Salary Cap With their television deal, the luxury boxes, and Spike Lee at courtside, the Knicks are by far the richest team in the league. But the NBA's hard cap completely blunts the team's financial edge. The league's cap stands at $42.5 million, and the Knick payroll is $85.2. This season, they're paying Larry Johnson and Luc Longley even though they're retired, and they're paying Mark Jackson, Shandon Anderson, and Howard Eisley even though they might as well be. But it gets worse. The Knicks are so heavily committed to long-term contracts to Houston and others that they could be capped out well into the first Jeb Bush administration.


Caught in the Draft

The past decade of Knick draft picks (with their spots in the draft), along with players that the team passed over or could have easily traded up for:

1990 drafted:
Jerrod Mustaf (17)
coulda had: Jayson Williams (20)

1991 drafted:
Greg Anthony (12)
coulda had: Dale Davis (13)

1992 drafted:
Hubert Davis (20)
coulda had: Latrell Sprewell (24)

1993 No pick

1994 drafted:
Monty Williams (24)
and Charlie Ward (26).
coulda had: Wesley Person (23).

1995 No pick

1996 drafted:
John Wallace (18),
Walter McCarty (19),
and Dontae Jones (21).
coulda had:
Jermaine O'Neal (17).

1997 drafted:
John Thomas (25).
coulda had: Marc Jackson (38).

1998 No pick

1999 drafted:
Frederic Weis (15)
coulda had: Ron Artest (16).

2000 drafted:
Donnell Harvey (22).
coulda had: Jake Tsakalidis (25).

2001 No pick

What's the solution for this team? It'll take more than GM Scott Layden's working the phones to acquire the other Marc Jackson. The Knicks need to start over. Trade Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell. Trade Marcus Camby. Assassinate Mark Jackson. (But commissioner, how can he count against our salary cap if he's dead?) Do anything and everything to clear cap room. Sure, the team will stink for a year or two. All the better to snag a few high lottery picks. When they get that cap room, they have to hold out for a great young big man. Like Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett, both of whom can become free agents after next season. Offer him more than money. Sell him banners in the rafters, Willis Reed limping onto the hardwood, Walt Frazier's Rolls. Court him with a floor-length fur and a purple suede hat. Spun right, it's gotta beat proximity to Walt Disney World. Then pair him with a dominant outside player like Lamar Odom (who's also a free agent after next season) or, even better, Kobe (who recently turned down a contract extension) or Allan Iverson, both of whom could become available after 2003-04.

Does Scott Layden have the vision and guts to see this plan through? Let's just say he's not a wartime consigliere. A bigger problem is that team president Charles Dolan probably doesn't have the stomach for a long, drawn-out rebuilding program. Let's pray that Mr. Dolan takes a page out of his Ranger playbook. The NBA's answer to Glen Sather is Laker architect Jerry West. He succeeded exactly where the Knicks have failed, clearing cap room to get Shaq. Using one of their foreign imports—Vlade Divac—to trade for Kobe. Securing a great coach. Then filling the rest of the roster with talented but cheap role players. Indeed, they could do worse than opening the bank and paying whatever it takes to lure Mr. West east. If that happens, there'll be more reason to rejoice than winning the Ewing lottery. But know this, Knick fans: It's going to get worse before it gets better.

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