John McEnroe: The NY Knicks Are Toxic, Have Hit Bottom . . . Now Move Forward
Wednesday, June 28, 2017 at 06:22PM in ESPN, John McEnroe, NBA, New York Knicks, Phil Jackson, Serena Williams, Tennis, Wibledon, sports marketing, tennis

By Barry Janoff

June 27, 2017: In anticipation of his role as analyst and commentator during ESPN’s exclusive coverage of The Championships, Wimbledon (July 3-16), John McEnroe held court during a media conference today talking about the Grand Slam event (during which ESPN will have 140 hours of coverage on TV and 1,500 on ESPN3 and streaming live on the ESPN App).

He spoke about his recent comments on Serena Williams (responding to an earlier statement that "On the men’s circuit she would rank around No. 700" he offered "Obviously if it wasn't for Serena, American tennis would even be in a lot deeper trouble. She, in my opinion, is the greatest female player ever") and match-fixing ("The cheating in the game is worse than ever").

But McEnroe also weighed in — quite heavily — about a special passion, the New York Knicks, of which the Queens, NY-raised 58-year-old, seven-time Grand Slam winner has been a high-profile fan for decades.

On Tuesday (June 26), McEnroe appeared on The Dan Patrick Show and sang (while playing guitar) a parody about the Knicks, covering Green Day’s "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)."

"Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road. What do we do with Melo (Carmelo Anthony) now that Phil doesn’t want to stay home? I still believe, or at least I can hope, that the Knicks don’t keep being the butt of everyone’s joke. Something unpredictable but in the end I hope he’s right. But Phil . . . don’t trade (Kristaps) Porzingas tonight.” (See the full segment here.)

During the ESPN media conference the next day, his tone was a bit more serious.

"As of yesterday (June 26) it was my understanding that Phil was going to finish out his contract. Try to turn things around," said McEnroe. "Although, obviously, that wasn’t going too well.

"It seemed," he emphasized, "as if it had gotten so toxic it just wasn’t going to be able to work out."

From McEnroe’s perspective, "The things that he did try — trades, free agents — hadn’t worked out. The way he handled the situation with Melo (saying, among other things, that he would be better of with another team), I don’t think anyone, including himself, would have thought that was the right approach. Even if it was better for the team and for Melo to leave, it wasn’t handled well."

McEnroe, although somewhat acquiescing to the outcome, admitted that Jackson and the Knicks deciding today to "mutually" part ways was, for him, unexpected.

"I was surprised that this happened,” said McEnroe. "I don’t hang around with NBA players but now and then I am around a couple and with people who are involved with the NBA. It seemed like there was no question that (players) were less-inclined to make a move toward the Knicks at the moment. Which I always found amazing."

McEnroe, who was in his tweens when the Knicks won their last NBA titles (1969-70, 1972-73) did see reasoning behind the timing of the move, but reacted like a true New Yorker at heart.

"I am biased, but I think that New York is the greatest city in the world. And I’m thinking, We can’t get guys to play for the New York Knicks?! In Madison Square Garden? That just seems beyond belief," said McEnroe.

“If it had something to do with Phil Jackson, even though he was a legendary Knick (he was a member of both Knicks title teams) and was one of the greatest, if not among one of the best couple of head coaches (ever) in the NBA (11 titles with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers), if it’s better moving forward, then I guess it’s better now," he said.

"I’m thinking, We can’t get guys to play for the New York Knicks?! In Madison Square Garden? That just seems beyond belief."

Like other fans of the team, McEnroe said he anticipated better times for the Knicks in 2016-17, but they finished with a poorer won-lost record (31-51) than the previous season (32-50), when they actually showed marked improvement over 2014-15 (17-65).

"I would have sworn to you before the season started last year I believed they could win 50 games," he said. "Having (signed) Joakim Noah, whose father, (former tennis star) Yannick, is a long-time buddy of mine, a former defensive player of the year who had some skills. I know, knowing him, that he dreamed of coming to New York, a kid who spent a lot of his life growing up in the city.

"Picking up Derrick Rose (in a trade from Chicago) at the time seemed to be a sensible risk, a one-year deal. Kristaps Porzingas (in his second season) was coming along. And you had some other players.

"I know some of it was bad luck. Unfortunately, the knock on Melo seemed to be and continued to be true — that even though he is such a great offensive player and a great guy, he wasn’t making the guys around him better. Or better enough, the way some of these other guys do, with LeBron (James) as the most obvious example.

"But that’s easier said than done. Maybe Melo would have been better off allowing Porzingas to get more of the spotlight and taking some of the pressure off of him. So if it ends up that he (Anthony) does stay — which who knows what the hell is going to happen now — but if he does, it would be better for Melo if he allowed Porzingas to flourish. It would actually help him (Anthony).

"That fact that he feels he is being over-shadowed in some ways is not accurate. It’s going to take Porzingas even in a best-case scenario a few more years to get to the level we hope he gets," said McEnroe.

Is this new chapter a foreshadow of better things to come for the Knicks, he was asked.

"Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom, or what appears to be rock bottom, to move forward," said McEnroe.

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