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In year two, our Knicks franchise lights everything on fire

Tanking! Draft picks! Melo?

Welcome back to season two of the Warm the Bench fictional universe, a reflection of our dystopic reality where the Knicks can only thrive in outdated video game simulations. In case you missed the first post, we’re looking to take the reins of the Knicks franchise and redo each and every dumb decision made since the 2015-16 season; with that premise, these might end up being ten thousand words each.

Yesterday, our real Knicks fired Steve Mills, their president of basketball operations, two days before the trade deadline. This move came after firing their head coach two months into another lost season. He’ll be joining the board of MSG and, according to this Athletic article, indirectly managing the guy taking over.

We approach this fictional season with the same confidence of a man getting fired into a promotion.

Setting the stage

Both the real and the fictional Knicks ended the 2015-16 season outside the playoffs and under 40 wins. Season one under our management produced six extra wins over the real Knicks. We flipped nearly all the overpriced veteran players for draft picks and enter the offseason with a late lottery pick and a modicum of cap space.

Our paths diverge in June of that year. After getting turned down by Steve Kerr, Phil Jackson hires a new head coach in Jeff Hornacek. The real Knicks decide to push all-in, controversially trading for the oft-injured Derrick Rose. Jackson did the trade knowing Rose faced a serious sexual assault allegation, ignoring that in a hope that the former MVP can return to glory.

They spend lavishly on free agents, signing Joakim Noah to a four year deal worth $72M, Courtney Lee to a four year, $48M contract, and filling out the rotation with vets like Brandon Jennings. Vegas rewards them with a 38.5 preseason over/under, hinting at a potential playoff push. Our pals at Posting and Toasting set the stakes for the squad in their 2016-17 preview:

Last year’s Knicks improved from 17 wins to 32 — i.e. from historically bad to average-Friday-night-at-the-Lomaxes’ bad. The goal this year is to not be any bad; best-case, make the playoffs and exit with heads held high, then enter the offseason with hopes of making a big free agent splash — unless a work stoppage comes along to mute the joy in our lives and devour us all. To do all that, there are three sub-goals for the Knicks this season: get easier baskets more often, get hurt less, and have your coach be legit.

My squad takes a different approach.

Don’t do this at home, kids

How do you define success for your franchise? Is it wins? Cash considerations and sell-outs? A springboard for your folk band?

Carmelo Anthony unquestionably provided iconic moments and memories for a fanbase still patching the wounds of the Isiah Thomas era. He dropped 62, owned the Bulls on Christmas Day, and led the team to their only playoff series victory in the last twenty seasons.

Yet, while Melo raised their floor, he sure seemed to build a sturdy and unbreakable ceiling. The Knicks won only that solitary playoff series during his tenure, posting only three winning seasons against four losing ones.

I appreciate Melo’s game immensely, but as a biased Georgetown fan who never would have done the initial trade, I could never fully embrace him as the savior of the Knicks. My squad will approach things differently.

I trade the 14th pick in the 2016 draft for an unprotected 2017 first from the mid-Process, rebuilding Philadelphia 76ers. After also getting rejected by Steve Kerr as the new head coach, we hire a computer generated guy with high upside; a betting man would say he’s destined to join the land of misfit toys that make up former Knicks head coaches.

I start the season by scouring the league for a suitor to take Melo and his onerous contract off my hands, and I get rejected by all but one.

This version of the Los Angeles Lakers saw Kobe retire in 2016 and would likely still be embroiled in the D’Angelo Russell/Nick Young Snapchat kerfuffle; that type of stupidity transcends all realities. Desperate for a star and near-sighted as always, the Lakers accept what is my boldest move to date. 

My trade opens up cap space, acquires a high value draft pick, and allows my player hatin’, glazed donut face ass to escape the denouement of Melo’s career.

We’re bottoming out, baby!

Without Melo blocking up the cap for the next five years, the team can focus on developing Porzingis, building through the draft, and replenishing an asset base so barren and depleted it looks like the 2019-20 Knicks in real life.

Also, just to let the world know the insanity of NBA 2K simulations, this happened.

After flaming out in the playoffs last season to his former teammates in Miami, LeBron decides to betray Cleveland after one year and go to...the Magic?

Mickey gets his man.

We’re living in a simulation

Without Melo to anchor the team, I’m fully expecting a brutal and painful season behind my young guys.

2K does not disappoint me.

The Knicks stumble out of the gate and quickly show an ineptitude that will haunt us all year long. This 75-66 loss to the 76ers might be the most ridiculous box score I’ve ever seen, a caveman throwback to the darkest days of NBA history; keep in mind all of the games are set to simulate the length of a real NBA game.

Imagine paying $90 dollars to watch the Knicks score 26 total points in the second half.

My favorite part of using 2K16 for this simulation might be the hilarious misevaluations of players that currently dominant the NBA but didn’t have the pedigree six years ago. About two months into the season, I received this inbound offer from the 76ers.

A legion of Sam Hinkie fanatics felt a great disturbance in the force. I raced to accept this and thought, while hilariously unrealistic in 2020, this trade might be equally plausible to the real-life Andrea Bargnani deal around the same time?

I traded Robin Lopez and his multi-year contract for more cap relief and draft picks, and then flipped Nick Young for a similar package, netting another unprotected first in the process.

The final nail in the 2016-17 Fake Knicks came with an eerily similar KP injury, as Porzingis dislocated his patella and missed the entirety of the season.

We end the year 29-53, 14th in the East and far outside the playoffs.

A look around the Warm the Bench fictional universe

Avert your eyes, Oklahoma readers, as the Thunder go back-to-back in this universe with yet another NBA championship. This time, Russell Westbrook wins the regular season and Finals MVP, as the Thunder sweep a LeBron-less Cavs team. In our reality, LeBron has the opposite of the Midas touch, with all of his former teams making the NBA Finals almost immediately without him.

With one year in the future, the simulated NBA rookies begin to join the league. The 76ers’ Donovan Rivers, potentially a distant relative to Doc and Austin, wins the Rookie of the Year. He averages 12.4 points, 1.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and a steal per game; basically, he’s a less efficient version of ROY winner Malcolm Brogdon.

How’d I do compared to the real life Knicks?

I tried my best to lose, and did it well. The 2016-17 real Knicks thought they built a contender, and produced only two more wins than me at 31-51.

Every single move by the Phil Jackson front office backfired. Per Basketball Reference, Derrick Rose managed to average 18 points, 4.4 assists, and 53% true shooting, but his off-court nightmares plagued the entire season. He disappeared without warning for a game, and his prolonged sexual assault trial revealed disgusting behavior that still clouds Rose’s image in the league today–this Deadspin article summarizes the events succinctly.

Courtney Lee produced well for a spell, but eventually became a negative asset dumped in the Porzingis to Dallas trade. Joakim Noah went from a promising piece in the frontcourt to one of the biggest contract albatrosses in the league, forcing the Knicks to eventually stretch his contract for some slight cap relief. 

He will be getting paid $6.4M through the 2022 season.

Both the fictional and the real Knicks enter the 2017 offseason with more questions than answers. For me, the pain of a devastating season and the loss of franchise star Carmelo Anthony will only be worth it with if I can draft a superstar and smartly use my newfound cap space. For the real Knicks, they hope for luck in the draft lottery, only a slight regression from Melo, and a chance at a young star to pair with Kristaps.

Neither works out exactly to plan.

WTB Knicks: 29-53, 67-97 after two seasonsReal Knicks: 31-51, 63-101 after two seasons

Finally, a quick aside

I’m still processing the absolutely tragic and shocking death of Kobe Bryant, his young daughter Gianna, and seven others in a helicopter crash last week. I’m far from qualified to eulogize Kobe, and you can find so many beautiful odes to the man, his daughter, and the others lost in this tragedy.

What I will say is that this event, more so than any, underlines the random cruelty of life and the need to live yours as fully as possible. Call your loved ones, tell a friend you’re thinking of her, and put in the work to do that thing you’ve always wanted to do.