The Smackdown Battle For Title of Worst NBA Franchise Of The Past Decade - Knicks vs. Clippers! [UPDATED 1/13]

Hello to all you Knick Faithful out there, I shall be your new lead Knicks’ blogger, coming over from FanSided’s LA Clipper site, FullyClips (Chase will continue contributing posts whenever he gets a chance).  Before I was even offered this spot, FanSided was considering doing an End Of The Decade series where two bloggers for each sport would argue over which team had the worst decade.  For basketball, it was clear that the only two real choices are the Knicks and the Clippers.  In other words my main home team (I’m a born and bred New York City boy), versus my secondary adopted team (I’ve been in LA for twelve years).  Yup, I’ve had a bad decade fan-wise.

Who’s had a tougher decade?  Who suffered the most misery in the aughts (I kinda hate that phrase, and I’m glad we’re out of it, but what are we in now?  The “tens”?  It can’t be the teens ‘cuz only some of the years will be teens.  Is it bad that I’m already looking forward to the next decade for nicer labeling?  Oh, and by the way, for those of you new to my writing, I occasionally go off on babbling tangents in case you couldn’t tell here.  But let’s get outta these parentheses already).  Anyway, we’re gonna look at this debate all scientifical-like.  Since we all love sports, we’re gonna keep score.  Eleven categories.  A team gets a point for each category that they win.  And by win, I mean, that they sucked worst in that area.  Without any more further ado-ing, here we go, first franchise to six was the most awful-est:

Lack Of Playoff Appearances

Figured we’d start with this before we get to the really depressing stuff.  Surprisingly, both these teams did indeed manage to make it to the playoffs during their Decade O’ Despair.  Truth is, the Clippers actually had their best playoff run EVER.  Okay, okay, they’d never gotten out of the first round before, but hey, it’s still something.  Plus, that one season when they did make it, they were pretty close to almost making it to the Western Conference Finals.

The Knicks made it the playoffs two seasons before the Clippers.  During Isiah Thomas and Stephon Marbury’s first season they actually brought about some success.  Emphasis on some.  They still had a losing record at 39-43, but they got the honor of making it to the big dance… and then getting swept by the Nets.  Since then… nada.  But wait, wait, wait, even though this decade did stop the Knicks run of fifteen straight years to the post-season, not to mention ten years of getting to at least the second round, there was actually a ton of success at the start of the new millennium.  Of course we all remember the Knicks’ amazing run to the NBA finals in 1999, but recall that they weren’t too shabby the year afterwards.  In the ’99-’00 season the team once again beat the cursed Miami Heat and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals (then lost 4-2 to the Pacers).  After trading away Ewing that off-season, yes, the curse had begun, but still we made it to the playoffs as a top 4 seed and it was considered an upset when we lost to the Raptors, 2-3.

Final Answer? Sure, the Knicks haven’t even sniffed at the playoffs since ’04, but that Conference Finals appearance makes the Clippers the winner.  Or is that the loser?  Whatever, in terms of suckiness, the Clips get the chit here.

Score: Clips 1          Knicks 0

Hopelessness

As mentioned, with us making it to the Eastern Conference Finals at the beginning of the decade, Knick fans had a ton of hope.  When Marbury came along we had hope we could return to respectability.  However, during those two periods (better known as the Time Of Overpaid Mediocrity, or The Scott Layden Era), things looked awful hopeless.  Isiah and Marbury brought that initial hope, we still even got that surge of belief when Larry Brown was hired the summer of ‘05.  Less than halfway through the season it became clear even LB couldn’t do jack with our squad.  That’s when all hope vanished, the beginning of ’06, and for two and a half years there was nothing.  Isiah had to go and until that happened, clearly we were doomed.  Even after Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni came on board, even though we were excited, we probably didn’t have true hope again until a few months later when Donnie actually started to get rid of contracts that we thought no one would take (like Zach Randolph and Jerome James).  Suddenly the rebirth no longer seemed like a five-year plan.

The Clippers are all about hope.  With their awful history, it’s easy for the Clipper Nation to believe things can get better.  And no, it wasn’t just delusion.  Odom joined at the beginning of the decade and was a phenomenal, unique talent as a rookie.  Things built, as over the years more pieces were added with Maggette, Brand, Miles, Q Rich, Andre Miller, Sam Cassell and Cat Mobley joining the party.  In fact, the only time the Clipper faithful lost faith was last year.  When Brand left it seemed like all was lost initially, but actually during that same off-season Dunleavy got a solid replacement for free in Marcus Camby.  So after that brief one month hiatus, the hope was back, and everyone was excited to see how Baron Davis, B Diddy, Boom Dizzle, would perform in his return to his hometown.  Halfway through the season, all hope was gone.  However, even that didn’t last long as just a few months later the Clips won the lottery and knew they’d get Blake Griffin.

Final Answer? The Knicks have had many, many, many, many, many more periods of hopelessness in the past decade.

Score: Clips 1          Knicks 1

Players

The Knicks spent the decade specializing in past-their-prime players.  How many of these guys retired shortly after we had them?  Steve Francis.  Stephon Marbury.  Keith Van Horn.  Jalen Rose.  Maurice Taylor.  Dikembe Mutumbo.  Vin Baker.  Antonio Davis.  Anfernie Hardaway.  Glen Rice.  Mark Jackson.  Antonio McDyess.  These guys were all serious ballers at some point in the nineties.  We got ‘em in aughts.  Even solid role players like Malik Rose and Clarence Weatherspoon we got at the end of their careers.  The other side of things was if we weren’t going for over-the-hill stars, we went for young guys with limited upside.  Defense-averse Eddy Curry.  Both Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson took/take bad shots and aren’t smart/good defenders.  David Lee hustles like nobody’s business, but he ain’t the most athletically gifted.  Gallinari’s pretty much just a shooter.

Since the Clippers rarely pay anyone big bucks, mostly they tended to have young guys with potential.  And they had them at time when everyone still thought they had real potential (unlike the Knicks who only took a chance on Eddy Curry after Chicago and everyone else had pretty much given up on him).  For instance Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson both seemed like they’d have promising futures when they left the Clips.  Other young studs they got were Lamar Odom, Corey Maggette, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin, and Shaun Livingston (R.I.P.).  And when the Clips did go after the rare older player (Sam Cassell, Cat Mobley), they usually still had a bunch left in the tank.

Final Answer? The Knicks’ senior citizens would love to accept this award in person, but they’re off getting their Medicare cards.

Score: Clips 1          Knicks 2

Lamer Didn’t-Come-Through Star

Stephon Marbury, the prodigal son returned, was supposed to lead the Knicks back to the promised land.  Turns out Starbury’s no Moses.  I don’t think he was as bad as everyone painted him to be, but it’s never good when your star becomes such a big distraction that you have to ban him from the team.

Elton Brand did bring Clipper Nation some salvation by almost taking the team to the Finals in the incredibly tough Western Conference.  He came to play every night, was a warrior, and seemed to be the paragon of what a player, nay, what a Man should be.  To make him happy, Donald Sterling even opened up his wallet to bring him Baron Davis, that All-Star companion that Brand had specifically asked for.  Brand, after telling coach and fans that he’d stay a Clip, then bolted, stabbing everyone in the back.

Final Answer? Marbury came to the Knicks with a reputation as being a selfish player.  We tried to blind ourselves to that reality, but was his ending that surprising?  With Brand however, it felt like we’d been living together for a long time and everything’d be great, so we propose and give him a shiny engagement ring (Baron Davis), he tells us yes, and the next week we find him in another team’s arms.  Nothing hurts worse than unexpected betrayal when you’re still in the full throes of love.  Clips get the edge.

Score: Clips 2          Knicks 2

Horrible Trades

In the aughts, the Knicks, striving to keep their payroll the highest in the league, perfected the noble tradition of trading away expiring contracts for longer, crappier contracts.  They turned Glen Rice into Shandon Anderson & Howard Eisley.  Clarence Weatherspoon for Moochie Norris (although it’s so darn fun to say Moochie that it almost makes this trade worth it).  McDyess and Charlie Ward for Marbury & Penny Hardaway.  Keith Van Horn for Tim Thomas.  Mazr Mohammed for Malik Rose and Maurice Taylor.  Kurt Thomas for Quentin Richardson.  Antonio Davis for Jalen Rose.  Hardaway for Steve Francis.  Francis for Zach Randolph.  Truth is, it was kinda nice.  If you had a bad contract, you knew the Knicks would always take it off your hands.  It didn’t matter if they had one selfish ball-dominating shoot-first PG in Marbury, they’d still take another selfish ball-dominating shoot-first PG like Steve Francis off yer hands.  If that ain’t spreading love through the league, I dunno what is.

The Clippers, on the other hand, since they’re always trying to cut costs, did not follow that route.  Surprisingly, they ended up doing a bunch of good trades.  Sometimes it didn’t work out, like the ill-fated Andre Miller experiment, but you can’t fault the logic behind it.  The year before that the Clips had been relatively solid in every position except PG, so they traded Darius Miles for Andre Miller.  Miller had averaged 10 assists on a Cavs team that had no players, so it seemed like he’d be able to do at least that well on the Clips.  No luck.  But not a bad trade.  Then other trades were sure-fire winners: Elton Brand for the draft rights to rookie Tyson Chandler.  Sam Cassell AND a draft pick for Marko “Who?” Jaric.  Marcus Camby for free.  Rasual Butler for free.

Final Answer? Doesn’t matter that Donnie Walsh has done a great job on trades the last two years.  The years before that set a new low-ness in idiotic trades that even Kevin McHale said, “Damn, they almost make my trades not look moronic.”

Score: Clips 2          Knicks 3

Bad Drafting

First off, when measuring here you can’t just go with who got the better players, ‘cuz since the Knicks were darn good at the start of the decade, they had much later picks than the Clippers.  So to compare the teams we’ll measure how they did relative to their pick.  And honestly, in most drafts by the time you get to like the #20 pick, you’re lucky if that player even stays in the league for more than a few years.

In 2000 the Clips got a solid pick at #18, Quentin Richardson, in one of the worst drafts in history.  This was the draft that saw Stromile Swift go second, Marcus Fizer fourth, DeMarr Johnson sixth, and ended up having to give rookie of the year to Mike Miller by default.  However in 2002 they draft Chris Wilcox at 8.  Numbers 9 and 10 were Amare Stoudamire and Caron Butler.  Oops.  2003.  Now both teams are getting lottery picks.  The Clips at 6 get a good one in Chris Kaman.  At 9, the Knicks take Mike Sweetney.  Now Sweetney actually had serious potential, but he could never stop eating quadruple cheeseburgers.  Even so, it’s not like there were many great choices behind him: Jarvis Hayes, Mickael Pietrus, Nick Collison, Marcus Banks.  So it’s hard to fault the Knicks with the pick.  If Sweetney ever decided to really play bball he would’ve been much better than the role players above.  2004 was the first Isiah draft, and as everyone knows, as awful a GM as he was, he was actually a darn good drafter.  The Knicks didn’t have a first-rounder, but with the forty-third pick they found Trevor Ariza.  The Clips, at number four, got Shaun Livingston.  Even though his legs disintegrated, he had skills, so it’s hard to fully hold the pick against them.  2005, at #12 the Clips chose Yaroslav Korolev (not to be confused with the brilliant 1980s comedian Yakov Smirnoff).  The Knicks on the other hand were phenomenal: at #8 they picked Channing Frye, they traded for the #22 pick of Nate Robinson, and at #30 drafted some dude named David Lee.  Imagine if Isiah hadn’t been allowed to make trades: we can see how phenomenal Channing Frye is in D’Antoni’s system in Phoenix, so we’d have him and Lee as the bigs.  At SF, Ariza.  SG would be Wilson Chandler, and coming off the bench would be Gallinari and Nate Robinson.  And we’d only be paying them like a buck fifty total.  We could get LeBron, Wade, Bosh and the rights to LeBron’s first born son and still be under the cap.  2006 the Clips had no pick, and the Knicks chose Renaldo Balkman and Mardy Collins at 20 and 29.  Nothin’ great, but to get two players who’re still playing in the NBA this late is still decent.  2007, at 14 the Clips got Al Thornton, who’s an okay choice this late.  The Knicks at 23, get another gem with Chandler.  2008, at #6 the Knicks chose Gallinari, and right after them at #7 the Clips got Eric Gordon.  Both seem like they’ll be good, and at this point I’d give the edge to the Clips.  2009 the Clips had the no-brainer at #1 with Blake Griffin (& even if other players in the class turn out to be better, EVERY team would’ve taken him first).  So far the Knicks pick of Jordan Hill doesn’t look great, but it’s too soon to determine if this was a good pick or not.

Final Answer? The Clips messed up big time in 2002 with a valuable 8th pick, and in 2005 with #12.  Isiah, with picks 20 and up, found 6 solid players in just 4 drafts (plus Frye at #8 gives us 7 good players).  Even when Isiah didn’t draft it can be argued that the Knicks never truly messed up.  Clips get this one by a mile (or for Yakov: a kilometer).

Score: Clips 3          Knicks 3

Coaches

First off, let’s make it clear we’re talking about how these coaches performed while they worked for these teams.  Who cares if Larry Brown has won championships at both the pro and college level?  For the Knicks he has the worst winning percentage in franchise history at .280.  Isiah Thomas, Herb Williams and Don Chaney ranged from .341 to .391.  Lenny Wilkins somehow lucked into a brief period of Knick productivity giving him a somewhat decent winning percentage, but those of us who paid attention knew his time coaching was over before he started.  However at the beginning of the decade we did have Jeff Van Gundy, the coach with the second best winning percentage in franchise history.  He did a phenomenal job (for proof look no further than the ’01-’02 when the team was 10-9 before he quit… and then they won only 20 more games the rest of the season).

The Clippers have had Mike Dunleavy, Sr. for far too much of this past decade.  Yes, he initially had tremendous success with them and helped bring them to near the brink of the Western Conference Finals in ’05-’06 (although some might argue that a key poor substitution by him in game 5 cost them the series.  Yeah, I am one of those some).  Add that to the remaining years in the decade that he did a godawful job, and he comes out as a big ol’ negative.  And do we even need to go into the likes of Chris Ford, Jim Todd, Alvin Gentry & Dennis Johnson?  Gentry may be doing a decent job now with the Suns, but it’s because he’s running the system of current Knicks’ coach Mike D’Antoni.

Final Answer? As bad as that Knick bunch is, JVG saves the decade.  Remember, that first season in the aughts (’99-’00) he got the Knicks all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.  Clips win the battle of worst coaches.

Score: Clips 4  Knicks 3

General Manager

Elgin Baylor was a pretty bad GM for the Clips, but a lot of it was ‘cuz he was hamstrung by owner Donald Sterling’s cheaposity.  However, he did acquire Elton Brand for the draft rights to Tyson Chandler.  He swapped Darius Miles for Andre Miller.  Got Sam Cassell plus draft picks for Marco Jaric.  Hmm, maybe he wasn’t that bad after all.  Mike Dunleavy for all his faults as coach, has actually been decent as GM.  He got rid of Zach Randolph’s untradeable contract, stole Baron Davis from Golden State (at the time it seemed great), stole Marcus Camby for nothing, ditto Rasual Butler.

The Knicks started the decade off with Scott Layden who gave Shandon Anderson a $41 million contract after Shandon averaged 8.7 points.  Layden gave outlandish contracts to mediocre players who clearly were mediocre at the time and seemed unlikely to improve.  He outbid himself to give Allan Houston a $99 million paycheck when no one would’ve given Houston anywhere near that much.  Thankfully he was gone by 2003.  Oh yeah, but he was replaced by Isiah.  Two words: Jerome James.  Need I say more?

Final Answer? No-brainer.  The Knicks.

Score: Clips 4          Knicks 4

Owner

The Knicks are run by James Dolan, a former coke-head who’s paranoid, clueless about basketball, needs to be the center of attention, got his job thru his dad, and was in a scandalous law suit (See: Sanders, Anucha Browne).

The Clippers are run by Donald T. Sterling, a slumlord who puts up skeezy ads for hot women, is notoriously cheap, has a foul son, and was in a scandalous law suit (See: housing discrimination, racial).

Final Answer? Hey, I’ll be honest: I’m a sports fan so all I care about is winning.  I’d rather the scum who’ll pay for players than the one who won’t.  Clippers get the edge.

Score: Clips 5          Knicks 4

Set-Up For The Future (aka The Next Decade)

The Knicks could get LeBron and Wade next year.  Or LeBron and Bosh.  Hell, we’d be fine with LeBron and A’m’a’r’e Stoudamire.  Unfortunately, the Knicks don’t have the cap space to get two big guns unless they can get rid of Jared Jeffries or Eddy Curry.  And even if we do get rid of one or both of those guys, who’s to say any of those Supernovas will join us?  All we really have to offer is the city.  Are Gallinari and Wilson Chandler really that enticing?  Versus LeBron can go to sunny Florida (where there’s no state tax so he’d make much, much more money), and team up with Wade and Michael Beasley.  Hmm, which would you choose?  Yeah, we’ll probably get some players, maybe a Joe Johnson, which’ll improve us, but it won’t make us perennial contenders.  That said, while I don’t think we’ll win the LeBron sweepstakes, the future does look bright.  Worst case scenario, we can’t get rid of Curry & Jeffries, so we sign someone this off-season, and then get them a partner the following season when C&J come off the books too.

Chris Kaman has been playing at an All-Star level.  Baron Davis is healthy and motivated this year.  Camby’s playing like a 23 year old.  Eric Gordon seems to have All-Star potential.  And Blake Griffin, the one player in the draft everyone said has definite All-Star potential, will be on the court soon.  Even young backup center DeAndre Jordan has shown flashes of brilliance.  The only spot they have a weakness at is small forward.  And with Camby coming off the books this summer, they might have the cash to go after a certain SF who might be looking for a new home.

Final Answer? Happily, both teams have set themselves up for potential goodness in the future.  However, if you were LeBron, what would you choose if you were debating between playing in sunny LA with Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin and Chris Kaman, or exciting NYC with Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and David Lee?  For the record, I don’t think LeBron will go with either (my money’s on him going to Miami to team up with Wade), but sadly NYC has the worse future potential.

Score: Clips 5          Knicks 5

Fan Base

When the decade began, the Knicks were in the middle of an unparalleled sell-out streak that began during the Cro-Magnon era.  People were literally on waitlists for season tickets for years.  There was a reason that Madison Square Garden was considered the mecca of bball even though we paled in championship titles compared to the Celts & Lakers.  Needless to say the sellouts have stopped, and I’ve started seeing articles wondering if indeed MSG should still be considered the mecca.

Despite playing in one of the largest markets, the Clippers tend to be a bit overshadowed by that other LA team.  This year the Clips come in 22nd in terms of attendance percentage.  And honestly, the published numbers claim they’re 81% full, but no way do they have even that many.  I’ve been to the games.  On TV you can see the empty seats often outnumber the occupied ones.  Even the year the Clippers made it to the playoffs, it had been a decade since they’d last made it, and it took a while for the first round tickets to sell out.  In an even more telling sign, when the second round tickets went on sale it looked like the Clips would play the Lakers (who were up 3-1 against Phoenix), so the tickets sold out in seconds due to all the Laker fans.  Actually often the only time the Clippers sell out during the regular season is when they play the Lakers ‘cuz the crowd’s mostly full of fans of the Purple and Gold.  Truth is I got more into the Clippers than the Lakers ‘cuz tickets are always available last second.  I was in LA for probably six years before I was finally able to get a ticket to see the Lakers, and again, it was only ‘cuz they were playing the Clippers and it was considered a Clipper “home” game.

Final Answer? Over the past decade when I’ve told people I’m a Knicks fan, they offer condolences.  When I say I like the Clippers, they say they’ve never met one before and ask if I’m mentally deranged.  Clips all over this one.

Score: Clips 6          Knicks 5

Thus the Clippers edge out the Knicks and win the title of Worst NBA Franchise Of The Decade!  Congrats Clips!  Or condolences.  One or the other.  Regardless, I’m happy that I’m no longer writing for the worst franchise of the aughts.  Here’s to being #2, Knick Fans!  By the way, so far in this new decade the Clips are 3-0 and the Knicks 3-1.  Here’s to hoping that’s an omen that both shall return to glory in the tens-ies.

[UPDATE: 1/13 - Today Blake Griffin announced that he has decided to model his career after Greg Oden and thus will have surgery to ensure he misses his entire rookie year.  Guess I forgot to include the category of "Generally Being Cursed" and since the Clips take that in a landslide, avalanche and tsunami, it's clearer than ever that they're now our runaway champion for most suckiest of the decade.  I don't even wanna go into how this also effects the ratings under "Hopelessness," "Lamer Didn't-Come-Through Star," "Bad Drafting," & "Set Up For The Future."  Let's all have a moment of silence for the two Clipper fans left.]

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