NY Knicks – Farewell Frank Ntilikina: The French Fever Dream

NY Knicks, Frank Ntilikina

NY Knicks, Frank Ntilikina (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Last week, former NY Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina found a new home.

The former 8th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft is joining Reggie Bullock, as well as past Knicks teammates Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Trey Burke in Dallas to play for the Mavericks.

It is definitely going to be strange seeing the French Prince in a new uniform, especially since Dallas has been one of New York’s latest rivals.

NY Knicks: Remembering the French Prince

Besides the Atlanta Hawks, the only thing the NY Knicks have beef with more than the Mavericks is their arch-nemesis: dysfunction.

For the better part of two decades, the franchise was plagued by that disease. Despite suffering from this illness, New York’s fans have always been loyal and inspired by a future cure.

Thankfully, we seem to be seeing that cure in progress with the current front office, coaching staff and roster.

In a piece regarding Ntilikina’s departure, Reid Goldsmith over at The Knicks Wall said this as a closing statement:

No amount of debating him and Dennis Smith Jr. or maybe switching to off-ball could restore the feeling that he was the right pick in 2017—or that the Knicks (or Phil Jackson) knew what they were doing back then.

It’s a very painful but abundantly true observation. Dysfunction didn’t just infect the product on the court, and by default afflict the viewing audience. It also blinded the decision-making of the higher ups. The team’s personnel clearly had no idea what they were doing.

Needless to say, whatever psychedelics Phil Jackson enjoyed did not improve his side effects.

Unfortunately, Frank Ntilikina was a major player on the board at the peak of New York’s woes. Not because he stood out on the hardwood, but because he was unfairly at the center of the black hole.

Ntilikina didn’t ask to be drafted unfairly high under the impression that he could be a prototypical cog in The Triangle Offense. He was sucked into the dark void to no fault of his own.

His Knicks tenure lasted only four seasons, but it stretched beyond even his 7’1″ wingspan. “Only” being the word I choose to describe it, but it isn’t quite the right word to use. It’s difficult to contextualize entirely. Four years is a weird amount of time.

Four years is a long enough amount of time to imply meaningful influence (at least when you ignore the fact that it is a standard length for a rookie contract). After all, Ntilikina meant enough to the Knicks that he was on the receiving end of two accepted team options on his rookie deal.

However, anyone who has paid attention to his career knows his “influence” on the court wasn’t exactly significant.

Those four years were also short enough that it sounds wrong to say that much time has passed. Frank’s playing time was all over the place. In the end, it was not much of a sample size if you ask me (we can thank David Fizdale for that).

His impact – whether or not he was given the opportunity to have a true impact is a whole other can of worms – on the franchise was minimal. Therefore, his time here feels short-lived.

And yet, while his place on the roster wasn’t very influential, it ties him directly to many important segments of recent Knicks history.

As the team’s longest-tenured player, Ntilikina had seen so much in just four years. He was drafted just before the Melo era came to an end. He was a staple of the Porzingis era and lasted long enough to be a part of the new era led by Julius Randle and RJ Barrett.

There is so much baggage associated with those periods of the teams’ history that it makes it feel like the time Ntilikina spent here lasted forever. Frank went from Phil Jackson and Steve Mills to “Pills” to Leon Rose. He has endured four losing seasons, three head coaches, two seasons of Elfrid Payton stealing minutes from him, and one interim head coach.

We know he’s gone through it with us fans. But, there is little to show for it. Ntilikina is like the dinosaurs, a footnote of time with little left behind for the present but bare bones. And in a way, it’s like he never even shared this world with us.

Did we imagine the Frenchise? Was he real, or a fever dream? A reaction to the madness we witnessed day today. An ailment brought on by dysfunction.

As a Knicks fan, you have to be a little sick, a little mentally insane to stick around. So, Ntilikina being imaginary shouldn’t be ruled out.

What’s for certain though is Ntilikina embodied everything it meant to be associated with the NY Knicks. Anything tied to this team was destined to be a lost cause. Something would go wrong, eventually, undeniably. And as fans, we were willing to hold out hope for better days.

Ntilikina was a product, failed by ineptitude and greed, that we clung to because we saw the untapped potential in him that we craved for the Knicks as a whole. But deep down, we knew there would be much more suffering before anything good came from Ntilikina’s tenure, if it ever would.

Frank’s tenure was an amalgamation of varying moments: timely jumpers, failed poster attempts, clamps, bench-warming, more clamps, Draymond Green-esque triple-single stat lines, and clamps again.

He was the guy who didn’t back down to LeBron James. The guy who gave his all in every game even though his results rarely matched his hustle. He was the one who brought more and more fans together over time to stan him.

He was the player who, strangely enough, instilled hope.

Remember this graphic from draft night?

Sadly, Ntilikina couldn’t beat those odds draft experts placed on him. He didn’t give NY Knicks fans an All-Star appearance or consistent minutes. But he did give us hope.

And that is what I will fondly remember him for. His tenure didn’t give us much, but I did give us reason to believe. Frank never doubted himself. Sure, his confidence as an aggressive player was always in question. That didn’t stop him though from doing his best in the time he had.

It’s hard to not believe in a guy who believes in himself the way Ntillmatic did. He didn’t let anyone tell him how to play. He did it his way. He got dirty on defense, picked apart pick and rolls on offense, and blessed fans with the occasional mean mug.

That 14 percent potential was all that was needed. Now that “We Here,” the Knicks have separated themselves from longing for competitiveness. Ironically, they now also separate themselves from Frankie Smokes.

He didn’t defeat the draft odds, but he was a part of something even more impressively impossible: the Knicks beating the odds and becoming a competent organization.

Thank you Frank for being the best fever dream ever.