BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- There are times in the NBA when a loss is really a win. It would be understandable for some to view the New York Knicks' embarrassing performance against the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday as a victory disguised as defeat.
The 120-112 loss moved the Knicks into sole possession of the seventh-worst record in the league. They are just a half-game better than the Sacramento Kings and two games better than the Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers.
If the Knicks play as poorly as they did Sunday for the final 16 games, they could perhaps stumble their way into a top-five pick in June’s NBA draft.
But let’s not forget that there are consequences for all of the losses, repercussions that have nothing to do with ping-pong balls. And it seems like one of those consequences was front and center for the Knicks on Sunday night.
Shortly after he showed again why he can be a franchise-altering talent, Kristaps Porzingis spoke honestly about how the dysfunction of this season has played in the locker room. He said there is confusion "from top to bottom" in the organization.
“A lot of stuff that’s not clear,” he said. “So it’s hard to play like that.”
Coach Jeff Hornacek de-emphasized the triangle offense earlier in the season. But the Knicks have started running the triangle more often in the second half of the season -- and the results have been mostly the same. New York is 3-7 since the team started running the triangle more often, and Porzingis said Sunday that the players are still trying to figure out how to play together within the framework of team president Phil Jackson’s preferred attack.
“It’s pretty random” is how Porzingis described it.
He says the constant scheme switching on both sides of the ball has led to disarray.
"We’ve been switching things up because at any point of this season, we never played like we wanted to,” Porzingis said. “It was like, ‘Maybe this will work, maybe this will work.’ So we’re kind of looking for stuff. Coaches, they obviously try to do the best job they can and [are] giving us as much as they can so we have the information. But we never really got it all together and were able to execute the way we should have. It’s been a lot of confusion.”
That’s a troubling assessment from the player the Knicks see as a cornerstone for Jackson’s rebuild. Porzingis says he tries not to concern himself with management's decisions about the future of the roster. He sees the Knicks' current struggles as an opportunity to learn, citing a quote attributed to president Franklin Delano Roosevelt which states that a "smooth sea never made a skilled sailor." Instead of worrying about the future of the franchise, Porzingis chooses instead to focus on individual development, which seems like a healthy approach.
But if Jackson is indeed committed to running the triangle, it seems as if next season will be much like the past two: a roster filled with new players trying to get acclimated to a system that is difficult to learn.
Again, we’ll turn to Porzingis on this. He acknowledged Sunday that his teammates "don’t know the triangle that well" at this point.
“We’re really basic [with] what we do,” he said. “A lot of times it’s, especially one-on-one, whoever it is -- myself, Carmelo [Anthony], Derrick [Rose], Courtney [Lee] -- we try to make something happen, and that’s not how it’s supposed to be. It’s very random.”
Of course, offense hasn’t been the Knicks’ biggest issue this season. The struggle has been much more pronounced on the other end of the court. And it has only gotten worse lately. Since Feb. 2, the Knicks have ranked 29th in the NBA in defensive efficiency (ahead of only the Cavaliers).
Hornacek said that the Knicks started running more triangle in part to help balance the floor on defense. The thinking was that the two guards at the top of the triangle alignment could help New York slow teams in transition. It hasn’t worked out that way.
The struggles on that end of the floor have led some Knicks veterans to privately question their coach, according to sources. Hornacek has raised his voice more frequently in recent weeks -- but those challenges have been ineffective. Whether the blame should be placed on the coaching staff or the players for putting forth a poor effort is open for debate.
But the internal finger pointing shouldn’t come as a surprise. That’s what happens when a team with high expectations fails miserably.
The Knicks will continue to lose games over the next few weeks, and more than likely, they’ll improve their draft lottery odds. And that will be celebrated by some who have a rooting interest in the team.
But based on what you heard from Porzingis on Sunday, you wonder if all of the losing is doing the kind of damage that can't be undone by a top draft pick.