The house was getting impatient, because even the god-awful Sacramento Kings were proving difficult to put away. There was a restless rumbling all night. There was grumbling. There was the odd voice tumbling out of the upper reaches of Madison Square Garden, aimed at whichever Knick had just turned the ball over.
The Knicks won the game, of course, 116-96, because the Kings are that bad and they are that depleted, missing De’Aaron Fox, depriving the Garden the chance to outright covet Fox across 48 minutes while hoping to see a Knicks win, too. But that didn’t really satisfy the customers.
A minute left in the third quarter, the Knicks expanding their lead to 21, the fans weren’t cheering the starters still on the court. Their attention — and their affection — was elsewhere.
“WE WANT REDDISH!
WE WANT REDDISH!
WE WANT REDDISH!”
It felt like a message from the fans that extended beyond Tom Thibodeau, who on Friday in Milwaukee had said of Cam Reddish: “We like who he is. We like the talent. And right now — it’s a long season. We traded someone who wasn’t in the rotation so you can’t keep adding to it without taking someone out.”
The message, which probably was intended more for Leon Rose than for Thibodeau, was this: Feel free to take someone out. Temporarily. Or permanently. Your choice.
And declare yourself officially open for business. Immediately.
The Knicks are still within shouting distance of the postseason at this moment, but Knicks fans are savvy enough to know what lies ahead. The Kings were one of the last teams they’re going to be favored against for weeks. Ja Morant and the Grizzlies come to town Wednesday, then it’s a western swing through L.A. (for the Lakers), Utah, Denver, San Francisco and Portland.
Then comes a brief homestand in which three of the four teams are the Nets, the Heat and the 76ers. Then another seven-game road swing, all the games against teams presently in the postseason. Ask yourself this: what’s your best-case scenario for those 17 games?
So yes: you can understand what the fans were doing Monday night, raising their voices for Reddish again in the fourth quarter as the Kings attempted to sneak back in the game. You can sense they understand the Knicks, as currently constituted, cannot continue as they are, even with Derrick Rose expected to return by the end of the month.
They know the trade deadline looms next week on Feb. 10. And they know that most of the roster should be available. You want untouchables? RJ Barrett is one. Derrick Rose is one. Quentin Grimes is one. And the Garden’s new favorite, Reddish, is one. He did cost a first-round pick, after all. He isn’t supposed to be roster filler.
Anyone else? Everyone else?
We’ve seen what this group’s ceiling is, and they already reached it, and it seems like Knicks fans, ever patient, ever loyal, are at peace with that. Nobody gets louder cheers than Barrett, Grimes and Obi Toppin, all homegrown kids. There can’t be a deal that Leon Rose is presented with next week that he won’t at least entertain. The reset has to start now.
New York may be a win-now town, but the Knicks are not a win-now team, not anymore. Maybe they’ve done Rose a favor by scuffling across these first 51 games. There is no mirage here. There is no talking yourself into believing things are just going to get better. There is the record now — 24-27 — and the record as it’s going to look 17 games from now.
There is no shame in recalibrating. The Knicks reminded everyone how important a part of the city’s fabric they were last year. Rose knew the East was going to be harder this year, tried to upgrade, tried to keep up. Didn’t work. The fans know what the brass must do: it’s time to cut their losses. Time to open shop.
The fans finally got what they wanted with 5:07 left in the game, the Knicks up 105-83. Reddish leaping to his feet, peeling off his uniform, walking to the scorer’s table to the loudest ovation of the night. He made four free throws. The crowd reacted as if Clyde had stolen another one from Jerry West in Game 7.
“We love our fans,” Thibodeau said. “Our fans are the best.”
Those fans, they’re ready for an extended glimpse of the future. They’re ready to see what they have with the kids, ready to start over again this summer. And next week. Hang the shingle, Leon. The store is open as of now.