Losing out on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency was the first real sign the Knicks didn’t have as much pull off the court as they continued to think. There was no question of their lack of competitiveness on it; they headed into the offseason having missed the playoffs for the sixth straight year. Yet, their poor record and all the attendant problems it indicated notwithstanding, they felt they had the juice as first among equals in the National Basketball Association. Until, that is, the windfall that head honcho James Dolan so brazenly alluded to well before their 2018-19 campaign ended failed to materialize. And, amid their backpedaling, they finally admitted they didn’t have any clout, after all.
The Knicks did well just by knowing there was a problem. Still, it was just the first of many steps, and they had to nail the next ones as well in order to push forward. Which was why they let head coach David Fizdale go, why they kicked president Steve Mills upstairs, and why they needed to hire a branding consultant. Their name was being sullied, and it had to be polished anew. Even as whether or not most of the luster was being lost from within mattered, so, too, did their acknowledgment of the need to do something — anything, really — to address it.
In this regard, the arrival of Steve Stoute, head of respected advertising agency Translation, should prove to be a boon. When the benefits will be tangible is up in the air, though. Dysfunction has been with and around the Knicks for a long while now, and often associated, rightly or wrongly, with Dolan’s presence. Results won’t come overnight. It also won’t help that the newest addition to the head table and the very person in charge of changing negative perceptions wound up reinforcing them in an appearance on ESPN’s First Take, during which he spoke out of turn and appeared to support a coaching change.
Overreaching has been a cause of the Knicks’ woes, and the last thing Stoute wants is to do the same. The good news is that he stumbled early on, and that his extensive experience, while mostly in the music industry, should help him quickly pick up the pieces. He’s charged with raising a name that remains valuable — based on Forbes’ latest accounting, still tops in the league at $4.6 billion. Being situated in the media capital of the world and playing in the Mecca of hoops will certainly keep the number up. That said, how hard the task will be and how long the turnaround takes depend on their capacity not to fall all over themselves.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.