Here’s the hard part for the Knicks: Jeff Van Gundy

Jeff Van Gundy was on the telephone Monday with a reminder that Pat Riley had an expression for the team-building step that aligns with in the present day’s Knicks. The harmless climb, Riley referred to as it.

The responsible pleasure is perhaps extra becoming.

According to 1 on-line definition of the time period, that is one thing “such as a movie, television program, or piece of music, (editor’s note: or second-tier Eastern Conference basketball team) that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard.” New Yorkers love these Knicks for their work ethic, generosity of spirit, and talent to win extra video games than their expertise suggests they need to. These Knicks have additionally finished a fantastic job of constructing two oppressive many years appear a bit extra distant.

But deep down their followers know what they’re, and what they don’t seem to be. One of these followers, Van Gundy, the final coach to guide the Knicks to the NBA Finals, was requested if it have been in any respect attainable in a loopy COVID season that his former crew might get a couple of fortunate bounces, go on a magical underdog run, and return to the Finals for the first time since he misplaced to Gregg Popovich’s first championship Spurs crew in 1999.

“Oh, the Finals,” he stated with greater than a hint of incredulity. “If Durant, Harden, Irving, Embiid, Simmons and Antetokounmpo are all in the identical constructing and crash into one another, then possibly.

“But could they win a first-round series? Absolutely. And if they win a first-round series, are you not just one tweaked ankle away from having that next series be a little more even? Yeah, you are. If they win a first-round series, from where they started this season in December, it’s amazing, it really is.”

RJ Barrett and the Knicks have already clinched a playoff spot, however the robust steps are nonetheless to come back.

Having received 11 of their final 12, the Knicks confronted Memphis on Monday night time on the second leg of their six-game street journey that closes with Denver, Phoenix, the Clippers and the Lakers — a stretch that would imperil New York’s bid to remain out of LeBron James’ cherished play-in event. No matter what occurs from right here to their expiration date, the Knicks have finished an ideal service to their followers and, maybe, to the reason behind ending the franchise’s biblical championship drought. They have established a regular of accountability, and a program of participant improvement, that would result in critical competition in the coming years.

But for all the coach of the year consideration Tom Thibodeau has earned, what he’s achieved really represents the simple part of the course of. Turning a dysfunctional operation right into a useful one will not be as troublesome as the subsequent step — changing into the finest in the enterprise, or rattling near it. One of Thibodeau’s largest admirers, Bill Parcells, knew that he was doing the simple part when he turned Rich Kotite’s 1-15 Jets into his 9-7 Jets in a single 12 months, and that he was doing one thing way more difficult in Year 2 when he went 12-4 and stood fewer than half-hour away from the Super Bowl.

“You can’t get any more out of a moderately talented team than Tom has,” Van Gundy stated of his former assistant. “But you don’t win 60 video games or go deep in the playoffs with a reasonably gifted crew. So that is going to be all about the roster, and who you discover, and who you pay from this group, and who you progress on from.

“A lot of these players are in the last year of their contracts. If you paid them all, would you get the same type of performance or better next year? That’s why, to me, the summer is the hard part.”

A Knicks fan of a sure age would possibly examine this crew to Riley’s 1991-’92 Knicks, who began all of it that decade by profitable 51 video games, beating Detroit in the first spherical, and lengthening Michael Jordan’s Bulls to a Game 7 in the second spherical. “The difference is we had a top 25 all-time player in his prime,” Van Gundy, an assistant on that crew, stated of Patrick Ewing.

Van Gundy loves how Julius Randle has made himself a star, and the way RJ Barrett has elevated his recreation. He additionally loves the Knicks’ depth, an underappreciated part of their resurgence.

“But if you look at the home-run hitters other teams have, you don’t have nearly enough for what you want to be,” Van Gundy stated. “You can still be proud of what this team ultimately accomplishes, but you can’t hamstring yourself with pretty good players. You’ve got to find some greatness.”

And that’s the hard part. The Knicks will confront it each time this present joyride ends.

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