Richard Jefferson made waves on Sunday when he claimed during a broadcast of a game between the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets that he retired because the Knicks were the only team to offer him a contract, and that indicated to him that his time in the league was up. While perhaps a bit more specific than most, this is the sort of jab that most bad teams should expect to endure in the media. Typically, such organizations take them in stride while quietly resolving to improve enough in the future to avoid such quips in the first place.
If you think that's what the Knicks did, then you haven't been paying attention for the past two decades. The team released a statement through its PR Twitter account saying "For clarification purposes, it is not true that the New York Knicks offered Richard Jefferson a contract in either the summer of 2018 or 2019." Jefferson responded almost immediately by tweeting "2020 here we come #comeback."
Jefferson admitted later in the game that he was joking, but even if he wasn't, it's important to note that he shouldn't need to specify either way. Teams don't disclose every offer they make to the public, and nor should they. Not only would it be potential damaging to their relationships around the league, but there would be no way of knowing how honest such claims would be. If Jefferson or his agent wanted to turn this into a "he said, they said" situation, it's not hard to predict which side the public would believe.
Needless to say, this is not the sort of statement that most NBA teams feel the need to make, but amazingly, it might not even be the most ridiculous statement issued by the Knicks this year. In June, after missing out on Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and every other superstar in free agency, the Knicks released a statement that served almost as an apology for their offseason failure. Yet at the same time, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reported that their camp was not willing to offer Durant a max contract at all given his Achilles injury.
Most teams do not justify roster decisions through press releases, but the Knicks simply haven't operated as a typical NBA team would this century. This sort of statement, completely unverifiable and needlessly callous, especially after Jefferson himself recanted, represents a level of pettiness consistent with an organization that routinely banishes fans and even team legends from its home arena for speaking ill of the team.
This summer should have humbled New York's front office. Teams with even a shred of self-awareness would look inward after being told "no" by every superstar in one of the strongest free agent classes in NBA history, but the Knicks have instead doubled down on the anarchy that has defined their franchise for decades. After a slow start to the season, for instance, lead basketball decision-makers Steve Mills and Scott Perry held an impromptu press conference after an embarrassing loss to the Cavs. This is, also, not something that happens to typical teams, yet it barely cracks the top three in terms of most absurd moments of 2019 for this organization.
The ideal solution to these kinds of stories would be for the Knicks to actually start winning basketball games, but historically speaking, that has proven too great a challenge. For now, a good start would be maintaining at least some amount of dignity in the face of all of these losses. Before the Knicks can't become a great NBA team until they at least understand what it means to act like a typical NBA team.
Yet through every regime change of the past 20 years, every superstar imported or exported, and every derisive comment made by anyone with a public following, the Knicks have managed to mine controversy out of situations normal teams could scarcely imagine. The great irony of this situation is that the Knicks at any point in their recent history really could have used Jefferson. They have had young teams for several years, and Jefferson is one of the more beloved teammates in basketball. He could have been a great presence in their locker room, and his 3-point shooting would be welcome on any roster.
It's hardly the worst part of this embarrassing situation, but letting the world know that they weren't interested in a player they probably should have been interested in purely out of spite stemming from unflattering comments is perhaps the most distinctly Knicks move of this entire humiliating era. Most teams just wouldn't be capable of distilling their ineptitude and insecurity into a single sentence, but then, when have the Knicks ever managed to act like a typical organization?