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Kissing Kanter: Fan Favorite Survives First Knick Purge

What does it say about an NBA team that until Thursday the most noteworthy thing that’s happened in the last month is its hardly-used center, who lives in fear of political assassination, kissed the team’s insignia on the floor of Madison Square Garden on Thursday when he finally got into a game?

We’ll tell you what it says: The Knicks suck.

Sarah Stier/Getty

Nineteen years since their last NBA Finals, five years since their last postseason, on an 11-game losing streak with the worst record in the league (10-40), the Knicks, as Walt Frazier would say, are “stagnating and agitating.”

They are no closer to competitiveness than they’ve been since the 2012-13 season when they lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They are invisible and irrelevant, ill-conceived and illogical.

Still, you know what? if you want to see them play the Boston Celtics on Friday at MSG and ask Stub Hub for two courtside, you’ll ante up about $2,800. So for whatever reason, they maintain their buzz.

On Thursday, the Knicks tried really hard to make people pay attention. They dealt their disgruntled best player, Kristaps Porzingis, their leading scorer, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Trey Burke, and Courtney Lee to the Dallas Mavericks for Wesley Matthews, DeAndre Jordan and Dennis Smith, Jr.

Like Jimmy Butler and Anthony Davis had previously done in Minnesota and New Orleans, Porzingis, who hasn’t played this season because of last year’s ACL injury, told the Knicks he was sick and tired of them. And he’s only 23 years old. Imagine how resentful he’d be when he grows up?

Why trade Porzingis, until a few hours ago the centerpiece of the franchise? It is nothing more than a personal favor – and a salary dump of Hardaway and Lee, who are making about $29 million this season. The Knicks could care less about Jordan and Matthews, who combine to pull down about $41 million. They both might be bought out soon.

Here’s the point: The Knicks want more cash for the next free agent class as if this dysfunctional bunch has any chance of seducing Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving or Kawhi Leonard. True Knicks fans hope they continuing tanking to improve their chances of drafting Duke’s Zion Williamson No. 1 overall. That’s more realistic.

This is so Knicks of them. Big dreamers, small deliverers. But it’s good to know they no longer believe they can keep Spike Lee in his seat deploying Emmanuel Mudiay and Allonzo Trier where Clyde and Earl Monroe once roamed.

Look, the Knicks are nobodies, even after Thursday, which is why we’d rather talk about Enes Kanter.

MSG loves Kanter, the Turkish center with the big smile and oversized personality. But the problem is, Knicks coach David Fizdale doesn’t like him as much.

Kanter had played only once since Jan. 11, a 19-minute run against Oklahoma City on Jan. 21, when Fizdale reached for him midway through the third quarter on Wednesday against Dallas.

Fizdale thought he needed him after Jordan, of all people, dunked the crap out of the Knicks. Astute Knicks fans knew what was needed. “We want Kanter” they began to cheer.

“He [Fizdale] yelled out my name and I was like, ‘Really?’ ’’ said Kanter. “I had to look around. ‘Is he serious?’ I got up and fans started to clap and I was like, ‘This is really happening.’”

The big guy pulled off his sweats, adjusted his shorts and bent down to kiss the floor before joining the fray.

“I just wanted to show my love,” said Kanter. “Obviously, on the court and off the court I’ve been having a very rough time the last three weeks with Turkey issues and basketball issues. The support that they are showing just meant a lot to me. I wanted to give back a little kiss to them.”

He waved to the crowd. The crowd waved back. And then he launched an airball on his second possession. And then Luka Doncic cranked a three-pointer over Kanter’s extended arms.

“It was so much pressure,” said Kanter said. “Of course, I didn’t play how many games, so I was nervous.”

To be fair to Fizdale, his job has nothing to do with public relations. His job is nearly impossible. Rebuilding the New York subway system might be easier. The Knicks have nothing to build upon unless you are a Kevin Knox fan and have very low expectations.

Fizdale sees the future and Kanter is lost in the fog. Imagine a player of his stature, who thrived alongside Russell Westbrook in OKC, being told Mitchell Robinson and Luke Kornet have dibs. Kanter is not happy and likely will be traded within a week.

“You never know how long I’m going to play here,” said Kanter. “I was so happy I got in, just to show the fans some love for maybe, I don’t know, one last time. I have no idea.”

What happens will be entirely the Knicks call. And Kanter is not sweating the details. He’s making $18.6 million in this season and he’ll make that regardless of where on the bench he sits.

“If they know the love of New York I have in my heart, they would retire my jersey,” Kanter said of the fans. “I have no problem with this organization. I have no problem with these players, teammates, coaches or the city. From Day 1, I’ve loved the city.”

Truth is, that’s not the least of what’s so interesting about Kanter. He’s a wanted man in his homeland. In fact, he was so worried the Turkish government – and president Recep Tayyip Erdogan – was going to try and kill him, he didn’t go to London with the team earlier this season.

This dates back to the indictment of his father, Mehmet Kanter, a professor, by a Turkish court claiming he held membership in a terror group. Enes Kanter is an admitted a follower of a U.S.-based Turkish cleric the government says masterminded a failed military coup in 2016.

Since then, the government has been rounding up suspected followers of Fethullah Gulen and they’ve made it clear they want to extradite Enes Kanter from the United States. You can understand why. Kanter has called Erdogan a maniac and “the Hitler of our century.”

The Knicks come into Friday’s game against Celtics having lost their last 12 home games. But the place still feels like home to Kanter. It’s his sanctuary. It’s too bad nobody else feels the same way.

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