Hey Knicks fans. While the Knickerblogger is away on vacation he has asked some of us who bleed orange and blue to pinch hit. The Knickerblogger swings a mighty fine bat but I’ll do my best to measure up.
Two Lessons I’ve Learned from Joe Dumars
In some ways the weeks following the NBA Finals leading into the summer off-season is my favorite time, especially this season since I get to see the Lakers be dismantled. As a Knicks fan I am now at my most hopeful. So what should the Knicks do this off-season? I?ll take a few moments to speculate, hopefully restraining myself from proposing a list of shamelessly lopsided moves in which the Knicks bag Kobe, C-Webb, and ?Sheed for Shandon Anderson, Dikembe Mutombo, and future considerations. In fact I?ll keep my suggestions for specific roster moves at a minimum precisely because what I have learned from Joe is that it’s about identity first then players.
Having listened to numerous interviews with Joe Dumars over the past several weeks what has impressed me most is the clarity of his vision. Dumars?s plan for building a championship NBA franchise in an NBA shantytown is centered on developing identity first and talent a close but clear second. (What I label ?identity? others may call ?direction? or ?philosophy? but you get the point.) Dumars acquires talent (and that includes Larry Brown) to fit an identity not the other way around. That Joe Dumars is one smart cookie. Detroit’s no dynasty in the making – I don’t think – but they’re no one hit wonder either. I believe that Isiah Thomas could learn a couple lessons from his Bad Boys backcourt mate that could help transform the Knicks from playoff also ran into real contenders.
Lesson 1: Establish a basketball identity. At the end of the year one in the E.Z. (Era of Zeke) I really have no sense of what the Knicks are (or are becoming). This is not altogether surprising given that the Knicks followed a bona fide palace coup with a blockbuster trade, a coaching change, and another huge trade. But, presumably the point of blowing up the roster was to move the Knicks in a new direction. I am just uncertain about what direction that is. Put another way, can any of you sum up what ?playing the game the right way,? a mantra we heard repeatedly from Detroit players, means to these Knicks? For Detroit we know that playing the right way means nonstop hustle, suffocating help defense, and sharing the ball. For the Knicks I am uncertain what it means, unless clearing the floor for a terrible shot by Marbury constitutes playing the right way.
To be fair, these identityless Knicks did manage to make the playoffs. Unfortunately they spent this year?s first round pick dragging themselves across the threshold. Consequently, if the Knicks are to get younger and more athletic, to use Thomas?s oft-repeated phrase, then more roster turnover must be on the horizon. Frankly, turnover is not necessarily a bad thing on a team with so much flotsam and jetsam. Nonetheless ?younger and more athletic? is more of a description than an identity. An identity helps answer the question, what purpose would a proposed roster move serve? That’s why you establish it before you make a move. So, here we are at the end of year one E.Z. I think it?s fair to pose the question who are these Knicks? Maybe you all have an answer but I sure don’t.
Lesson 2: Develop young players. Among the many reasons that Joe Dumars decided that Rick Carlyle was not the right fit for what he was building was that Rick could never see what Joe saw in Tayshaun Prince. I think we all see it now.
If the playoff sweep at the hands of the Nets does nothing else for the Knicks hopefully it put to rest once and for all an era of near pathological disdain for young players. Clearly, the series revealed that the kids should have been better developed during the season, particularly when you consider how broken down and tired Marbury, Hardaway, and Kurt Thomas were by the end. The failure to develop Williams and Sweetney during a mediocre season borders on criminally shortsighted, or more accurately pathological. I am not suggesting that Williams and Sweetney are all-NBA talents but each provides more than adequate depth and is the top defender at his position. Besides, this is bigger than Williams and Sweetney anyway. The lesson here is that mediocre teams who overpay for washed-up role players and fail to develop solid, inexpensive young role players end up in salary cap hell and stay there.
Alright, that’s enough for now.
Next time: What the Knicks Should Do Now.
p.s. Dedicated to Ralph Wiley. RIP Ralph. I’ll miss you… and the Road Dog.