Knick Fans Should Be Thankful This Christmas

Hey Knick fans, what’s there to be unhappy about? (And for those needing a little extra Christmas cheer, I highly recommend Twas The Night Before Knicksmas.) Wait before you answer this question, I want to put things into perspective.

First, the Knicks will have cap space this offseason. And not just a few million through the mid level exception to grab a Jerome James or Jared Jeffries. But rather enough room to get the best player in the NBA. And perhaps with a little luck there will be space for a second star as well. Considering the overspending of the last decade, this alone should have New Yorkers dancing in the aisles.

Second, the roster has some good young talent. David Lee has blossomed from a late round pick to become one of the better power forwards in the league. Maybe he’s not an All Star talent, but he’s in the discussion. It’s easy to imagine Lee on a championship team as a key element. Additionally New York has Danilo Gallinari, an intriguing 21 year old. Gallo showed he’s deadly from three his first year, and in his second he is wowing fans with multidimensional play. Personally if I’m the Knicks GM, he might be my only untouchable player on the roster.

Rookies Toney Douglas and Jordan Hill are both still raw. From the minutes I’ve seen of Douglas, the guy can defend. He’s lightning quick on the defensive side of the ball, and if he can put together his game on the offensive side, he’ll be a solid pro. Jordan Hill is a #8 pick that has been buried on the bench, but his potential is unknown. Certainly there’s a GM out there that fansied him last summer and would be willing to part with something of value for his services. Finally, of course there is Nate Robinson, who is talented and may find himself out of D’Antoni’s doghouse yet. And if he doesn’t then he might fetch the Knicks another young player, a draft pick, or some cap space.

As for D’Antoni, he’s the best coach the Knicks have had in about a decade. Complain all you want about his short rotation, favoritism, or system, but isn’t that par for the course of a good coach? Think of the last 2 good Knick coaches. Jeff Van Gundy treated Marcus Camby like a red-headed step child for a year. It took Ewing’s injury and subsequently Camby leading the team to the Finals for Van Gundy to realize the talent he had. And Pat Riley forgot he had Rolando Blackman in the playoffs and instead played Greg Anthony (with a TS% of .487 that year) 17 minutes per game. Blackman had almost as many playoff minutes (34) as Corey Gaines (28) that year.

No matter what you think about D’Antoni, it’s clear that he’s a step up from Don Chaney, Herb Williams, Isiah Thomas or Lenny Wilkens. (I won’t even mention that other guy, considering the joyous season we’re in). D’Antoni turned Phoenix into one of the best teams in the league, and was one bloody nose (and a few suspensions) away from a title. There’s no chance any of those other guys would have been able to accomplish with the Suns. And if you think that D’Antoni gets too much credit for Phoenix’s success, think about Phil Jackson for a second. How many championships did Jackson win in the 2 years Jordan fielded fly balls? Even having Kobe and Gasol and Odom wasn’t enough talent 2 years ago. Given the players, Jackson is the type of coach that’s good enough to win a title. And the same is true of D’Antoni.

Finally Knick fans should thankful of the front office. Oh sure we can argue about every little move, and debate lots of the small stuff. But to put things in perspective, we owe a draft pick because of what Isiah Thomas did in 2004. In the preceding years, Knick fans would be cowering in fear of a news announcement involving their team because it likely meant that they traded away a draft pick or gave another team the cap space to sign the player of their dreams. Those days are gone. In fact if the team announced a trade, I think most fans would imagine it would involve acquiring a draft pick (like when we got Toney Dougals) or freeing up some extra cap space (like when we sent Jamal Crawford or Zach Randolph packing).

When I think about my childhood, opening Christmas presents wasn’t about what I didn’t get. I rarely got the exact toy I wanted, and some Christmases were leaner than others, but more often than not I got lots of good things that I enjoyed. And the same should be true of Knick fans. In the spirit of Christmas, for one day we should be thankful for the things we have and not fret the things we don’t. That, and let’s beat the tar out of the Miami Heat!

LET’S GO KNICKS!

Heat 115 Knicks 120

[Late in the third quarter, the Knicks are up by about 20. An exchange between announcers Clyde Frazier and Gus Johnson.]
Clyde: I think the crowd is stunned, Gus, by what has happened here tonight…
Gus: I’m stunned. They’re playing so well. It’s almost too easy.
Clyde: Yes, that word surreal… The crowd is like they’re waiting for something bad to happen…
Gus: The Knicks are playing well.

Watching from home, I was stunned from before the start of the game with the opening act of Q-Tip. For years “Take Me Home” by Doug E Fresh was one of the worst parts of any Knick game. As I wrote nearly 2 years ago, New York is the birthplace and capital of rap. We shouldn’t have to settle for a third rate rapper covering a song about rural life. Q-Tip is a New York native who is well respected for his work in A Tribe Called Quest, and is still active with his solo career. Nonetheless Q-Tip’s song was fit for a New York basketball team.

I was still stunned when D’Antoni furiously called a time out with 4:46 left in the game and the Knicks had a 106-92 lead. I just couldn’t imagine any of the last few New York coaches being mad with a 14 point buffer on opening night. Isiah Thomas probably wouldn’t have gotten out of his seat. Herb Williams might have looked around for a fan to tell him what to do. Lenny Wilkens might have been dreaming of 1979.

But the Knicks did play well. Granted they only won by 5 points, but they had a 16 point lead going into the fourth quarter. New York had positive contributions from Crawford (29 points on 19 shots), Lee (16 pts, 11 reb, 5 ast), Randolph (20 pts, 9 reb, 2 ast, 2 stl), and Chandler (17 pts, 9 reb in 23 min). Even though Gallinari didn’t play well, he made an appearance. How stunning is it, that an underage draft pick that missed most of summer league and preseason made his way onto the court in the first half?

It’s great that New York won, but I’m just glad of the difference that mark a change in philosophy. For the first time in years, I feel like the Knicks are a real team. I still don’t expect them to win many games this year. But I feel pride in this team, for the first time in a long time.

Now Is The Time

Isiah Thomas should be fired. Now. I know it’s only 9 games into the season. And I know that this road trip was brutal. I also know that the next few games are against tough opponents: Golden State, Detroit, Chicago, and Utah. All these teams were in the second round last year. And I know the East has gotten better.

I know that Isiah is a wonderful drafter. I might even dare say he’s possibly the best drafter of all time. Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby, Tracy McGrady, David Lee, Nate Robinson, Mardy Collins, Trevor Ariza, and Wilson Chandler. That’s a fantastic team – and off the top of my head I can’t think of any GM that has done better with less in terms of drafting.

I know that the Knick team he inherited was a mess. The NBA’s worst salary cap, with little talent, and no young prospects. Scott Layden’s tenure was awful in New York. He took a near-championship level team, and turned them into a void. And I know this team is better than the one Isiah inherited nearly 4 years ago. I know Isiah wanted a younger and more athletic team. I can’t argue that this team isn’t younger and more athletic. That’s without a doubt.

I know that Isiah has been hit with a string of bad luck. Even Hollinger thought Marbury was a near-All Star around the time the Knicks acquired him. And who thought that a pair of Hall of Fame caliber coaches in Lenny Wilkens and Larry Brown would end up the way they did. OK I might have thought Wilkens would have ended that way, but Larry Brown?

I know all these things. Yet the bottom line remains: this team isn’t a winner. Under Isiah’s tenure, the Knicks have finished with 39, 33, 23, and 33 wins. This year they’ve started off 2-7. And things don’t look to get better. Not with their upcoming schedule.

Dolan gave Isiah his extension early on an impulse. Just when the team was doing the opposite they are now – looking really good. At the time, their win streak put them into the playoffs and seemingly showed that the team had turned the corner. However things are as bleak as they can be. The season has barely begun, and it’s nearly over for New Yorkers. Coming off the heels of an embarrassing summer, and as nearly embarrassing controversy with their point guard. Coming off a road trip where they dropped 4 straight games, the last one by 32. Coming off of 6 straight losses.

Everything is in place for an Isiah exit. Grunwald can take over as GM. Herb Williams is still around to coach. The team is better off than they were 4 years ago. There are some good young players and assets to build on. The only thing left is finding the time to do it. And the time is now.

There Are No Grown Ups Here

I must admit, the current drama unfolding in the halls of Madison Square Garden is entertaining in a guilty pleasure sort of way. Even though I know this cannot have a happy ending I can?t wait to see what insanity turns up in each day?s sports section. But, after reading yet another tale filled with blaming, speculation, dysfunction, and non-denial denials I feel like my soul needs a shower; the way I feel after one of those really bizarre episodes of Law and Order. You know the kind, where the murderer on trial turns out to be the least depraved of the central characters. Well, at this point the Knicks and their meager win total (23) have become the least depraved of the central characters in this drama. Despite the players? flaws and faults I feel some sympathy for them. They?re playing for a gaggle of immature, image-obsessed kids, not grownups.

I wanted to wait until KB weighed in on the still-rumored Brown buyout/firing before adding anything. At the risk of repeating any of his points about the current drama I?ll add a couple of my own in no particular order.

1. The lack of accountability is really what makes this all so disheartening, and so unlikely to change.

The notion that ?saying everyone is responsible is a lot like saying no one is responsible,? is the worst kind of truism. Sometimes, everyone really is responsible. In those times, unless everyone is held to account then some get off scott free and delude themselves into thinking that they must therefore have been right all along.

It appears as if Larry Brown will be forced out soon, following what is likely the worst coaching season of his career. What is most sad is that at virtually every major crossroads this season Dolan, Thomas, and Brown simply would not get past their egos in order to work together. Rather, they all chose at various points to actively undermine one another. As a result we have the current mess, aptly described by Adrian Wojnarowski, the fine beat writer for the Bergen County Record:

[T]hese Knicks have turned into the league’s crazy uncle who keeps showing up at the family picnic, getting loaded and falling face first into the potato salad.

Only the Knick ?family? is lucky enough to have three such uncles laying face deep in potato salad, each having passed out trying to out-drink the other two. No amount of sensible advice can convince them to give up these childish games, especially since none can hear past the sound of his own slogans muffled by potato salad.

We need to get younger and more athletic!

No!! We need to play the game the right way!!

Fiscal restraint!!! We don?t need no stinkin? fiscal restraint!!!


2. Although Larry Brown?s performance and antics are grounds for dismissal, forcing him out after one year says far more disparaging things about the Knicks than it does about Brown.

I have read in multiple outlets now that the thinking behind forcing Brown out is that it is cheaper to simply buy him out than trade for so-called Brown-type players. Sigh. Before addressing why this kind of delusion?if these reports are accurate?is precisely why the Knicks are laughingstocks let me first address the merits of forcing Brown out. In my opinion, ?losing a team? is (and should be) grounds for firing an NBA coach. The overall talent league wide is so close that the marginal value of even a great coach is probably quite low. Truly great coaching pays off in very specific situations; namely after the first round of the playoffs. Otherwise, it?s about talent and execution. So when the star(s) won?t play for the coach in pro sports it is almost always wisest to side with the star. That?s why you hope your star is not selfish or a moron.

Brown was truly wretched this season. Winning coaches in the NBA have been forced out for far less than his sub-25 win total, brutal public spats with players, and reports of widespread player revolt. (Ask Paul Westphal, or more recently Stan Van Gundy and Rick Adelman.) The cat-fighting began early and never stopped. I think Brown had ?gone fishin,?? to use the parlance of Kenny Smith, somewhere around three-quarters of the way through the season. Further, losing Brown may not be any huge tragedy. I am not sure any amount of coaching can mold this roster into a legit title contender. So, this could be as good a time as any for Brown to exit. The important question for me is where would that leave the Knicks? For starters it leaves them looking for the 4th coach of the Thomas regime (i.e., Wilkins, Williams, Brown, and whoever is next), a coach who may in fact be Thomas.

Before pulling the trigger on our current diva-coach for a different diva-coach though, Camp Cablevision should consider this. They appeared to have hired Brown for the wrong reason in the first place. They hired Brown to get NY to the Eastern Conference playoffs and then see what happened; probably figuring that where Don Chaney got swept Brown might have actually won such a series or at least a couple games. They thought, and I believe still think, they are another scorer and a few defensive drills away from being a contender in the East. This remains the central delusion of the Thomas regime, confirmed by the leaks claiming that it?s ?cheaper? to fire Brown than reconstruct the roster.

There is a right reason and a wrong reason to force Brown out now. The right reason: he has irretrievably lost the team. We know for a fact that he has played games with players and alienated them. For example, though much ink has been spilled over his dustup with Marbury, the way he savaged Trevor Ariza in the press was far more distasteful. I didn?t see ?tough love? or development anywhere in that interaction. I saw Brown mostly flexing his ego. So it may very well be that Brown cannot undo the considerable damage he has done. The wrong reason to fire Brown: he should have gotten more out of this team. The current roster has a 35-45 win ceiling, regardless who coaches it. In fact Brown?s public disparaging of the roster, though tacky and unproductive, was pretty much spot on. The guards really don?t defend. Nobody blocks shots. The roster is filled to the brim with one-dimensional, high turnover players, who had been so long before Brown and his unstable rotations showed up. Eddy Curry likely will never be more than a modest rebounder and will never block shots. Marbury, despite his protests, was not unduly shackled in Brown?s post-and-cut offense. It just isn?t based on Steph?s pet play, the screen-roll. (I?m not so sure that?s such a bad thing long term.) None of that is any less true just because Brown was being a self-righteous windbag by airing it publicly. Those problems must still all be addressed Brown or no Brown. If he must go, force him out because he can no longer help address them, not because he pointed them out in a way that embarrassed. Thomas’s sensitivity on this matter is more than a little hypocritical, given the shameful way he treated Don Chaney. Chaney, along with Lenny Wilkins and Herb Williams, all basically sang the same song Brown is singing now, only to a softer tune. They were ignored.

Hollinger’s Knicks

[In today’s article, we take you back in the KnickerBlogger.Net Time Machine? to February 8th 2006. In this much darker time in Knick history, the hometown blue had been in the middle of a 10 game losing streak. It’s a stark contrast to the 1 game win streak the team is currently riding.

In this date in history, Michael Zannettis sent me this intelligent discourse on the Knicks of his era. Unfortunately I was out of town on business (that thing that allows me to collect money to pay for this thing), and the KnickerBlogger publishing group was on a team building exercise in the mountains of Nepal.

Mr. Zannettis is head of the KnickerBlogger.Net Biology department, ensuring that all employees of KB.N Industries do actually bleed orange & blue. So without further ado…]


mort (nyc): Okay, smart guy. Imagine this: Larry Brown gets fired and John Hollinger is named head coach of the Knicks. Oh, and Stephon Marbury just broke his leg. Who are your starting 5?

John Hollinger: (3:12 PM ET) Wouldn’t be MY dream job, that’s for sure. The obvious move in the frontcourt would be start Frye and Curry, bring Lee off the pine and forget the others. I’d have to play Crawford at point and if Q’s back felt OK would probably play he and Ariza at the wings, with heavy sprinklings of Jalen off the pine. Nate Robinson and Qyntel Woods could sop up whatever minutes are left over and take over for Q when the back acts up.

In the wake of the Davis-Rose trade a lot has been spoken of the luxury tax consequences of assuming Rose?s salary, but I share the sentiment of many Knicks fans in saying I could care less how much money James Dolan loses. Moreover, since their salary cap was already a hopeless situation going into next year, adding Rose does nothing to hurt the remote possibility that they might be under the cap in the summer of 2007. At that time the cages should be cleaned of such albatrosses as Allan Houston, Shandon Anderson, Jerome Williams, and Maurice Taylor. Three players who do not actually play on the team, and the fourth who shouldn?t.

Since the Knicks gave away their draft pick and they are nearly mathematically eliminated from the playoff picture, their record this year has no significance. However, that being said, it would still be nice to see the Knicks win some games. After all, we do like rooting for them.

So the question remains, what is the best rotation for the Knicks in terms of winning games this season (and next)? The conventional wisdom seems to state, at least according to Larry Brown?s resume, that playing rookies is an untenable option, since they are undeveloped and unproductive. Therefore Brown has been riding the more ostensibly reliable veterans?.um?wait. Only the problem is this logic does not apply to the 2006 Knicks. The rookies Brown has on the team are not named Darko or Delfino and are now already superior players to the ones in his rotation. Since Larry Brown did not follow Hollinger?s plan, his latest starting five was: 1, Jamal Crawford; 2, Quentin Richardson; 3, Jalen Rose; 4, Maurice Taylor; 5, Eddy Curry.

FRONTCOURT
This latest game was a microcosm of the entire season. When Curry ran into early foul trouble, he was replaced with resident worst free-agent signing of the year champion, Jerome James. If Brown wanted to bring in more front-line support he called on Malik Rose?s number 13, which is actually higher than his PER 8.9. The ineffectual trio of Taylor, Rose, and James played 51 minutes, while David Lee played less than 1, Frye played only 19 and Curry 23.

Let?s first examine the difference in production between David Lee & Channing Frye versus Maurice Taylor & Malik Rose, assuming that any rational observer can agree that James should not be beating out Herb Williams for the back-up center spot, much less the promising Jackie Butler.

Taylor scores more than Lee, but does so at a less efficient rate with more turnovers and less rebounds. Moreover, Lee has an Assist Ratio twice as high. In fact, if Lee keeps up his 14.0 rate, it would qualify as top-ten among NBA power forwards. All that being said, Taylor is still a superior player to Malik Rose, who has the same rebounding problems, but with an altogether new level of offensive incompetence. He shoots a woeful TS % 42.5, which is almost as bad as Darko last year, who couldn?t get off the end of Brown?s bench despite his implicit connections to Eastern European mobsters. And while Rose is a far worse player than Taylor, Frye is a far superior player to Lee. In fact, Frye?s rookie PER of 19.9 ranks 30th in the league. With such strong production, he is qualified to be a starter on every team in this league with the possible exception of Brown?s old team the Pistons.

Last year, Michael Sweetney?s lack of playing time caused temper fits from Knick fans fluent in statistical evaluation of performance. This year Lee and Frye are d?j? vu all over again. Once again, the Knicks simply do not seem to understand what they have on their hands. The fact that Frye and Lee are rookies is simply irrelevant on a team that currently has the league?s worst record. They are already better than aging veterans who have no roles in the Knicks? future.

Using Curry and Frye as starters with Lee off the bench, the Knicks can employ a rotation in structure congruent with Brown?s last team, the Detroit Pistons, who start Rasheed and Ben Wallace, then bring in Antonio McDyess off the bench to play power forward, moving the remaining player to center. Since both Frye and Curry can play center, Lee can be used in this way at power forward, a more natural position for him than the awkward small forward, where his inaccurate jump shot was a liability. Lee shoots an astronomically high percentage from the floor, albeit in his limited minutes, and one would think putting him into the post will deter too much regression to the mean, as he can employ more of his around the basket moves and less 15-foot line drives off the side of the backboard.

Finally, if this rotation leaves any stray minutes, they should go to Butler. In a rebuilding team filled with talented and promising rookies, there is no place for Taylor and Rose.

BACKCOURT
Marbury?s absence gives this author a modicum of pleasure to see how important he was to the ?competitiveness? of the Knicks. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. His continued inactiveness presents considerable problems for the Knicks? rotation.

While Crawford is a no-brainer at the point, Hollinger prefers Trevor Ariza over Qyntel Woods even though the latter is experiencing a resurgence in his second chance opportunity. Woods 15.3 PER is very respectable and superior to Ariza?s 10.7 PER. Nonetheless, Ariza was a burgeoning perimeter stopper before he was lost in Brown?s doghouse. That Trevor does not get along better with the coach is unfortunate for the young player?s development.

Conversely, Brown is certainly giving QRich ample opportunity to prove himself now that he is back in the Knicks? rotation. Nonetheless with QRich collecting bricks like he’s starting a construction company, it would seem he would be a more prudent benching. Perhaps much of his struggles should be attributed to rust and injury, but no matter the reason he?s still stinking up the joint. It?s admirable that he?s playing with heart, but a healthy Ariza should be getting his minutes. Using Woods and J. Rose, who both have average PERs and alternating Ariza for defensive assignments seems a more prudent course than currently relying on QRich.

In only two games with the Knicks, it is clear that J. Rose should be the primary ball-handler whenever he is on the court. This should alleviate Crawford?s bad shot tendency and Robinson?s turnover rampage, both which are wrecking havoc to the Knicks? offense. Therefore if Marbury ever returns, there is optimism that Knicks will no longer have to employ either Robinson or Crawford at the point. Considering that Robinson is not yet a competent rotation player, using him in a more limited role will improve the Knicks? competitiveness. In Hollinger?s scenario he would only receive sparse minutes when Crawford is sent to the bench, for a more reasonable ten minutes of energy off the bench.

All three swing spots, sans Marbury, are average at best, or rather, at worst. There is not one among them that even posts a 16 PER, but neither are they below 14 PER. Having no open sores in your starting line-up is more than can be said for many other teams around the league. Once Marbury returns, the Knicks can go eight players deep ? Marbury, J. Rose, Woods, Crawford, Lee, Curry, Frye, and Butler ? who post average PER or better. Conceivably, by eliminating Robinson and Richardson from the rotation, if the Knicks employed this line-up for a full-season without starting the season 19 games under .500, it would be more than reasonable to expect competition for a playoff berth. But just as importantly it would allow their rookies to receive the playing time they need to develop.