New York Knicks Preseason Preview 2011

[The good folks at CelticsBlog.com, have been kind enough to invite us to participate in the 5th annual blogger preview. Here is my entry.]

Team Name: New York Knicks
Last Year’s Record: 29-53
Key Losses: David Lee, Al Harrington, Chris Duhon, Tracey McGrady, The Stench of Futility
Key Additions: Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike, Ronnie Turiaf, Roger Mason Jr., Landry Fields, Timofey Mozgov

1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?

If you’re reading this section curious about what New York has done, then you’ve probably just awoken from a coma. Although if you’ve been a Knick fan over the last decade, that’s understandable. In any case, let me be the first to give you the good news. New York signed All Star Amar’e Stoudemire this offseason and has room to sign another top free agent. The bad news is that the team was aiming for two of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. Instead the trio have formed the most hated thing this side of Justin Beiber.

The Knicks also inked Raymond Felton to replace the inept Chris Duhon. Although the team did let home grown All Star David Lee go, getting Anthony Randolph in return could neutralize this loss if the young forward can reach his potential. Ronnie Turiaf will provide much needed shot blocking. Second round pick Landry Fields looked quite impressive in summer league, and Timofey Mozgov showed promise for Team Russia.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

The Knicks greatest asset in 2011 should be their athletic versatility. There’s no arguing that Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Anthony Randolph, Ronnie Turiaf, and Timofey Mozgov are more physically able than David Lee, Chris Duhon, Jared Jeffries, Al Harrington, Darko Milicic, and Earl Barron. With a core of Felton, Randolph, and Stoudemire, the team could go big (add Gallinari, and one of Turiaf, Mozgov, Curry) or small (add two of Azubuike, Fields, Walker, Douglas, Mason, or Rautins). D’Antoni should be able to put out some interesting lineups, causing mismatches for their opponents. If Randolph or Gallinari can run the offense like Lee did last year, the Knicks could get very creative on the floor in a point guard-less offense when Felton needs a rest.

If I had to choose a second strength it might be D’Antoni’s offense. The past two seasons New York featured a ragtag lineup due to the state of the franchise from the Isiah Thomas era. In back to back years the Knicks finished 17th in offensive efficiency, and this year’s team seems more tailor made for the coach. Given the pick & roll tandem of Stoudemire & Felton, the outside shooting of Azubuike, Mason, and Rautins, and the development of youngsters Gallinari, Douglas, Walker, and Chandler, D’Antoni should have plenty of weapons to assault opposing defenses.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

New York has been a bad rebounding team for D’Antoni’s tenure, and this is one area Donnie Walsh failed to address in remaking the team. Stoudemire, Gallinari, and Turiaf aren’t good rebounders, and the loss of hyalophile David Lee will hurt the team as well. According to my stat page, the Knicks were 27th on both offensive and defensive rebounding last year. Knick fans who cringe at their team forgoing any second opportunities while allowing tip ins from the opposition will have a furled brow for much of the season. Perhaps Randolph and Mozgov can work their way into heavy minutes and help prevent the bleeding.

Last year the Knicks were tied for 3rd worst defense in the NBA, and it has been a recurring issue with the team for the last decade. The Knicks have some good defensive pieces in Azubuike, Randolph, Douglas, and Turiaf. However most of the team (including the coaching staff) leans to the offensive side of the spectrum. If New York isn’t among the 10 worst defenses this year, it should be considered an accomplishment.

4. What are the goals for this team?

On April 29th, 2001, Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell combined for 44 points and led a Marcus Camby-less New York to victory over Toronto. Despite being up 2 games to 1 in a best of 5 series, the Raptors would win the next two games and knock the Knicks out in the first round. That was the last New York playoff win. The Knicks should aim to end that drought before the streak reaches its 10th birthday. To do so, they’ll need to do better than the 8th seed, since that spot will likely face the Miami Heat, who will likely sweep their first round opponent.

A playoff spot would mean success for the Knicks. A playoff win would be a nice bonus. Anything beyond a second round appearance would be a Gotham fantasy. On the other hand, entering the draft lottery would be seen as a complete failure considering the team has offered Houston the right to swap picks.

5. Who is D’Antoni going to alienate this year?

In 2009, Stephon Marbury was exiled from the team. In 2010 Nate Robinson was chained to the doghouse for most of the year, and was joined by Darko Milicic and Larry Hughes. As I mentioned last year, the D’Antoni Rules aren’t kind to players who aren’t in the rotation. The combination of D’Antoni’s short rotation and his inability to communicate with his players inevitably leads to a player being irate over a lack of playing time. This year’s likely candidate is Mozgov, given his inexperience and D’Antoni’s gigantasophobia. If I had to put money on a dark horse I’d take Turiaf or Chandler. The former has a Twitter predilection that might hit a nerve with the communicationally challenged D’Antoni. The latter because after having no competition at shooting guard for two seasons, Chandler might find himself on the outside looking in. Azubuike, Fields, and even Mason could push Wilson for playing time, and those players fit D’Antoni’s offense better than Chandler.

The U.N. Intramural Squad Or Something More?

Standing outside Madison Square Garden some summers ago, near the atm’s, yards away from Gerry Cosby’s. Through the glass doors, newly hired Knicks boss Donnie Walsh walked out. I watched as he stood there, lit a cigarette, a Clifford Odetts character in the flesh, he shoulda been named Sydney. As in the guy with the job nobody else wanted, toiling under the boss the whole city smirked about, for a franchise in perpetual free-fall. The suit too big, the bags under the eyes, this was a guy, this Donnie Walsh, made Jeff Van Gundy look like Randy Couture. This Donnie Walsh was a guy, you see him in a bar and you’re compelled to buy him a drink, sit him down and tell him (a’la Tony Curtis in The Sweet Smell of Success), “the cat’s in the bag and the bag is in the river.” You tell him run for your life, it’s not too late to quit this job you have undertaken.

I shake his hand and wish him luck, mentioning to we share the same alma mater, Fordham Preparatory School in The Bronx. We alumni refer to it simply as “The Prep.” Learned a lot about patience at “The Prep.” Jesuits are part Obi Wan Kenobi, part F. Lee Ermey, the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket (may he rest in peace).

Donnie Walsh knows a lot about patience having learned from the best. He waited patiently before he removed Isiah Thomas as coach. The replacement, Mike D’Antoni, was known for his seven seconds or less offense, a perception of his teams lack of defense, international fame a result of years playing in Italy, and his ability to recruit all-star talent.

Donnie Walsh had a vision. He waited, traded away the Knicks best players, and watched the team lose to clear cap room and got the Knicks in position to pursue free agents. One can only guess that he painfully watched as several of the bigger names formed their own fantasy basketball camp in South Beach.

Those unsure of his vision for the team need only take a second look at the group now assembled in blue, orange and white. For just a second, forget about the “Chosen One” who chose not to be in the Knicks picture. Look instead at the team Walsh has assembled.

Because it might be that all Donnie Walsh has done is carve a team out of the same stone of which New York City is built. If he pulls it off, if this team wins, ignore the suit, dismiss the wheelchair, if he pulls this off cabbies should scream out “Donnie Basketball” as they drive by.

New York is and always has been a “melting pot” of cultures, religons, ideas, tastes, culinary delights, dances, dialects, music, sounds. Go to Little Italy, Harlem, Chinatown, the Theatre District, Wall Street, the energy is there, distinctive, bright colors, vibrant sounds… one bold experiment.

The 2010 New York Knicks for the first time in franchise history are an extension of the shared experiment that is New York. On the likely fifteen man roster, there’s an Italian, a Russian, a Canadian, a Frenchman (from Martinique), a German, a Londoner, a Jamaican… nearly half the roster are players with passports from their home nations. How will these guys pick what restaurant they eat out at together?

None of this is by accident. Donnie Walsh sought out a “team that made sense…” He sought out personality types as well as skill sets that when together might add up to a sum greater than the parts.

He also sought out individuals who were up to the challenge that is New York, who want to be here. Ask any native New Yorker or passing tourist: when you step out on the streets of New York, you had better be ready. The sidewalk warns “keep up, or get out of the way,” in about twenty different languages. You get the point, whether its a horn, a shout or a finger. At Madison Square Garden, the cheers don’t get any louder in the league, but the same can be said of the boos. On that stage you can become legendary or you can become infamous. In the case of John Starks you can become both. And in New York, you become that for life. Like being a “Parcells Guy.” Or playing for ” Mr. Torre.”

This current team, this 2010 edition seems special. Gallinari the Italian Knick, has in two years proven to be one of the top shooters in the NBA. It is no accident his nickname is “The Rooster,” an inference to his cockiness. The new aquisitions are long on edge. Turiaf, the Frenchman is a veteran willing to dispatch his limbs in the path of those bold enough to speed into his paint. Mozgov, the seven foot one Russian, has displayed a fire and flamboyance, a desire to dunk and block shots. And the Jamacian Jerome Jordan, a seven foot draftee joins him. Anthony Randolph, the German born player, is the simply the second coming of Marcus Camby, an uncanny dunker who posesses a jump shot that at his height is matched only by Kevin Durant. Azibuke, the Londoner, is smooth, among the best shooter/slasher the Knicks have had in a decade. The Canadian, draftee Andy Rautins, a coaches son, and a three point arsonist, who at Syracuse, played his college home games at Madison Square Garden.

They are led by All star Amare Stoudamire and Raymond Felton, both provide leadership and heart. The New York Knicks may have quietly turned the corner. The J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets finished a game away from the Superbowl as that team took on the attitude of its new coach.

This team, Donnie’s team, seems to be an extension of a vision, perhaps without a single name written on it, but rather characteristics, personality traits, skill sets.

How will they fare? Will they simply look like the United Nations Intramural squad, against say the Celtics? We’ll know soon. The New York Knicks will unveil their new look in Milan and Paris this fall as part of an NBA Global initiative. The anticipation is high. The Dallas Cowboys and the Atlanta Braves once laid claim to “America’s Team.”
Now the stage is set for the 2010 New York Knicks, The World’s Team.
Knick fans across the globe can dream of the playoffs in English, Italian, Russian, French, German or the language of their choice.

If they win, we should all give “Donnie Basketball” the credit for having the vision.

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!

Crawford traded for Harrington

Rumors reported at the Knicks Fix and the New York Post. So what would these deals mean to the teams involved?

UPDATE: ESPN is reporting the deal is a Crawford for Harrington straight swap.

Crawford for Harrington

Does it work for the Knicks: Yes.

Walsh lavished tons of praise on Crawford when he arrived in New York, but who knows what he was really thinking. Obviously getting under the cap is a priority for the Knicks, so it’s possible that he’s willing to sacrifice Jamal for the greater good. Or it’s also possible that Walsh’s kind words were a way to increase his value so to trade him. Maybe watching Jamal’s inability to fight through anything resembling a screen up close soured Walsh on Jamal. The Knicks are deep at guard, and if they get desperate enough they can activate Marbury.

Does it work for the Warriors: Yes.

Harrington has been feuding with coach Don Nelson & has appeared in only 5 games this year, so the Warriors aren’t really losing anything by trading him. In Crawford they get another scorer, something Nellie can’t have enough of in his system. And Golden State is short a guard with Ellis’ injury. It’s possible that Nelson can get Jamal to improve his play, but even as-is he’ll help them out more than Harrington currently is

Malik Rose for Harrington

Does it work for the Knicks: Yes.

They’re not saving any cap here, since Malik’s deal runs out this year. But they’re getting a more serviceable player in Harrington. Rose is one of the smarter players in the league, but watching him trying to score in the paint with George Constanza’s ups has become almost comical.

Does it work for the Warriors: No.

It doesn’t make sense for Golden State other than slashing a year off Rose’s deal. Hoopshype has them at $39M next summer with Harrington, but they don’t have Ellis & Biedrins at $21M total. So they would be at about $50M next year – I’m not sure if that’s a big enough savings to dump Harrington. They would not benefit this year with this kind of deal. Unless the Knicks are sweetening the pot (and I don’t mean Mardy Collins), they could do a lot better than Malik Rose.

Quentin Richardson for Harrington

Does it work for the Knicks: Maybe.

Unlike Rose, Richardson is mildly useful, and the Knicks are paper thin at small forward. Richardson is actually shooting well (3P%: 38.6%, eFG%: 54.3%, TS%: 56.8) and can rebound (6.8 REB/36). However he seems to have lost his ability to create shots, and doesn’t score much (13.0 PTS/36). Harrington could play SF, but like his former coach Mike D’Antoni likes to play small, which means Harrington would probably see a lot of minutes at the 4 as well. Harrington would be an upgrade over Richardson, but it’s a lateral move.

Does it work for the Warriors: No, not really.

Richardson’s contract is almost as big, and just as long as Al Harrington. Is Quentin Richardson an upgrade over Al Harrington? So why is Golden State doing this move? Other than to dump Harrington for a semi-live body, beats me.

Zach Randolph and Mardy Collins to the Clippers
Jamal Crawford to the Warriors
Cuttino Mobley, Al Harrington, and Tim Thomas to the Knicks

Does it work for the Knicks: Yes.

This would hurt the team this year, as the Knicks would be thin in the frontcourt. David Lee, Al Harrington, Wilson Chandler, Tim Thomas, Jared Jeffries?, Eddy Curry?, Danilo Gallinari?, and Jerome James? One thing is for certain – Lee’s rebounding would almost have to go up due to the lack of competition. The timing would be almost just right with Jeffries scheduled to come back from injury in the next week. And they would get enough players to offset the major minutes lost to Randolph & Crawford.

But from a salary cap perspective, this deal is nearly a home run. New York sheds nearly $29M in 2010 and the only overpriced contract would be Eddy Curry’s $11M (and perhaps Jared Jeffries $7M). It would be the first step toward respectability, and would be a major victory for Walsh to get rid of these contracts only a month into the season.

Does it work for the Warriors: Yes.

It’s the same deal as #1.

Does it work for the Clippers: Yes.

Los Angeles tried to extract a draft pick for taking Randolph’s contract off New York’s hands over the summer. It’s ironic that the Knicks appeared to be the desperate ones this summer, and the Clippers operating from a position of strength. However 11 games into the season, and the tables have turned.The Clippers are 2-9 with the league’s second worst offense. With their new acquisitions Baron Davis (29 yrs) and Marcus Camby (34 yrs) being on the downside of their career, the Clippers need to start winning now. Randolph will give Los Angeles some scoring and should compliment the defensively minded Camby & Kaman.

Hahn: Grizzlies/Knicks Can’t Meet On Zach Deal

Yesterday Alan Hahn reported that the possible deal between the Knicks and Grizzlies is dead. Although the deal seemed to “heat up” as the papers caught wind of it, New York President Donnie Walsh called the deal “dormant” more than a week ago.

Knick fans are probably unhappy with the news, as most fans are anxious to see Randolph in another uniform just so that David Lee can inherit the starting role. I put myself in the position that I’d rather see no deal than a deal that hurts the Knicks. Trading Randolph fits with both the short and long term plans of New York, and it’s entirely possible that the Knicks can get a better deal down the road. At worst you’d think the Memphis deal should still be available in February.

There is other thing I noticed in Hahn’s article:

It was the second time this offseason that a chance to move Randolph’s three-year, $48 million contract did not result in a trade. The Clippers had interest in him back in July, but also wanted the Knicks to give up a first-rounder in a deal that would have sent a second-round pick to New York. Walsh said no to that and the Clippers instead traded the second-rounder to Denver for Marcus Camby.

Like myself, Hahn believes that Los Angeles wanted a first round pick in order to take Randolph off New York’s hands. To me it doesn’t make sense that New York would refuse to trade Randolph for nothing in return to the Clippers, then work on a deal for Darko & Marko with the Grizzlies. Given Donnie Walsh’s tenure in the business, it seems to make more sense that the Clips wanted a first rounder instead of Walsh failing to realize that getting nothing for Randolph was a smart deal.

And this from Hahn’s chat:

[Comment From Big Wayne]
If Jamal Crawford has a breakout season this year under Mike D, do you think he’ll opt out of his deal next summer?? Would it be a good thing or a bad thing if he did that??

I think he will, Wayne and if I were his agent I’d advise him to. Jamal is nearing 30 so this may be his only time to cash in with free agency. I think if he has a breakout, all-star type year, he would have to opt out. Now, would Jamal agree to take around the same amount of money (which helps the Knicks payroll) in exchange for a long-term committment? That’s what we have to see. It’s a critical year for Jamal. He has to prove not only that he can consistently score and play defense, but he can be a leader, too.

This is interesting. Let’s just assume that Hahn’s correct and Jamal does opt out. If the Knicks don’t resign him, they’d be saving $10M in 2010. This would leave the Knicks with a hole at shooting guard, unless they can get a good shooting guard in the draft, cheaply in free agency, or as their big free agent in 2010 (Wade?). However Walsh has said publicly that he likes Crawford (on many occasions) so you’d have to wonder if he’d offer Jamal a long term deal to stay.

Knicks Sign Roberson

The Post is reporting that the Knicks have agreed in principle on a two-year deal with Anthony Roberson. (I always want to call him El Roberson, after the former Kansas State quarterback. Note: Anthony has nothing to do with El as far as I know.) What remains unclear is whether the second year of the league minimum deal will be a team option year. Since the signing puts the team one guaranteed contract over the limit other deals will be forthcoming, and this may spell the end for Marbury in NY. Certainly, one possible reading of Marbury’s interview on yesterday’s replay of the Knicks/Cavs game strongly suggests that he thinks he will be moved. “I just want to play, no matter where it is…” “It’s a business. I understand that…” Of course, even if Marbury thinks he’ll be moved that doesn’t mean he will be. The Knicks could clear a roster spot in any number of other ways. Donnie Walsh allegedly already passed up an offer from the Clippers; Zach Randolph for a second round pick in a straight salary dump. Presumably, he’s holding out for a bigger deal. (Interestingly, the Clips actually made that deal–only for Marcus Camby instead of Zeebo.) The Knicks are also widely thought to be entertaining buyouts for Jerome James (or perhaps an injury settlement) and potentially Mardy Collins (who incidentally looks a lot better–quicker–at the lighter weight). Malik Rose’s expiring contract could also potentially be a part of a pre-season deal. So, although this move does not absolutely spell the end of Marbury’s return to NY he may want to stop by the Post Office and pick up one of those “So, You’re Moving?” packets. They’re chock full of useful information, sometimes even coupons.

As for Roberson, it appears the Knicks see him as an end-of-the-bench shooter in the mold of an Eddie House. In that sense I have no specific issue with the signing on its own merits. As pointed out in a previous post, Roberson’s a shoot first (second and third) guard. His low assist rate (8%) and high usage rate (21.4%) make it a stretch to refer to him as a combo guard as the Post does (and as the MSG crew did during the telecast). Recalling his play at the University of Florida (on the same team as David Lee) I am reminded of the old Nike Basketball ad with Gary Payton and Jason Kidd where the pair show up at a boy’s house to confiscate his basketball because he refuses to share it. After dusting the ball for prints and finding only the boy’s, Payton says, “You ain’t even lettin’ the ground touch the ball!” That’s Roberson’s game–pure gunner. Fortunately, in his brief stints for Golden State and Memphis he has shot the ball reasonably well.