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Sunday, August 31, 2014

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.

30 comments on “The U.N. Intramural Squad Or Something More?

  1. TDM

    Great post, Lee. I am fairly optimistic that we will see big strides in the right direction this season. I am not as enthusiastic about some of NY’s newest acquisitions as you are (Rautins, Mozgov, and even Randolph to some extent), however I am hopeful.

    Obviously, one unexpected bright spot not mentioned in your post, Fields, has already exceeded the expectations of most KB posters. In fact, I just read that he made second team for the summer league: http://www.opposingviews.com/i/nba-announces-2010-summer-league-all-rookie-teams

    Lots to be excited about.

  2. Z-man

    Good job, Lee. And good follow-up, TDM. The exciting thing about this team is that: 1) will be fun to root for, 2) is loaded with very young players with tantalizing upside, 3) had trade bait should a desirable move come along, 4) is under the cap, 5) has a GM who knows what he’s doing, 6) has a coach who, while not Red Holtzman, finally has a team that suits his exciting brand of b-ball, and 7) has a perennial all-star big man in his prime.

    What a contrast from the impossibly capped out team of Steph, Jamal, Q, Zach, Eddy, and of course, Isiah.

  3. mase

    Walsh may be in tight spot if Melo becomes available because they would want gallo and randolph back in any trade

  4. Ted Nelson

    mase: Walsh may be in tight spot ifMelo becomes available because they would want gallo and randolph back in any trade  

    I would edit that to say Gallo or Randolph. They’re not going to realistically get both of those guys in a trade, or similar from any other team.

    However, as long as Melo doesn’t re-sign with Denver he’s a free agent at the end of the season (and if he does re-sign they’re not going to trade him). A. This weakens Denver’s bargaining position as he becomes a possible 1 year rental and teams know that Denver risks losing him after the season. And B. Walsh can just wait till next offseason if he’s interested in Melo. Keep both Gallo and Randolph. A and B are inter-related, because teams will look at B. and ask why they should mortgage their future to get a guy with an expiring deal who might walk away that they can just take a run at in free agency… Maybe some team decides to go all-in for Melo, but again if he doesn’t sign an extension the Knicks can just make their run this offseason with a stronger sales pitch because they still have Gallo and Randolph.

  5. rama

    If we sign Melo, do we still have the cap space to sign CP3 the following year? (If either is available, of course, which isn’t certain.)

  6. Z

    Lee– nice post, rose-colored glasses and all!

    I had a brief encounter with Donnie once too. He sat next to me at a Clippers game in Staples. It was several Februarys ago, during one of Amar’e's annual pilgrimages to Phoenix’s trading block. I asked him if he was going to try to trade David Lee for Amar’e. He said: “Amar’e who?”

  7. Ted Nelson

    DS: The inconvenient truth is N.O. would have to be insane to deal CP3. They’re not too far removed from the conf. finals., Okafor and West and Peja are a decent supporting cast, I think they can prob. deal Collison for an upgrade at another starting position, and they’re not paying luxury taxes anymore.
    * Further evidence D. Lee is a great guy: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/20/sports/basketball/20lee.html?_r=1&ref=sports  

    Insane to deal him now (unless they were absolutely blown away), but they can’t stop him from becoming a FA in 2012 if he feels like it. Most (realistic) people are thinking long-term on Paul I would say. Next offseason NO might even be wise to trade him if they have a disappointing season and think he’s walking… not get caught with their pants down like Raps and Cavs this offseason. Depending on how much they want the Knicks (and other teams) might be wiser to wait till free agency. Will be interesting. First thing Paul has to do is prove he’s healthy and regain his All-NBA form.

  8. Kevin McElroy

    Nice job on this. One thing though — Anthony Randolph doesn’t have the 2nd best jumper at his size in the League (Nowitzki), on the team (Gallo), or really even in the trade that brought him here (Lee, although he’s an inch shorter i suppose). Shot 30% on threes last year and not much different on long twos (http://hoopdata.com/player.aspx?name=Anthony%20Randolph). If he becomes that kind of shooter he will be a perennial All-Star, so I like the optimistm.

    Also ‘Cuse plays its home games at the Carrier Dome and not the Garden — although St. John’s would barely have a right to protest an Orange invasion of their arena with the type of “basketball” they’ve been playing the last half-decade or more.

  9. Caleb

    Yeah, I would say the unique thing about Randolph’s game is his handle… he has a true small forward’s game, at 6’10 – good passer, too. And can still rebound. I’m a big fan – think he’s headed for Odom/Smith/Kirilenko territory. If he learns how to really shoot, he’ll be an MVP candidate. I’m not banking on it.

    All that seems so petty after reading such a great portrait!

    Thanks, Lee.

  10. Kevin McElroy

    If you remove shooting percentages (and obviously you can’t) Randolph’s first two years basically replicate KG’s at the same age. If the jumpshot comes, this will go down as an historically great trade.

  11. Ted Nelson

    Kevin McElroy: If you remove shooting percentages (and obviously you can’t) Randolph’s first two years basically replicate KG’s at the same age.If the jumpshot comes, this will go down as an historically great trade.  

    Good point, Kevin. Randolph has been quite good at a very young age, which is pretty rare and an encouraging sign (as I think it’s Caleb who always points out).

    Even the scoring efficiency isn’t that different (Randolph took a lot more FTs). KG was actually a lot worse rebounder (still under-developed and played a lot of 3 as I remember), but a significantly better passer (a raw skill Randolph has but hasn’t made any use of).

    The area where KG dominates Randolph is minutes played. This may prove to be insignificant. Randolph had injuries, came into a more veteran team, and played for an unpredictable coach in Don Nelson. However, it might also point to a difference in work ethic and attitude. It remains to be seen if Anthony Randolph has the mental toughness to be as great a defender and KG. KG’s attitude, work ethic, leadership are pretty top-of-the-line.

    I’d say passing and overall defense are as hard or harder to develop as a decent jump shot. KG is not a great scorer, after all, just a good one… if Randolph develops a great jumper and becomes Nowitzki scoring it and KG in all other areas… forget it he’s an all-time great. That’s a wildly best-case, though. The most encouraging thing is that he could develop barely at all from his 20 year old form–in a reasonable worst case scenario–and still be a useful NBA rotation player. Somewhere in the middle and Caleb’s “Odom/Smith/Kirilenko territory” seems like a good description… some combo of those guys skills. Maybe throw in a Marion (Suns version) too should his 3per become respectable.

  12. Kevin McElroy

    Stat-wise the encouraging thing about Randolph — aside from the rebounding and blocks — is the frequency with which he gets to the line and the success he has once there.

    In extremely limited minutes last year, Randolph averaged 6.5 FT per 36 mins and converted 80% of them. The list of Knicks who have both gotten to the line and converted from the line that well over a full season in the last 40 years? Stephon Marbury, Bill Cartwright, Walt Frazier.

  13. Caleb

    Ted Nelson:
    Randolph has been quite good at a very young age, which is pretty rare and an encouraging sign (as I think it’s Caleb who always points out).

    You’re drinking my Kool-Aid!

  14. Ted Nelson

    BBA, He’ll probably continue to produce. You never know, though.

    Kevin, FT% is definitely encouraging in that it may indicate he has the touch and just needs to develop some consistency/range/shot-selection on his J. Then again the consistency may never come.

  15. taggart4800

    I thought it prudent, with the focus of the above article, to note once again that i am an English Knicks fan.
    I visited New York, and America for that matter, for the first time in 2005. Now we are all too aware of the state of New York basketball at that time, however i began to become really involved in basketball. This love of basketball was increased when i was unable to watch a game whilst out there. It ate away at me all the way home despite having had an amazing time in the best city of them all.
    As the months went by i watched obscene volumes of highlights and interviews of Isiah’s Knicks, and in my ignorance i did not realise they were actually useless.
    My love of Basketball and the Knicks was the driving force behind my relocation in Charlotte where i have had the chance to see first hand just how bad they have been.
    But it got me to wondering ‘why do i love the knicks?’.
    It really didn’t take me long to realise that not only is New Yrk the most recognisable place in america but also the most global. It is more akin to the rest of the world than any other city i have visited. New York fans have the same edge and passion that fans of football and cricket have in England and Europe.
    Don’t get me wrong the quality of life in Charlotte is just lovely but winning an NBA title here would be the most underwhelming experience there has ever been in sports. That despite the strong Basktball associations with the area.
    This then lead me to realise why i feel so strongly about two things.
    Firstly just how catastrophically bad ‘The Decision’ was. I truely believe that the AAA will be rocking for the 1st season of dominance and then maybe for the 2nd but it really isn’t as passionate about sports as the major markets. Then for all his posturing and media manipulation, the very aptly named ‘Beta Dog’, will become somewhat marginalised and get ichy feet again.
    The fact that James decided to crush Cleveland to essentially play with his ‘buddies’ in a poor sports city will forever cast shadows over his character, not just his abilities as a player.
    Ironically, on the home page of realgm, there was a picture of KD sat smiling at a microphone beneath the headline of Jordan calling out James. All hail King Kevin, although i seem to think he is somewhat to humble and intelligent to think that that kind of self promotion is ever going to be necessary.
    Conversely these reasons are exactly why i am so jealous not to be living in NY this year. For the first time since i have been a Knick fan, let alone the bloggers on this site that sucked me into everything Knickerbocker, this Knicks team have the ability to turn MSG into the fortress it rightfully should be. They run the risk of being weak on the road but that i am sure will be compensated by a strong home record. As Mr Lee Davis so elequenty depicted, this team, with its eclectic mix of talent will not only stir the Garden into a frenzy but turn the Knicks into a global team. After years of watching terrible malcontents bicker and argue i am thrilled at the prospect of watching the Knicks for Basketball reasons rather than whether they can find a way of making LARRY HUGHES perform on a consistentt basis.
    All hail KING DONNIE

  16. d-mar

    Randolph is the kind of young player that during the “dark years”, always seemed to be on the opposing team doing something spectacular, and we’d watch and think “how come we don’t have guys like that?” Now we finally do, and it should be fun to watch.

  17. carlhil2

    All that i have to say is, after watching youtube highlights of AR on D, i became a fan. he may be a tad light in the….you know, he seemed to get back to make the block. if he turn the rock over, he would not quit, making the highlight film block, and also, did you see the block on Tyrus Thomas? he almost ended money’s career!

  18. massive

    Is it too early to start making predictions for the Most Improved Player award? I think its gonna be one of our guys.

  19. carlhil2

    massive, i hope that it is Gallo, because it would mean that, with D. Lee gone and the more athletic guys brought in, he had stepped his game up.

  20. Ted Nelson

    From my observations MIP is usually all about per game stats–mostly points–and usually goes to someone who improves to around the 20 ppg mark that designates a “star” to the mainstream media. The team improving from year-to-year is also a cinsideration.

    So, yeah, Gallo’s a good candidate to jump from 15 ppg to 20 ppg while the Knicks win more games. I think Toney Douglas is a candidate because he only averaged 8.6 ppg on 19.4 mpg last season as a rookie… doubling his per game scoring is pretty realistic if he gets the minutes and takes a step forward in his second season. To me he may be the Knicks’ best guard and should find a way to get around 35 mpg with the current roster. Anthony Randolph I’d also mention. 11.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, and 1.5 bpg should all improve considerably if his minutes jump from 22.7 last season to, say, 35 mpg this season.

  21. carlhil2

    Ted Nelson
    July 21, 2010 at 10:14 am”Anthony Randolph I’d also mention. 11.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, and 1.5 bpg should all improve considerably if his minutes jump from 22.7 last season to, say, 35 mpg this season.”…………great point, at LEAST 18, 11 and 2.5 blocks a game with the minutes.

  22. carlhil2

    Amar’e is going to have to be our Garnett, bring the attitude to play SOME d, regardless of the coach! with the guys that we have now, they should be better on D by default!

  23. Nick C.

    Ted Nelson: From my observations MIP is usually all about per game stats–mostly points–and usually goes to someone who improves to around the 20 ppg mark that designates a “star” to the mainstream media. The team improving from year-to-year is also a cinsideration.So, yeah, Gallo’s a good candidate to jump from 15 ppg to 20 ppg while the Knicks win more games. I think Toney Douglas is a candidate because he only averaged 8.6 ppg on 19.4 mpg last season as a rookie… doubling his per game scoring is pretty realistic if he gets the minutes and takes a step forward in his second season. To me he may be the Knicks’ best guard and should find a way to get around 35 mpg with the current roster. Anthony Randolph I’d also mention. 11.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, and 1.5 bpg should all improve considerably if his minutes jump from 22.7 last season to, say, 35 mpg this season.  (Quote)

    Ted I thogyth that and then was looking at BREf and some of the guys and most of them do have jumps in PER and avg/36 like Arenas, Hedu and Diaw so its not totally one-sided with Zach Randolph being the big exception, almost identical /36 #s.

  24. Ted Nelson

    Nick,

    I agree, but I think a big jump in per game numbers/minutes is a prerequisite to be considered for the award. I haven’t checked all the previous winners, though.

    Another candidate has to be Greg Oden if he plays a full season, though minutes will be tight between Przybilla, Camby, and Oden plus the Blazers may try to restrict Oden’s minutes in an attempt to keep him healthy.

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