It seems beside the point to pick the Knicks apart after the game that just happened. The offense had some sloppy stretches and the shot selection wasn’t great — though the shot-making mostly was — and consistent rim protection remains an issue (to which we say: more Aldrich). We’re not dwelling on that stuff. We’ve got 80 more games to overanalyze and I’m sure we will. That’s not what this is about.
There is a duality to the nature of each regular season NBA game that can be very easy to overlook during the January “@MIL’s” and March “vs.ORL’s” whose like gives an NBA schedule its critical mass. One game is a component of a six-month whole, a chapter in a broader narrative, a tally in a column whose final sum determines whether you go onward to glory or just back home. We never forget this. But the other piece of the story is the one that makes so many of the very best nights, like this one, worth our while.
Because even as one game is a piece of a puzzle, it’s also a completed puzzle unto itself.
LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers drew the absolute maximum amount of attention to this latter element of their season opener’s nature. Downtown Cleveland was a block party and celebrities were on hand and commercials were filmed and inspiring team videos were compiled. This is all absolutely within the rights of the city and the franchise and the man. Notwithstanding the parallels between this team’s pre-emptive self-congratulation and the selfsame city’s vilification of James for similar (though gaudier, less sentimental) behavior upon his arrival in South Beach, the approach can be understood, expected, condoned.
But there was, of course, another team in Cleveland tonight, a team that has undertaken a difficult transition and that got absolutely shellacked on the occasion of its own home opener. Put simply: the Knicks were an easy target. And LeBron’s Thursday morning claim that this was “one of the biggest sporting events…ever” juxtaposed against the ‘Bockers’ general existential disarray gave the impression — intentionally haughty or not — that tonight’s contest was to be more coronation than competition.
Well, whatever great many things may be said about the 2014-15 New York Knicks, let this one thing be added to them: they were not here to be extras in the climactic scene of LeBron James’ Grand Redemption.
LeBron and the Cavs will have many, many great nights this season. They will win games that stand on their own as singular paragons of beautiful, lethal offense. They will rock the Q and energize their city. They will comprise new and glorious chapters of James’ already remarkable story. And, collectively, these nights will almost surely carry the Cavaliers into a postseason that could see them ease the expectant, six-decade-long angst of a city’s sports faithful. And it could be truly beautiful.
The Knicks, just as surely, will not do these things. They’ll win some games and occasionally impress and there will be nights — hopefully many — like tonight that are a lot of fun. But their ceiling is fundamentally lower, their ambitions more humble, their potential more limited. And so it would be easy to look at a night like tonight through cynical eyes and say “well, that was fun, but it’s the second night of the season and there are long months ahead and the Cavs will have the last laugh.”
But that’s only part of the story. When the Knicks got bucket after bucket every time the Cavs closed within striking distance, when Carmelo Anthony buried a dagger in LeBron’s mug, when the entire crunch-time unit swarmed and scurried and smothered their way to that breathtaking, ultimately backbreaking final defensive possession, the Knicks did more than stretch their record to 1-1. They prevailed in a clash that mattered on its own merits, that the Cavs and their uberstar had built up to something in between the Miracle on Ice and the Toon Squad’s clash with the Monstars, only way more redundantly sponsored. They emerged victorious on a night that, no matter how many titles LeBron and his Cavs may win, the Cleveland faithful will never be able to say was the coronation that they had fancied it to be.
The Cavs wake up the Cavs tomorrow. The Knicks wake up the Knicks. But on one night of eighty-two, a rebuilding team reminded us that though they might not pile up enough victories to take us where we want to go, they will give us moments of genuine joy and inspiration on an otherwise weary road. And those moments are to be cherished because, in the final analysis, they’re the reason we stick around.
The 2014-15 Knicks can only be who they are, can only rise to the occasions that fate lays before them. Tonight, the occasion was LeBron James’ homecoming.
Well, welcome home.
Ace ESPN New York scribe Ohm Youngmisuk has a new article out on ESPN.com, wherein he transcribes various discussions he’s had with various Knicks’ personnel that suggest that one Earl Joseph Smith — presumably some 20+ years into the organized-basketball-playing portion of his mortal life — has come to understand some nuances of the sport that had previously escaped him. Like “your team gets points when other people wearing the same color shirt as you put the orange thingy through that netty job” and “try to defend someone sometimes.” We’ll take this one FJM style:
The adjustment to the triangle offense has been “a struggle” for J.R. Smith, and it isn’t just because the system is foreign to him.
Is it because he’s a crazy person? I bet it’s because he’s a crazy person. Let’s find out.
A candid Smith admitted that he must alter his shooter mentality and wrap his mind around the team-first concept being preached by Knicks coach Derek Fisher and president Phil Jackson.
“…and every other coach he’s ever had but whose lectures about team basketball he missed because he was imagining what it would be like if halfcourt shots were worth 40 points.”
And it hasn’t been the smoothest transition for the former Sixth Man of the Year, who has been trying not to force shots.
J.R. Smith last season: 14.2 FGA/36; .415 FG%; .514 eFG%; 3.3 Assists/36
J.R. Smith this preseason: 14.9 FGA/36; .392 FG%; .490 eFG%; 3.5 Assists/36
“Yeah, absolutely,” Smith said when asked if he has had to make a conscious effort to play differently. “I mean, believe it or not, being the type of player I’ve been, it’s a struggle. I’m not going to lie.”
I believe that you are not lying about this.
“Trying to think about the rest of the team over myself or my scoring is something that I never really had to do before,” Smith continued.
I do not believe that you are not lying about this because I have seen Knicks’ games before and the result is not determined by comparing “JR Smith points” to “Opposing team points.”
“I’ve always been in a situation to score, [now I’m] in position to take my time and let the game come and let my teammates succeed more than myself, I think that’s the ultimate win.”
It’s not actually the “ultimate” win. It’s just “winning.” That’s what you call it when your team outscores the other team. Also, this is not unique to the triangle and, thus, not germane to a discussion of what is new this season.
The Knicks’ adjustment to the triangle, not just physically but mentally, will take time.
JR Smith somehow not knowing that “team offense is important” is basically agnostic as to any particular offensive system but, OK, I’m with you.
It has not been easy so far in the preseason for the Knicks,
Accurate as to effect.
Inaccurate as to cause.
Smith admitted his struggles after scoring five points in 23 minutes in a 103-100 win over the Wizards on Wednesday night.
A game in which he actually did take fewer shots and had a passable .500 eFG% AND the Knicks beat a good team. So, if this is an example of his “struggles” then he (or someone else) fundamentally misunderstands the thing that the first 2/3 of the article says he’s been spending the preseason learning.
This preseason, Smith is averaging 8.5 points and shooting 39 percent from the field in six preseason games. Smith said Fisher has explained why the team-first mentality that comes with the triangle works.
This is admirable, despite how odd it seems to me that he actually needs to be told this.
Fisher says the project of installing the triangle and the overhaul in mentality will not happen overnight.
“You know J.R. like many players, this is difficult to do,” Fisher said at practice Thursday. “Last night, we talked about we’re not just installing new software to the computer. We’re building a computer from scratch, and that’s not easy to do.”
Especially when one of the cores in the computer’s processor has spent the last 20 years being programmed to use all system resources to run GIFs of J.R. Smith hitting contested threes.
When Jackson took over as team president of the Knicks, one of his major goals was to develop a new culture and way of thinking in the franchise. Like he did with his previous stops with the Bulls and Lakers, Jackson wants his players to think about the team first, shedding all individualistic tendencies.
W/R/T the Bulls: Who besides Jordan had “individualistic tendencies” before Jackson’s arrival? Did he really have to convince Craig Hodges to stop being a black hole?
W/R/T the Lakers: Kobe and Shaq destroyed a dynasty that still had legs, largely through those “individualistic tendencies.”
Don’t get me wrong, Jackson does a great job managing egos. But this is stated a bit too strongly. Also: all non-Craig Hodges players listed above are top-15 all time NBA players. J.R. Smith might be a top-15 2014 Eastern Conference wing player.
In an interview with Charley Rosen for ESPN.com, Jackson said Smith has to improve his shot selection and trust the triangle.
“J.R. Smith is easily the best athlete on the team,” Jackson said. “But J.R. has to learn the difference between a good shot and a bad shot. He has to trust that the triangle will create good shots and to avoid searching for his own shot.
“His defense also needs work because he tends to be a ball-watcher, and he’s late in chasing his man around screens when he should be tailgating him,” Jackson added. “Defense is the key to any winning team, so Smith has to really work hard on his deficiencies in training camp.”
100% of these things were also true before this season but if the triangle construct actually helps Phil get through to him on this point then more power to him and all the more reason it’s a great hire.
Carmelo Anthony wants Smith to know he is not alone in this transition or “test” as the Knicks’ franchise star described it.
“I don’t think it’s a struggle for J.R.,” said Anthony, who scored 30 points and beat the Wizards with a shot and the foul for a game-winning, 3-point play with 13.9 seconds on Wednesday. “It’s something new for everybody. It’s a test. It’s a new system. … I can just put my arm around him and tell him be patient.”
“It’s going to work itself out,” Anthony added. “And the more we play, the more we’re going to get used to this system, the more we’re going to find where he can be productive, I can be productive, everybody can be productive.”
Anthony made it clear that he needs Smith this season.
“It’s easy to feel like you’re kind of left out of what’s going on, [but] everybody is going through the same thing,” Anthony said. “He’ll be all right. It’s preseason. We need him. He knows we need him. We know we need him. He’s a big part of what we’re trying to do.”
No snark here: I LOVE this passage. It’s what we need from Melo. He just committed the rest of his prime to this franchise and this is perhaps the single best quote I’ve seen in his time here indicating that he plans to embrace his role as the leader of this team from every angle. Awesome.
Less than a week, everybody!
Tonight the Knicks and Celtics had a preseason game scheduled. If you choose to accept that it happened, feel free to comment on it below. If you want to believe that summer can last forever and backdoor cuts past an unsuspecting Andrea Bargnani are still a glimmer in the eye of a distant autumn, then by all means fly away from these parts like a beggar on his wish-horse. Whatever happened tonight (which I’m not conceding was ANYTHING) is the first warm-up stretch before an 8-month-long marathon and it’s hardly the time to pull a muscle or — if I may terminate the extended metaphor and speak plainly — have a rage-stroke. Let’s play this one all calm-like.
Or, talk about it below. At your own risk.
Stay gold, Ponyboys and Ponygirls.
PS: Who wore it better?!
When asked if his suit was selected by a personal stylist, Fisher replied:
|Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 30 MIN | 5-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | -11Mike Woodson : Amar’e Stoudemire getting important minutes :: The Captain of the Titanic : The TitanicHere’s a quick shot of Amar’e looking slightly out of position while trying to defend Chris Bosh:
|Carmelo Anthony, SF 44 MIN | 4-17 FG | 4-5 FT | 5 REB | 6 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | 0After the Knicks opened the game on a 16-3 run, they attempted long twos on five of their next six possessions, missing all five and immediately letting the Heat back in the game. Three of those misses were Melo’s, none of them especially open or at a juncture in the shot clock where settling for them was necessary. I’m not of the mindset that a team that builds is offense around Melo has inherently limited its ability to compete with the NBA’s elite but plenty of people are of precisely that mindset and when they have their day in court, they could do worse than choosing for their Exhibit A the middle four minutes of the first quarter of this afternoon’s game. 4-for-17 in the end and I suppose the bumps and bruises will bear the brunt of the blame but unless those bumps were to his head they don’t explain why someone who has basically plead no contest to the argument that he can’t be a scorer right now is still shooting so much.|
|Tyson Chandler, C 34 MIN | 4-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | +6Of everything the Knicks might at some point regret about the 2013-14 season, not trading Tyson Chandler while he was still perceived as an elite rebounder/finisher/rim protector will likely stand out the most. And I’m on the record going the other way on this one: I love the guy and hope he retires a Knick just because I’m a sappy sentimentalist who has been given far to little to latch on to and care about and stick up for this past decade and change. But he’s rapidly approaching “commodity big” territory which still makes him an asset with some market value but not the kind of piece for whom you’re going to command high-end building blocks. Anyway, a 10 and 11 tonight and a C+ on the defensive end and just a whole lot of nothing that a dozen or so other guys who make less money couldn’t have given you and not caused you to give a second thought to it.|
|Raymond Felton, PG 31 MIN | 6-12 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 5 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 15 PTS | +1015 and 5 on 12 shots with 4 steals and 3 turnovers? Seven days a week and twice on Sundays, friends, even if it wasn’t enough for us to win this one.|
|J.R. Smith, SG 43 MIN | 11-28 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 32 PTS | -5Everybody acts like J.R. Smith is some big mystery that needs solving. He’s not. Let me spoil the ending for you: when he 1) makes his threes and 2) gets to the free throw line, he’s very good. When he doesn’t, he isn’t. The rest is basically in the eye of the beholder and we’re all a lot more willing to focus on the good and gloss over the bad when he’s getting his points efficiently. Which he did today so that’s Good JR and a good grade and a “this one’s not your fault” but it says nothing about what J.R. he’ll be tomorrow or the day after or in Round 1 of the rapidly evaporating postseason.|
|Jeremy Tyler, PF 0 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0No need.|
|Cole Aldrich, C 0 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0Nahhhhhh.|
|Pablo Prigioni, PG 17 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -21No me gusta.|
|Iman Shumpert, SG 28 MIN | 3-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 8 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | -6Getting his mojo back just a little bit to my eyes: smarter defense (less of the cartoonish over-helping), better rebounding, three point stroke looked cleaner today (though 2 of 6 is about the dictionary definition of “pedestrian” from that range). Once again leading the war of attrition with Tim Hardaway, Jr. to determine who the Knicks most promising young player is.|
|Tim Hardaway Jr., SG 12 MIN | 0-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -26Good Lord, look at that line! Brutally, painfully awful and with a streak of insult to injury when he wrapped LeBron up on a fastbreak and the King still finished the layup like he was placing it through a Little Tikes hoop in his backyard with his young son hugging his leg. What a nightmare. This is why we can’t have nice things.|
Two Things We Saw
- I started watching this game from the beginning on my TiVo at a time when I already knew the Knicks to be down 11 in the fourth quarter. This only served to make it a fact, rather than a strongly-held suspicion and a general testament to my well-honed cynical streak, that the Knicks’ 16-3 start would ultimately prove meaningless.
- In itself, this was a garden-variety loss to a very good team and not much reason for alarm (aside, of course, from the small and vanishing margin of error that the Knicks have afforded themselves). It’s just that you get the sense from this team that they have spent the whole season expecting a moment to come when a switch would flip and all of the chances that they’ve spent the better part of 6 months squandering would fade into irrelevance and they would make their run and it would take them where they had to go. And slowly over these past few weeks they’ve built up enough steam to let the guys on the court and in the front office and, to some extent, up on the terraces finally get to say “here it is, now it’s happening.” And losses like this – against the kind of team that knows the value of a shot and a possession and a victory and a title – feel worse than they really should, if only because they reek of reality and of broken optimism. They shine a light from the summit that the Heat have scaled. And the light casts a dark shadow whose shape is that of the towering precipice to which all NBA franchises aspire. And the length of the shadow tells us just how far it looms above the ledge where we’ve set up camp for the evening.
Morning, gang. I’m excited to report that I posted my first piece for Hardwood Paroxysm today. It deals, as you might expect, with the seemingly impending Phil Jackson hire, why it probably won’t work, and why it still might work.
Here’s some of it:
Where some billionaires buy art or cars or pricey new gadgets, Dolan buys Big Names. They are his vanity pieces. Their success and creativity qualifies them as things worthy of his possession, even his desire, but like any good vanity piece, they…well, it’s right there in the name. When that same success and creativity stop serving his vanity, when they instead challenge his vision of himself and his own place in the NBA pecking order, when they suggest a change in the obviously flawed direction in which Dolan and his coterie of yes-men and doormats have taken the Knicks, they cease to serve their purpose. Once that happens, they’re just high-paid, highly-visible reminders that lots of really smart people don’t think James Dolan is particularly capable of owning a winning NBA franchise. And then it’s over, just as it would be over if you hung a painting on your wall and all of a sudden it started talking to you when you had company over, telling you to get up off the couch and do a load of laundry and for the love of God call your parents every now and then.
Yes, this will probably fail. And yes, it’s still the right move.
Here’s the rest of it.
Happy reading and may your days be full of sunshine, smiles, and Buddhist executives.