Interview with Howard Beck (10/12/2010)

Looking for more information on the Knicks this early in the season, I picked up the phone and called Howard Beck of the New York Times. He spent 17 minutes and 33 seconds answering questions about the team.

Mike Kurylo: What’s the mood of the team?

Howard Beck: It’s not easy to detect right now. It’s so early. I think they’re still trying to feel each other out. If you ask they’re all trying to be optimistic, and feeling like they’re in the early stages of something good here. The mood is a hard thing to put their finger on when they’ve only played 2 preseason games and have been in camp for only a couple of weeks. As we’ve all pointed out numerous times – it’s a completely new team, so they’re still trying to feel each other out and figure out what their (team) identity is. It’s early so every team is feeling optimistic and feeling like there are some good days ahead. But with it being so early, it’s just hard to put a label on the Knicks.

Mike Kurylo: How different is this from teams of previous years? Where any of them this optimistic?

Howard Beck: The cliche of October is that everybody feels great about their chances, but with the Knicks it was within a narrow zone of “Hey this year we might get to 35 wins.” This year the difference is a new beginning. The last 5-6 years here, at a minimum, you couldn’t say anything was a new beginning. They had these fake new beginnings, false hopes pinned to “we just got Stephon Marbury” or “we just got Eddy Curry” or “we just got Zach Randolph” and it was always some false promise of a franchise player that couldn’t really lift the franchise. This is the first time the Knicks actually have a true franchise player, someone who is among the best in the league at his position and overall, with Amar’e Stoudemire. So that makes it different. For the first time the players who are still here, and there are only a handful of them, have someone that they can look at and say “that’s our guy”, “that’s our leader”, “he’s not only going to be our leading scorer, but he’s going to be our spiritual leader, our team leader, our morale leader; the guy who sets the tone every day.” So that’s a huge change, because they haven’t had anyone who remotely resembles that in years.

On the other hand since 10 of these guys weren’t even here last year, it’s not the same guys that are coming in, it’s completely new guys. These guys aren’t carrying the burdens of the Stephon Marbury-Isiah Thomas era. Roger Mason, Ronnie Turiaf, Raymond Felton, and Amar’e Stoudemire – they don’t carry the weight of the Knicks misery from the last 5 years. And that’s positive. They don’t have to worry about what the franchise (has been recently). These guys were brought in by Mike D’Antoni and Donnie Walsh to be part of their team, going forward. The last several camps were characterized by guys who were going to be purged or were brought in solely for the purpose for their contract to expire. So the emotional investment of (this year’s team) are deeper.

Mike Kurylo: Speaking of Amar’e – is he really going to play the 4 exclusively, primarily, or occasionally? What’s your take from what you’ve seen in practice?

Howard Beck: That’s a great question because over the last week or so, watching Turiaf struggle a little bit and watching Mozgov flash between promising and foul prone I’ve been thinking about that same thing. And I’ll ask Mike D’Antoni about that today when I get there. In Phoenix, the Suns were widely successful with Amar’e as their so-called undersized/non-traditional center, and I don’t know why the Knicks can’t be successful as well. I think they have to (try) a banger/traditional center next to Amar’e to help him out and keep him out of foul trouble. But I think there is a lot of merit of playing it the Suns way – which is go undersized at every position and just outrun the other team up and down the court. You know there are only a few true centers who are scoring centers in the league anyway, so it’s not as if Amar’e Stoudemire is going to just sit there every night and get banged on by low-post/back-you-down centers. There just aren’t many of them anymore. I think we’ll end up seeing Stoudemire at the 5 a lot, but I think Mike D’Antoni doesn’t want to start that way. He’s inclined to, if he can, keep Amar’e at his natural position.

Mike Kurylo: Let’s talk about one of the guys you mentioned: Mozgov. He looks like a foul machine out there. He’s a big guy that’s very agile for his size, but how is the team working on that? Do they have refs at practice?

Howard Beck: Aside from the occasional scrimmage when you bring in refs, it doesn’t happen much. Most guys have to learn on the fly in exhibition games. He’s got 6 games left, so that’s a lot of time for him to get acclimated and work out all the kinks…

Mike Kurylo: … right, he’s got 36 fouls…

Howard Beck: Exactly, and he’ll use 30 of them, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but you hope his foul rate will go down as he progresses. So if this is a question of his athleticism or his positioning or his technique, I’m not sure I know the answer to that question after two games. But clearly if they want him as their starting center, fouls are the primary area of concern. They know what he can do skill wise. They know he can shoot. They know he can rebound a little and block some shots. They know he can get up and down the court and finish on the break. So can he stay on the floor? Can he not put the other team at the foul line? They still have 6 games to figure that out.

Mike Kurylo: One of the things that D’Antoni talked about was the ability to go 9, 10, or 11 players deep in the rotation. Do you see that as being a reality?

Howard Beck: I think it’s realistic in the sense that he’s got a lot of players who are about even. In the past they were about even because unfortunately they were all equally mediocre. Right now they have some guys with good intriguing qualities about them. So it’s about how you want to go about it. How often you want to go big or go small. Whether you want to go with two point guard/play-makers in the back court. If you want to go with shooters. There’s a lot of ways they can go and most of these guys deserve playing time. Landry Fields had such a good summer league and training camp that he’s pushed his way into the conversation too.

It comes down to when D’Antoni feels he needs to go 11 deep to keep up the pace and keep his guys fresh. And whether the guys who look like they deserve playing time continue to earn it. But you can make the case for probably 11 guys right now off the bat based on their experience or skill set or whether there’s a certain guy you need in a game (situation). I think it’s quite possible (to have a deep rotation). It sounds like he’s committed (to trying) if all those guys are earning the time.

Mike Kurylo: Let’s talk about Anthony Randolph for a second. He looks like to be an inefficient scorer. What does the coaching staff think of him? Is he a starter?

Howard Beck: He’s not a starter yet, because first it’s not clear what position he would start at. He’s got some really intriguing abilities that would make him a 3, 4 or 5 depending on who is around him. Right now the priority or concern is whether they have enough shooting on the floor. With him out there alongside the starters guys are going to cheat off of him to play Amar’e. The thing with this coaching staff, and you heard it with David Lee all the time who went from a banger to a person with a knock down jump shot, the coaching staff believes in guys and allows them to do their thing. And if they’re trying to learn or become a shooter they’re not going to yank him if he misses one or two. I think during the season Randolph might have a little less latitude. But right now during the preseason I don’t think it’s a problem for Anthony Randolph to go out there and say “look I’ve worked on my jumpshot all summer, I’m trying to get it down, it’s going down for me in practice, and I want to shoot the open shot.” He should. The coaching staff always encourages these players to shoot the open shot as long as it’s in the flow of the offense, to take the opportunities. Eventually he’s got to start making them, but that’s how you get the confidence that you can do it. A lot of guys get the mechanics down and can make them in practice but they can’t do it in the game. That’s mental, that’s nerves, or a lot of other things. Maybe the same transformation Amar’e Stoudemire or David Lee did (in developing a jump shot) Anthony Randolph can make. And if he can, he can be a fantastic weapon out there. But that remains to be seen.

Mike Kurylo: You mentioned the word ‘shooting’, which reminds me of the Knicks’ shooting guard situation. Chandler has been the default guy for a few seasons even though he probably fits more of a forward’s build. There seems to be a lot of competition this year, even though Azubuike is hurt and isn’t playing. How is that position shaping out?

Howard Beck: It’s an intriguing group because they’re all very different. Wilson Chandler got the nod initially because he’s one of the few returning guys, knows the system and he played almost the entire season at shooting guard last year and did alright. The nice thing of having him there is as long as he can stay with his man – he’s 6-8 and strong with long arms and he can harass guys – (he’s a) defensive presence and can be a real asset. His jump shot and his three point shot are unreliable enough to be a concern. It depends on what your priorities are. If you’re priority is shooting then Roger Mason is an accomplished shooter, although a little undersized. If you like Wilson’s size and defensive abilities and his length then you put him out there.

This is goes back to the Amar’e Stoudemire question, because if you put him at center Wilson Chandler can be your power forward. D’Antoni said power forward was his best position. He likes him in the post and he likes his strength inside. I don’t know if you get enough rebounding from him, but if he’s at the 4 and Gallo is at the 3, now the 2 is open for one of your more natural shooters like Roger Mason or when healthy Azubuike. And Azubuike is the sleeper here. I think if he were healthy from day 1, then he’s the best fit at shooting guard. Not because he’s necessarily a much better player than Wilson Chandler, they’re different, but Azubuike is a better shooter and if you look at what he’s done his first couple of seasons, he could become their Raja Bell. Hit the open three and defend. Those are Azubuike’s strengths. If he were healthy, and maybe when he gets healthy, he’s the best fit there.

Mike Kurylo: I only have time for one more question, so here you go: Who is the starting five on Christmas Day?

Howard Beck: Wow. (chuckle) Two games into the preseason and I have to predict the lineup for Christmas Day. I’m just gong to go on a whim here, with a few impulsive judgments that I wouldn’t normally make. Amar’e Stoudemire at center, Wilson Chandler at power forward, Danilo Gallinari at small forward, a healthy Kelenna Azubuike at shooting guard, and Raymond Felton at point guard.

2010 Summer Interview: Roger Mason

I sat down with Roger Mason for 10 minutes and 08 seconds, and he was kind enough to answer some questions.

Mike Kurylo: So what have you been doing this offseason?

Roger Mason: I’ve been working. I’ve been working. I had a tough season last year, and I’ve been doing everything in my power to make sure this season is more of a success.

Mike Kurylo: About last year: you got injured, and your shooting percentage which seems to be your bread & butter took a dip. What do you attribute that to?

Roger Mason: (Points to the scar on his right hand. Then pauses for a couple of seconds.) No, I mean it was a different situation for me. My minutes were down. Healthy Manu was back. It was just a different scenario. For a guy that does what I do, it’s tough to get it done in a different situation.

Mike Kurylo: There was a web site that took videos of your shooting threes and they noticed that your footwork was off. In the older video, you pretty much jumped and landed in the same spot, but last year you weren’t. Were you overcompensating for your hand?

Roger Mason: I think I did a lot of things to overcompensate for my hand. You know, it happens and you have to adjust. There are no excuses. There’s other people playing with injuries. Mine happened to be on my shooting hand, which affected me a little bit. But at the end of the day, I know I’m one of the best shooters in the NBA. And now it’s time for me to prove it and help this team to win.

Mike Kurylo: And you feel healthy right now?

Roger Mason: Yeah. The surgery was successful and I’m ready to go.

Mike Kurylo: How hard is it to come back? Shooting three pointers at your level requires perfect mechanics. How hard it that to have an injury, adjust your shooting, and then get back to where you were when you were healthy?

Roger Mason: When you play for a championship, like I have been doing for the Spurs, you do whatever you can to help the team. Whether you are injured or not, I still feel like you have to concentrate and do what you have to do. I’m not making any excuses. I was just trying to fight through it.

Mike Kurylo: You mentioned that you worked with a shooting coach in the past. Do you still work with one?

Roger Mason: Yeah. He’s basically a skill work guy. I’m a big basketball workout guy. Keeping the artilery strong, and keeping that shot ready.

Mike Kurylo: Do a lot of players work with a skill coach?

Roger Mason: I think so. Some do more than others. Some play 5-on-5 and that’s their workout, and some like to do what I do.

Mike Kurylo: Do you go back and look at tape of yourself shooting or do you know at this point what you have to do?

Roger Mason: I’ve been doing this for so long. There are times when you need another perspective, and there are times when you know what’s going on with your shot and can make the adjustments yourself.

Mike Kurylo: We’ve talked a lot about your shooting. What else can you bring to this team?

Roger Mason: My leadership. My defensive mentality. Not last year, but year before last I played a lot of point guard. The pick & roll is a big part of my game as well. Just being a guy that will fit in with this system. I will do that.

Mike Kurylo: How can you provide leadership on the team?

Roger Mason: I think that there is a respect level there. I’ve had success in this league. I’ve been a part of the playoffs the last 4 years. And I’m bringing that with me. I think I’ve had some of the best leaders in our game with Bruce Bowen, Tim Duncan, Manu and Tony. I’m really excited to bring that to a younger group.

Mike Kurylo: Given D’Antoni’s like for the three ball and how some players increase the number of shot attempts, how do you feel that works to your strength? Do you feel like you can be a starter on this team?

Roger Mason: Yeah. I’ve been a starter in this league, and had a lot of success. I can start and do the same thing here like I did in San Antonio. If they need me to come off the bench I can do that also. I’m not just a spot up guy. I’m a guy that plays with the rhythm. I’m a guy that comes off pick & rolls and makes plays. But I’m also a guy that can hit the spot up shots.

Mike Kurylo: With so many new players there are a lot of open starting spots. How do you feel about the competition? Do you feel you have an open shot to become a starter or get into the rotation?

Roger Mason: I don’t get caught up in starting or not starting, because I’ve done it already. I did it for a whole year a few years ago, and had success. The important thing is that we have guys that do a lot of different things well. We’re going to need everybody. I think it’s a unique situation because I do what I do, and there are other guys with other strengths. You put that together and that’s what a good team is about. And that’s how you win games.

Mike Kurylo: There’s a lot of talk that the East is loaded at the top. How do you feel this team can do?

Roger Mason: The NBA is funny, like all sports. You have to be a little lucky. You have to stay healthy. And things have to go your way. There’s no doubt we have the talent, the system, and the coaching to get things done. Now is just about doing it.

2010 Summer Interview: Danilo Gallinari

Another Reporter: You have to be excited about this year, with all the new changes. Do you think you’re a playoff contender?

Danilo Gallinari: I think we have a playoff team. There’s a positive atmosphere. We’ve been working out together and getting to know each other. We’ve got a nice group of guys. Everybody is optimistic, and everybody’s so excited for the new season.

Another Reporter: Are you excited about having Amar’e here?

Danilo Gallinari: Amar’e is an unbelievable player. He’s an All Star and he’s been improving his game over the last couple of years. He’s going to be great for us. And we want to (do well together).

Another Reporter: Are you happy with how you rebounded from injury last year?

Danilo Gallinari: My goal to have the chance to play 82 games. I played 81 of 82 and it was a great experience to see how long and tough the NBA schedule is. I’m looking forward to getting more wins this year.

Another Reporter: What do you need to improve on?

Danilo Gallinari: I have to improve on a lot of things. I’ve been working on a lot of things this summer, especially my post up game. I’m looking forward to having a great season with my team and make the playoffs.

Another Reporter: Do you get distracted by trade rumors, especially with Carmelo Anthony?

Danilo Gallinari: I wasn’t worried, because I knew what New York wants from me and I know what the coaches and organization thinks of me… And the expectation they have of me.

Mike Kurylo: What have you been working on this offseason?

Danilo Gallinari: I’ve been working on my body with my trainers. In our program we have two goals, one of them to improve my flexibility and the other to improve my explosiveness. Also I’m working on my post up game a lot.

Mike Kurylo: In the past you’ve mostly been a perimeter player. Are you looking to moving to the mid or low post?

Danilo Gallinari: Yes, of course. It’s one of my goals, and I think I did pretty well last year towards the end of the season where I was playing in the post a lot more. And I was pretty effective. I’m looking forward to being even more effective this year.

Mike Kurylo: Where are you looking to be in the low post or the mid post?

Danilo Gallinari: Both positions, because in Mike (D’Antoni’s) system you have to be ready and aggressive every time. In any situation the ball can get to you so easily and quickly so you have to be ready in any position you are at.

Another Reporter: Given the recent history of the team, how do you think the city will react if you find a way to play winning basketball and actually get a playoff spot?

Danilo Gallinari: You would know better than me. I’ve been in New York for just two years, but you’ve been here in New York when they were winning… I want to be a part of this history. I want to get to a point where Madison Square Garden rocks.

Mike Kurylo: How do you feel playing with all these new teammates?

Danilo Gallinari: I have a good feeling when I began to work out with them two weeks ago. And everybody is so excited… We are ready to go.

Mike Kurylo: Who are you most looking forward to playing with?

Danilo Gallinari: I’m looking forward to playing with everybody, because everybody has a great knowledge of the game and there is a lot of talent.

2010 Summer Interview: Andy Rautins

I sat down with Andy Rautins for 2 minutes and 30 seconds, and he was kind enough to answer some questions.

Mike Kurylo: How are you doing? I’m Mike Kurylo from KnickerBlogger.Net.

Andy Rautins: Nice to meet you. [Looks at my ancient iPod with a voice recorder.] Oh this is nice. I haven’t seen one of these before.

Mike Kurylo: It’s top of the line 2001 technology right there.

Andy Rautins: (laughs) There you go.

Mike Kurylo: What have you been doing this offseason?

Andy Rautins: I was working out in Dallas before the draft started. It was pretty intense, high level work outs there. Trying to transition from a 2 to a 1. Working with point guard coaches, and that helped me tremendously. Obviously there were the workouts for every team. That was tough. It was a grind; I worked out for 15 teams. But now that we got settled and I’m here right now working with our strength coach and the coaching staff. It’s been a great process and I’m looking forward to the season.

Mike Kurylo: How did that feel going from college to workout drafts to the summer league?

Andy Rautins: It was a bit of transition. The game is much quicker, the guys are little more physical. It was a good transition. I was able to get my feet wet out there. I don’t think I played as well I would have liked to, but now that I have that under my belt and have my confidence going I think I’ll be alright.

Mike Kurylo: Who are you looking forward to playing with this year?

Andy Rautins: Everybody on the team. You got a lot of guys, it’s a whole new team. Being able to play with Amar’e and Ray, the ball is going to be moving, the inside out game is going to be there. It’s going to be a fun year.

Mike Kurylo: What aspect of your game are you most proud of?

Andy Rautins: Probably my ability to see the floor. I can be a floor general out there. On top of that my ability to shoot the ball and push it in transition when I get it. I think there’s going to be a lot of up & down and a lot of open floor this year.

Mike Kurylo: What do you feel like you need to work on?

Andy Rautins: Probably the 1 on 1 defense. Where they’ll isolate you and try to put you in the post. It’s obviously tougher than playing in a 2-3 zone. But I’ve been working on that a ton so I should be alright come game time.

2010 Summer Interview: Toney Douglas

I sat down with Toney Douglas for 3 minutes and 28 seconds, and he was kind enough to answer some questions.

Mike Kurylo: Last year we talked about defense, and you said “In college there is a lot of help defense, but in the NBA [things are] more spaced out. One mistake and [you’ve given up a] bucket. I feel like in college you can just go fast [all the time], but in the NBA you have to pick & choose when to go fast.”. How do you feel about defense now that you’re going into your second season?

Toney Douglas: I learned a lot being in the NBA playing defense. A lot of the stuff I did in college I won’t be able to do. Well, I can do some of it because I’m athletic. It’s all about picking & choosing where you want to make steals & where you want to gamble. When to get in the paint & get out. I’m going to be a way better defensive player this year, especially off the ball. On the ball I’m fine, off the ball I’m going to be way better.

Mike Kurylo: Now that the team has radically changed this year, who are you looking forward to playing with?

Toney Douglas: Everybody. We have a great team. A talented team. Everybody that has a uniform on can play. That’s a great feeling. In training camp tomorrow we’re going to start feeling out everyone else’s games. What people can do and what they can’t do. We have a lot of options and I’m looking forward to it tomorrow.

Mike Kurylo: Who do you miss playing with from last year?

Toney Douglas: Who I played with a lot was David Lee. He is a smart player, has a basketball IQ like a point guard. He can dribble, shoot, and he knows the game. He’s a smart player. At the same time it’s a business. I’m pretty sure he’s going to do well where he’s at, and at the same time we had to make changes for the benefit of our team. We gotta move on.

Mike Kurylo: You shot poorly in the summer league last year. Then you had a good shooting season, very good actually. Then you shot poorly again in summer league. What’s the difference about the summer league?

(laughter by both)

Toney Douglas: I don’t know. I’m not worried about it. When it’s time to suit up I’m ready to go. I know I’m going to knock my shots down. That’s me standing in the gym being confident…

Mike Kurylo: … Are you thinking too much? Trying to work on something? Or like you said last year it was just a bad week?

(laughter by both)

Toney Douglas: I can’t even tell you. I just know when I’m on MSG and I’m in the Garden I’m going to be ready.

Mike Kurylo: I asked Bill Walker the same thing and I mentioned it to him. Is it the water? The altitude?

Toney Douglas: (chuckle). I don’t know.

2010 Summer Interview: Bill Walker

I sat down with Bill Walker for 3 minutes and 52 seconds, and he was kind enough to answer some questions.

Mike Kurylo: What have you been doing this offseason?

Bill Walker: Getting a lot of shots up. Running. Try to get in shape and get ready for the season.

Mike Kurylo: It was reported that you lost a lot of weight this summer and you looked thinner at summer league. Is that true?

Bill Walker: Yeah. I think I got down too much (and was too fast). I lost a good amount of weight.

Mike Kurylo: How did you accomplish this?

Bill Walker: I stopped eating bread and sugar. That was basically it. I eat (everything else) that I like to eat. (That) and excersizing and it came off easy.

Mike Kurylo: On my site I looked up all players 6-6 and under, and you had the highest efficiency (including things like free throws and three pointers) last year. What makes you such an efficient scorer?

Bill Walker: I only take shots that I know I can make. That’s half the battle. I just try to get good shots.

Mike Kurylo: Do you know why you weren’t shooting well in the summer league?

Bill Walker: I don’t know why. I can’t explain it. When I work out, it feels fine. I don’t know.

Mike Kurylo: Last year Toney Douglas didn’t shoot well in the summer, but he was efficient during the season. When I asked him last year, he said it was just one of those weeks.

Bill Walker: Yeah. It was just a bad week.

Mike Kurylo: How hard was it last year to come to the Knicks mid-year?

Bill Walker: I welcomed it. It gave me an opportunity to play. I enjoyed it. It’s fun to get out there and show what you can do.

Mike Kurylo: What were some of the differences between the Celtics and the Knicks?

Bill Walker: The style of play. The Celtics are more of a inside first, trying to get who they want shooting the ball. New York is more of an uptempo, spread it around, everyone handles the ball. It’s a fast break mentality up here. We’re looking to run every time, and Boston only looks to run when they have the advantage.

Mike Kurylo: What areas of your game are you looking to improve?

Bill Walker: Passing. I know I can be a better passer. Rebounding. Defense. Those are three big things that I continue to work on and get better at.

Mike Kurylo: You started 13 games for New York, and there are a lot of new guys here. Do you feel like you’re competing for a starting spot?

Bill Walker: I don’t know. You’re always in competition. That could be every year. If I don’t get a starting spot, I just want to be a contributor. My goal is, like everyone else here, to start. At the same time we’re a team, and everybody has to know their role. Maybe being a starter isn’t my role. But whatever my role is I’ll play it out.

The Skinny

Lawdy, I almost feel like a real-live, honest-to-goodness journalist. The clip below is your humble correspondent with Matthew Modine, acclaimed star of stage and screen. Y’all may not know this, but when I’m not pounding nails into the floor w/my forehead watching the Nix I’m a hired shill for the theah-tuh. If you’d like to see more of Bob the mouthpiece (and who wouldn’t?), you can go to: www.loopedonbroadway.com. Anyhoo, so I’m “interviewing” Modine and I thought I’d lighten up the convo by discussing our favorite cagers and the prospects of acquiring a certain cat from Akron. Here’s his response…

So there you have it. Joker from Full Metal Jacket says it ain’t going to happen. Game over, man. Game over.