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.

Vegas Summer League Game One: Nuggets 100 – Knicks 90

Ah the summer league…

All potential. No consequences. It’s kinda neat actually. Instead of the sturm und drang of LeBrocalypse/obsessively following twitter for rumors about gossip about hearsay, one can watch an actual basketball game. Novel idea, I know

For those who missed it (or, you know, have a life), the ‘Bockers lost to the Rocks 100 – 90. SL games tend to be a rather haggard affair and this tilt was no exception as the Nix engaged in a bit of a hack-a-palooza, compiling 46 fouls in 40 minutes of play. But before your humble correspondent focuses his oh-so keen powers of observation and/or scouting acumen upon our hardwood heroes-to-be, lemme spew a few random/general observations…

Oddly enough, the game played out in eerily similar fashion to the Nix regular season affairs for the past few years. They quickly fell behind by double digits, crawled back with some hot shooting, couldn’t get over the hump, and then lost by ten. They also didn’t play a lot of defense and scored primarily from the perimeter/threes. Strange. Considering these cats have only been in Vegas for a few days, it’s impressive/vaguely nauseating that they’ve managed to absorb the Knicks’ basic DNA so quickly.

Was Kenny Atkinson wearing parachute pants?

For some reason, the Knicks didn’t have uni numbers on the front of their jerseys. This isn’t an SL-wide phenomenon as the other teams seem to have managed to iron-on some plastic onto their very YMCA-looking shirts. Did someone forget? Is it some convoluted, “You have to earn a front number” motivational technique? I must have this information!

Seriously, I think Kenny Atkinson was wearing parachute pants. And to make matters worse, they were practically riding under his armpits. Kenny, Dude!

Ty Lawson is hella good. Knickerblogger-istas far and wide were royally pining for this guy a year ago and, hot damn, it’s not hard to see why. He truly toyed with the Knicks out there, penetrating at will, finishing w/ease, and finding teammates all over the court. He pretty much controlling the game to the tune of 28 points, 10-16 from the field, 7 dimes, and 5 steals. Lawson then proceeded to plug the oil spill in the gulf, reveal the identity of the second gunman on the grassy knoll, and develop a diet soda that actually does taste as good as the real thing. He’s just a got a complete and polished game. If I were Denver, I’d send him home ASAP. He really has nothing to learn/prove here.

They were beige parachute pants too. Ugh.

THE GOOD

Toney Douglas did what Toney Douglas do. His jumper is silky smooth and effortless, even from 30 ft. out. He snuck into the passing lane a few times and converted a really acrobatic and-one on the break on the way to amassing 27 points, 6 boards and a couple of steals. As far as PG skills, eh. I counted at least four occasions where he missed a cutter in the lane. His tendency, still, is to look for his own shot first. The Felton signing, though, will allow him to be a score-first PG off the bench – the role he’s really best suited for.

Landry Fields has a really nice nose for the ball and tends to play within himself (Wow. I’m really starting to master the use of these bball/sportswriting clichés. It’s like sticking a hatpin in your cerebral cortex. Stuff writes itself!) Where was I? Oh yeah, Fields Landry or whomever looks like a nice small forward, though nothing about his game jumps off the page. His jumping, ironically, does.

THE BAD

Andy Rautins sure was channeling his inner Eddie House today. Like Free Eddie, he shot with utter impunity but aside from a stretch in the 3rd, was laying serious bricks. During the regular season, unless he’s Steve Kerr-ing it at a 40% or better clip, it’s hard to see him getting a lot of pt.

Jerome Jordan – It’s still hard to avoid typing Jerome James – is raw.  He is both big and tall and long and those things tend to come in handy. Aside from that, it was hard to tell what the skill-set he brings to the court might be.

THE UGLY

Tweet! Bill Walker just fouled somebody again. Aside from Asst. Coach Atkinson’s aforementioned sartorial splendor, the ugliest part of this afternoon’s tilt was the game that last year’s late-season find, Bill Walker had. He seems to have lost a lot of weight and with it his ability to play professional basketball. His jumper was strangely high-arced and he generally was sluggish and seemingly disinterested out there, leading to 9 fouls and 7 turnovers. Granted, game one, but the SL is a setting where a cat like Billy Sky Dubs should dominate.

C’est tout. Next time hopefully Charles Garcia and PEJr. get some spin.

Okay – maybe they weren’t parachute pants, but if not, they were some oddly wide, beige sweats that he for some ungodly reason insisted tucking his polo top into.

Can someone please run to The Gap in Vegas and buy this man a set of khakis?

Knicks 2010 Summer League Roster

Due to the Knicks involvement with NBA free agency, it’s unclear how many roster spots are open. Chandler, Curry, Douglas, Gallo, Walker and Stoudemire along with recently acquired Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf and Kelenna Azubuike make 9. If you add their draft picks Fields, Rautins, and Jordan that makes 12. Potentially the team might sign a few more free agents and could still bring back Barron, Bender, Giddens, or House. That doesn’t make for a lot of roster spots open. But enough that a few guys could make the team.

Already On the Roster

Toney Douglas, PG – Last year his summer league shooting was awful, but that turned out fine during the regular season. The big question for this year is can he run the offense? We know D’Antoni’s distaste for combo guards masquerading as point guards, and truthfully he could have done better setting up his teammates. This is a bit more critical now with the addition of Stoudemire, since he is so dangerous in the pick & roll.

Bill Walker, GF – A good NBA player should find success in the summer league, and that’s what I expect from Walker. But more important than just scoring is that Walker rounds out his game. He needs to rebound more and play better defense. If he becomes a more complete player he could challenge for a starting spot, either by pushing Chandler to the bench or by forcing D’Antoni to go small with Amar’e at center.

Drafted, But Not Guaranteed

Landry Fields, SF – Reading his scouting report, I’m most excited to see Fields. NBADraft.Net has 192 words on his strengths and only 50 on his weaknesses. He’s got a great vertical leap (39′), but is a bit on the skinny side. The most important signs are how his defense, rebounding, and ability to get to the free throw line translate at this level. If he does make the Knicks roster, his three point shooting and free throw percentage have to improve.

Andy Rautins, SG – Rautins’ value lies in his shooting, so it’s important to note how he scores. Other than just hitting open threes, what else can he do? Will he be able to beat his man off the dribble? How much separation does he need to get his shot off? But his scoring isn’t the only concern. Is he too undersized/nonathletic to play the shooting guard? How bad is his propensity to make the “too cute” pass? Rautins played a lot of zone in college, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fares in man to man.

Jerome Jordan, C – I can’t say how many times I’ve attempted to type his name & ended up with Jerome James. Like Big Snacks, Jordan didn’t start playing basketball until later in life, which means he’s not as well rounded as you’d like. Jordan is a good rebounder & decent shot blocker. He’s a 7-footer who doesn’t like to bang in the lane, and often prefers to settle for a jump shot. However if he didn’t have a few holes in his game, he wouldn’t have been available in the second round for the Knicks. One last caveat, I don’t see him on the official roster. Possibly that’s due to Jordan having to wait for the trade to clear before he officially became a Knick.

Some Spots Still Open

Chris Hunter, C – The Knicks signed Hunter last year, but he never suited up for the team. Instead he played 60 games for the Warriors and for a 6-11 reserve did fairly well. He managed a TS% of 54.6%, although his production was meager (12.4 pts/36). Additionally Hunter blocked shots at an average rate (1.6 blk/36). Rebounding is likely to be a sore spot with the Knicks this year, and unfortunately this is an area that Hunter struggles with (7.7 reb/36). If New York isn’t enamored with Jordan, Hunter could slip past him and earn a spot. But it’s possible that neither make the team considering the team’s current depth.

Jaycee Carroll, SG – If Andy Rautins has a bad summer league and is sent packing, he can ask Jaycee Carroll for career advice. Like Rautins, Carroll is a nonathletic undersized lights-out shooter. Carroll currently plays for Gran Canaria in the Spanish league. I doubt two shooting specialists make the roster, so if Carroll impresses the staff then Rautins could find himself playing in the Canary Islands.

Slim Chance

Warren Carter, PF – Interestingly enough, Carter actually made the roster last year, but was cut before the season started. A good transition player, who struggles in the half court. Carter can rebound on the offensive glass, but his defensive rebounding numbers are a bit weak. His dribble is a little shaky, and his post up game needs work. Carter’s best bet to make the team would be to play good defense and run the floor.

Marcus Landry, GF – Despite having a successful older brother in the NBA, it’s still not clear how Marcus would fare. He’s played 13 games in the D-League and 18 in the pros nearly all in garbage time. D’Antoni seemed extremely reluctant to use him last year, so why bring him back to waste a roster spot this year?

Charles Garcia, PF – There seems to be a little buzz around him, but he has a few things that raise red flags: high turnovers, sub-par passer, and forces up low-percentage outside shots. Sounds like a player Isiah Thomas would drool over.

Carlos Powell, F – Had 2 stints in the D-League. Powell seems to be a scorer first and second, albeit his assist numbers aren’t awful. My guess is that he’s the kind of player that likes to have the ball in his hands at all times. His peripheral numbers aren’t that great, especially his rebounding, for a 6-7 forward.

Patrick Ewing, Jr, F – Also played for the Orlando Magic’s summer league team this year, and was about average. A strong rebounder in the D-League, with decent peripheral numbers. If Ewing could knock down the three consistently, he’d improve his chances to make an NBA roster. But he managed only 23.5% from downtown, so he has some ways to go.

Leo Lyons, PF – A great scorer that lives at the free throw line, but can’t play a lick of defense. Draft Express said of him:

On the defensive end, Lyons has had many well-documented issues prior to this season, and while he’s made some strides, many of them still remain. On the positive side, Lyons’ attentiveness and activity level as a perimeter defender is definitely improved this season, however he’s still inconsistent in doing some of the little things–giving up too much space to shooters, not putting in the effort laterally, and not staying in a fundamental stance. It is worth noting that during Missouri’s NCAA tournament run, however, most of these problems were hardly evident at all, as Lyons looked like a different player on the perimeter, playing excellent fundamental defense, moving his feet well, aggressively hedging pick-and-rolls, and really showing what he’s capable of. On the negative side, Lyons’ post defense and boxing out on the glass has not been impressive all season, as he shows little grasp of leverage, doesn’t fight hard for position, and just is not very effective defending in the painted area.

Ryan Wittman, SF – Add Wittman to the list of outside shooters with weak athleticism. And then there’s this cute web page on him.

Knicks Also Nab Jerome Jordan

44th pick: Jerome Jordan
(Acquired in trade with Milwaukee – pending league approval)
[Scouting Reports: Draft Express, NBA Draft.Net, HoopsAnalyst]

Well here is the big man that Knick fans were hoping for on draft night. For second round centers, Jordan isn’t a bad option. Statistically he stacks up reasonably well against other centers picked near him like Dexter Pittman and Solomon Alabi. He has legitimate size for an NBA center (7-1, 235 lbs) and in college did fairly well with regards to scoring, rebounding, and blocking shots. On the other hand he has some weaknesses, including inferior strength, a lack of intensity, and learning the game late in life. However there isn’t a second round center without a laundry list of flaws. His ability to knock down the mid-range jumper and run the floor should make him D’Antoni friendly.