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!


KnickerBlogger Turns 5

This week marks the 5th anniversary of KnickerBlogger. When I started this venture, I didn’t imagine it would last this long. Five years ago, blogging was still in its infancy. There were less than 2 million blogs when KnickerBlogger came into existence. Just six months after, the number of blogs had doubled. Today it’s unknown how many blogs there are. One estimate is 200 million. Many of them are powered by individuals like myself.

More important than the number of blogs is the role they perform. Once derided by the mainstream media, just about every newspaper, magazine, and network hosts their own blog. They are now an essential part of the world’s information and entertainment. Blogs fill an important niche in the world. Previously the only avenue for the common man to voice his opinion was through those who held the keys to kingdom. Often his voice was not heard by the public. Blogs have taken the words of the everyman and projected them from the world’s tallest soap box.

Five years ago my goal with KnickerBlogger was to create a platform for those who felt their opinion was not represented in the mainstream. Judging by the other readers who come here to share their thoughts and my affiliation with True Hoop Network that allows me to bring these voices to the mainstream, it seems that I have succeeded. I can only wonder what KnickerBlogger will be in five more years.

To celebrate this anniversary, I’m announcing the KnickerBlogger Quinquennial Team. To assist in this matter, I’ve looked at the overall PER and the single season PER for that period.

Stephon Marbury, PG – As painful as it is to admit, Marbury has dominated the team in many ways during the lifespan of KnickerBlogger. As his career with the team comes nearer to it’s disappointing end, it’s hard to remember that he was a productive scorer early on. He has the highest single season PER (21.9 in 2005) as well as the highest PER (18.4) during the KnickerBlogger era. His defense was mediocre and his contract was suffocating, had the two been reversed he would have been a shoe in for the Hall of Fame.
Reserves: Chris Duhon, Nate Robinson, Frank Williams.

David Lee, PF – It may shock many to see Lee here, but those that have watched him play aren’t surprised that he’s been the second most productive Knick by PER standards over the last 5 years. Looking at things from a objective standpoint it’s hard to find a more deserving PF. Randolph’s PER is the same and his weaknesses are similar to Lee’s (blocked shots, defense). However, Lee has played 4000 more minutes while costing the team $10M less. After Randolph are Mike Sweetney and Kurt Thomas. Sweetney ate himself out of the league, and Thomas wasn’t nearly as productive on the offensive end. Of all the starters on this list, Lee is the one who is most likely to also appear on KnickerBlogger’s Decennial team as well.
Reserves: Zach Randolph, Kurt Thomas, Mike Sweetney.

Nazr Mohammed, C – Surprised it’s not Curry? Nazr played exactly 81 games for the Knicks in 2 seasons, and would rank 4th in Knicks PER over the KnickerBlogger era. Mohammed was a great offensive rebounder, pulling down 4.0/36 oreb/36. To put that in perspective that’s a higher rate than Lee’s career 3.6. During the Isiah era, Nazr was eventually replaced by Eddy Curry. Comparing the two, Nazr was outscored by Curry (19.2 to 13.7), but Curry did it with almost double the turnovers (3.5 to/36 to 2.0). Additionally Mohammed had nearly double the blocks (1.3 blk/36 to Curry’s 0.7), triple the steals (1.4 stl/36 to 0.4), and more rebounds (10.6 reb/36 to 7.4). With that in mind, it’s clear that Nazr deserves the nod here.
Reserves: Eddy Curry, Dikembe Mutombo.

Van Horn/Renaldo Balkman, SF Keith played only 47 games for New York, but he put up some good numbers while he was here. Van Horn was criticized for being a tweener that had trouble defending, but he rebounded well and scored efficiently. However Van Horn only played 1500 minutes for New York. That’s about as much as Al Harrington. If that’s too little for you, then Balkman is next on the PER list. Considering how PER doesn’t account well for defense, then it makes sense that he was probably unrepresented by his stats.

One note on Keith Van Horn: shortly after Isiah Thomas took over the team, he traded Keith Van Horn. At the time Van Horn was a popular player who had just been acquired that summer, so the trade felt hasty. Since then New York has suffered through instability at the small forward position, something I’ve called “the Curse of Keith Van Horn”. The list of small forwards since the Knicks jettisoned Van Horn: Anfernee Hardaway, DerMarr Johnson, Tim Thomas, Trevor Ariza, Shandon Anderson, Jerome Williams, Matt Barnes, Jalen Rose, Ime Udoka, Qyntel Woods, Jared Jeffries, Quentin Richardson, Renaldo Balkman, and Wilson Chandler. Hopefully the curse will be broken in 2010
Reserves: Tim Thomas, Junk Yard Dog.

Jamal Crawford, SG – The default pick, since there really haven’t been many other shooting guards in recent Knick history. Robinson is the only other one that merits any mention. Crawford can drive Golden State fans crazy for the next few years.
Reserves: Nate Robinson

Lenny Wilkens, Coach – I’d like to choose D’Antoni, but he’s only been around for a half season. Wilkens got the team to the playoffs until they tuned him out a year later. In retrospect that should have signified there was something wrong behind the scenes. In his latter years, Wilkens was an adequate coach, which says a lot about the coaches the Knicks have had over the last 5 years.

Most Minutes 5: Curry, Lee, Richardson, Crawford, Marbury
Least Minutes 5: Trybanski, Randolph Morris, Matt Barnes, Jamison Brewer, Jermaine Jackson

Best Defensive 5: Mutumbo, Kurt Thomas, Balkman, Ariza, Frank Williams
Worst Defensive 5: Curry, Randolph, Jalen Rose, Crawford, Marbury

Drafted 5: Frye, Lee, Balkman, Ariza, Nate
Toughest 5: Kurt Thomas, Balkman, Collins, Robinson, Frank Williams

Best Shooting 5: David Lee, Tim Thomas, Van Horn, Nate, Marbury
Worst Shooting 5: Bruno Sundov, Malik Rose, Balkman, Shanderson, Collins

All Name 5: Cezary Trybanski, Othella Harrington, Qyntel Woods, Anfernee Hardaway, Moochie Norris
Scrappiest 5: David Lee, Jerome Williams, Renaldo Balkman, Jermaine Jackson, Frank Williams

If I had to choose a Starting 5 from this era: Nazr, Lee, Balkman, Robinson, Duhon.
Reserves: Mutombo, Van Horn, Ariza, Sweetney, Frank Williams, Gallinari, Chandler.
Coach: D’Antoni

It’s sad but I think this is the best the Knicks could do combining all the players over the last 5 years. I’ve left Marbury off for obvious reasons. New York would have a tremendous rebounding starting lineup, with enough balance of offense & defense on the bench. If you wanted, you could substitute Randolph or Kurt Thomas for Sweetney. But this being KnickerBlogger, I thought it’d be good to give the guy a second chance. The same goes for Frank Williams, who is playing well enough in the NBDL to get another shot at the NBA. Gallinari & Chandler make the list because of their youth. If this team were looking at a title, then I might choose Tim Thomas and Crawford. But I think this is a .500 team that will need some youth.

Heat 115 Knicks 120

[Late in the third quarter, the Knicks are up by about 20. An exchange between announcers Clyde Frazier and Gus Johnson.]
Clyde: I think the crowd is stunned, Gus, by what has happened here tonight…
Gus: I’m stunned. They’re playing so well. It’s almost too easy.
Clyde: Yes, that word surreal… The crowd is like they’re waiting for something bad to happen…
Gus: The Knicks are playing well.

Watching from home, I was stunned from before the start of the game with the opening act of Q-Tip. For years “Take Me Home” by Doug E Fresh was one of the worst parts of any Knick game. As I wrote nearly 2 years ago, New York is the birthplace and capital of rap. We shouldn’t have to settle for a third rate rapper covering a song about rural life. Q-Tip is a New York native who is well respected for his work in A Tribe Called Quest, and is still active with his solo career. Nonetheless Q-Tip’s song was fit for a New York basketball team.

I was still stunned when D’Antoni furiously called a time out with 4:46 left in the game and the Knicks had a 106-92 lead. I just couldn’t imagine any of the last few New York coaches being mad with a 14 point buffer on opening night. Isiah Thomas probably wouldn’t have gotten out of his seat. Herb Williams might have looked around for a fan to tell him what to do. Lenny Wilkens might have been dreaming of 1979.

But the Knicks did play well. Granted they only won by 5 points, but they had a 16 point lead going into the fourth quarter. New York had positive contributions from Crawford (29 points on 19 shots), Lee (16 pts, 11 reb, 5 ast), Randolph (20 pts, 9 reb, 2 ast, 2 stl), and Chandler (17 pts, 9 reb in 23 min). Even though Gallinari didn’t play well, he made an appearance. How stunning is it, that an underage draft pick that missed most of summer league and preseason made his way onto the court in the first half?

It’s great that New York won, but I’m just glad of the difference that mark a change in philosophy. For the first time in years, I feel like the Knicks are a real team. I still don’t expect them to win many games this year. But I feel pride in this team, for the first time in a long time.

Now Is The Time

Isiah Thomas should be fired. Now. I know it’s only 9 games into the season. And I know that this road trip was brutal. I also know that the next few games are against tough opponents: Golden State, Detroit, Chicago, and Utah. All these teams were in the second round last year. And I know the East has gotten better.

I know that Isiah is a wonderful drafter. I might even dare say he’s possibly the best drafter of all time. Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby, Tracy McGrady, David Lee, Nate Robinson, Mardy Collins, Trevor Ariza, and Wilson Chandler. That’s a fantastic team – and off the top of my head I can’t think of any GM that has done better with less in terms of drafting.

I know that the Knick team he inherited was a mess. The NBA’s worst salary cap, with little talent, and no young prospects. Scott Layden’s tenure was awful in New York. He took a near-championship level team, and turned them into a void. And I know this team is better than the one Isiah inherited nearly 4 years ago. I know Isiah wanted a younger and more athletic team. I can’t argue that this team isn’t younger and more athletic. That’s without a doubt.

I know that Isiah has been hit with a string of bad luck. Even Hollinger thought Marbury was a near-All Star around the time the Knicks acquired him. And who thought that a pair of Hall of Fame caliber coaches in Lenny Wilkens and Larry Brown would end up the way they did. OK I might have thought Wilkens would have ended that way, but Larry Brown?

I know all these things. Yet the bottom line remains: this team isn’t a winner. Under Isiah’s tenure, the Knicks have finished with 39, 33, 23, and 33 wins. This year they’ve started off 2-7. And things don’t look to get better. Not with their upcoming schedule.

Dolan gave Isiah his extension early on an impulse. Just when the team was doing the opposite they are now – looking really good. At the time, their win streak put them into the playoffs and seemingly showed that the team had turned the corner. However things are as bleak as they can be. The season has barely begun, and it’s nearly over for New Yorkers. Coming off the heels of an embarrassing summer, and as nearly embarrassing controversy with their point guard. Coming off a road trip where they dropped 4 straight games, the last one by 32. Coming off of 6 straight losses.

Everything is in place for an Isiah exit. Grunwald can take over as GM. Herb Williams is still around to coach. The team is better off than they were 4 years ago. There are some good young players and assets to build on. The only thing left is finding the time to do it. And the time is now.

Ths Ship Be Sinkin’

Mar 6 vs Seattle L 99-100 Marbury 40/Richardson 9/Richardson 5
Mar 10 at Washington W 90-89 Francis 26/Curry 9/Marbury 5
Mar 14 at Toronto L 94-104 Marbury 31/Curry 6/Marbury 9
Mar 16 vs New Orl/OKC L 90-92 Francis 21/Frye 7/Francis 10
Mar 18 vs Toronto W 92-74 Marbury 21/Balkman 12/Marbury 9
Mar 20 vs Dallas L 77-92 Curry 22/Curry 12/Marbury 5
Mar 22 vs Portland L 86-92 Robinson 31/Francis 10/Marbury 6
Mar 23 at Cleveland L 68-90 Curry 27/Curry 9/Marbury 4
Mar 26 vs Orlando L 89-94 Marbury 32/Frye 7/Marbury 4
Mar 28 vs Cleveland W 97-93 Curry 25/Robinson 7/Marbury 8
Mar 30 at Dallas L 103-105 Marbury 43/James 7/Marbury 3
Mar 31 at New Orl/OKC L 94-103 Curry 34/Curry 13/Collins 6
Apr 4 vs Philadelphia L 90-92 Marbury 30/Balkman 16/Marbury 6
Apr 6 vs Minnesota L 94-99 Robinson 21/Balkman 8/Collins 5

The recent Knick slide reminds me of the start of the 2005 year (not season) that got Lenny Wilkens fired.

30 2005-01-01 NYK NJN L 87-93 16-14 Lost 1
31 2005-01-04 NYK SAC L 98-105 16-15 Lost 2
32 2005-01-05 NYK @MIA L 94-102 16-16 Lost 3
33 2005-01-08 NYK @CLE L 79-104 16-17 Lost 4
34 2005-01-09 NYK POR W 113-105 17-17 Won 1
35 2005-01-11 NYK NOH L 82-88 17-18 Lost 1
36 2005-01-15 NYK @CHI L 84-86 17-19 Lost 2
37 2005-01-17 NYK CHI L 86-88 17-20 Lost 3
38 2005-01-19 NYK @TOR L 81-98 17-21 Lost 4
39 2005-01-21 NYK HOU L 91-92 17-22 Lost 5
40 2005-01-23 NYK MIL L 96-101 17-23 Lost 6
41 2005-01-25 NYK PHO L 118-133 17-24 Lost 7
42 2005-01-28 NYK CLE W 99-96 18-24 Won 1
43 2005-01-29 NYK @DET L 61-91 18-25 Lost 1
44 2005-01-31 NYK @LAC L 89-96 18-26 Lost 2
45 2005-02-01 NYK @DEN L 76-96 18-27 Lost 3
46 2005-02-04 NYK @SAC L 115-116 18-28 Lost 4
47 2005-02-05 NYK @PHO L 106-114 18-29 Lost 5

At this point I’m nearly speechless. Normally I’d have an idea to get the Knicks going again, but it just looks like they’ve been repeating the same mistakes that has plagued them all year. Namely poor defense, slow starts, turnovers, and poorly designed plays in key moments. The first two are clearly due to a lack of effort from the players, the third might just be a function of the players’ skills, and the last falls squarely on the shoulders of the coaches.

On the positive side, I love watching Collins and Balkman get expanded minutes. These guys can defend and rebound pretty well. I love their intangibles, but they along with David Lee need to do nothing else this summer but shoot jump shots.

On the other hand I don’t know if I ever want to see Jared Jeffries on the court again. Maybe a defensive sub for the final minutes. The same for Malik Rose. Jeffries kills the offense. I’ve noticed that Curry seems to be passing better out of double teams, but the scoring opportunity just stops when the ball rotates to Jeffries. And his wide open layups have the same result of Charles Smith with 3 Bulls on his back. As for Rose, when Malik reaches 30% of his close shots blocked, they should just get him a recliner & a Cadillac.


One Year And One Week

A year and a week ago, the Knicks had hit their worst stride since the Patrick Ewing era. New York was expected to compete for the playoffs, and actually spent a good portion of 2004 in first place in the East. Unfortunately 2005 wasn’t as kind. The Knicks lost 9 of their first 10 games, going from a healthy 16-13 to a wavering 17-22. With the team in shambles and desperate for a change, New York needed someone to take blame for failing to meet expectations. On January 22nd, Lenny Wilkens fell on the axe, and resigned as the New York Knicks coach.

Fast forward a year and a week, and the situation is eerily similar. Patrolling the Knicks sideline is a win-now coach in Larry Brown. The Knicks revamped their team in the offseason with a mix of veterans (Antonio Davis, Quentin Richardson) and youngins (Curry, Frye, Lee, Robinson) to make them competitive this year. The Knicks weren’t expected to unseat the Pistons or Heat, but they were so sure that they’d be out of the lottery that they gave away two first round picks without any restrictions. Just like a year ago, New York has failed to meet expectations. Again the Knicks have lost 9 of their last 10 games. And again it’s time to find a fall guy.

However this year, unless Larry Brown has changed his opinion on his dream job, he isn’t handing in a letter of resignation. Unlike Wilkens, Brown isn’t a relic of yesteryear, trying to hold on to his last chance at an NBA coaching job. Long Island Larry is coming off back to back Finals appearances. He isn’t in New York accepting a charity position. Brown is the real thing.

The Knicks can’t blame the players for their woes. This season’s 14-30 record isn’t the fault of Stephon Marbury. You just have to look at the three games the Knicks played without him for proof of that. It’s not Jamal Crawford or Nate Robinson’s fault for being unable to play the point in Marbury’s stead, because they’re not made for that role. It’s not Eddy Curry’s fault for not being able to play defense, rebound, or cut down his turnovers, because that’s what he was before he got here. It’s not Jerome James’ fault for having a few good playoff games. Even if you disagree and would like to blame the roster, they’re not going to be the fall guy, because you can’t trade any of them. No one is going to take Jerome James for 5 years. No one is going to want Eddy Curry, who can’t manage to play more than 27 minutes a game, despite his backups being Davis, James, and Butler. Nobody is going to want Quentin Richardson, who’s so detached from his former self I swear he’s suffering from basketball amnesia. Somebody might want Marbury, but that loser tag that’s been slapped on him since New Jersey makes his value lower with each loss.

So you can’t use the coach as the scapegoat. You can’t use the players. And the owner isn’t going to fire himself. Knick fans that are looking for a sacrifice to offer to the basketball gods have one person left to roast: Isiah Thomas. There is no one else to blame this mess on. While he didn’t walk into an ideal situation, it’s undeniable that he’s made his share of mistakes. Every single person on this roster was picked by Isiah. The coach was picked by Isiah. Every single draft pick owed is because of Isiah. There’s no one else to blame. If New York was 30-14 instead, I’d be here praising the Knicks’ president for his work. But you’re only as good as your record, and the Knicks have the third worst record in the league. Someone has to be responsible for this mess, and like an election in Cuba, there is only one legitimate candidate.