[Editor's Note: Long time Knicksfanatic, Paul Noize, brings the noize loud and clear on a belated yet very informative season preview]
It's been a minute, Fanatics....what's up? i've read some of the board this year, def. gotta holla a shoutout to Aaron Hodges for being a key player in the Penthouse this offseason!
A good amount of roster churn has reduced the Knicks' holdovers to the coaching staff, forwards Wilson Chandler & Danilo Gallinari, plus reserve guard Toney Douglass & swingman Bill Walker. The new additions are highlighted by the signing of Amare Stoudamire to a max contract. The Knicks were unable to secure a second commitment from a *star*, and contented themselves with a cap-friendly 3-year (only 2 guaranteed) deal with point guard Ray Felton, and some Russian that made Maciej Lampe seem famous by comparison. Footsies with Carmelo Anthony then commenced.
STAT was a conservative early signing by an elderly Special-Assistant-in-Waiting Donnie Walsh, last seen sending the entire Houston Rockets front office into paroxyms of laughter by offering his new 2009 lottery pick (Jordan Hill) plus the Knicks' 2012 first round pick.....PLUS, Houston has the right to swap first round picks in 2011!
This was clearly a nervous all-in move by Walsh to ensure the TWOMAX strategy (signing two stars to maximum contracts this offseason, like Miami did). Whether it was a gut feeling or bad intelligence, it backfired...and Walsh has doubled down on his standing with Knicks' fans with a poorly-received draft haul of Landry Fields & Andy Rautins to compensate for the ugly losses of the Jeffries trade.
Coach Mike D'Antoni must privately be very disappointed with the Walsh regime thus far, although Donnie did step up and offer STAT the max - former D'Antoni nemesis Phoenix Suns G.M. Steve Kerr is on record for being concerned about Stoudamire's productivity in years 4 & 5 of that deal (presumably, Phoenix would also have felt pressure to include a fully guaranteed sixth year, as was their right & their right alone).
In many respects, Walsh commits the same "crimes" as Kerr did when he & D'Antoni clashed in Phoenix, but Donnie is just savvier with the media handling of events, and lets coach stew about the more defensively-oriented roster behind closed doors. Simultaneously refusing to consider hiring the franchise's all-time greatest player as a coach (Patrick Ewing), while also cutting his son twice in three years deserves consideration as a symbol of Waldotoni incompetence and miscommunication.
But the Knicks' coaching staff has to take some blame for their two year tenure also....Eddy Curry's physical conditioning, continually playing Wilson Chandler out of positon at the 2 and 4, the open disdain for even mentioning the word defense in post-game press conferences, the inability to inspire point guards Chris Duhon & Ray Felton to show up physically & mentally as the best they can be...Knicks fans are fed up, and demand some positive results.
Coach D'Antoni's staff was supplemented with Anthony Mason, who will serve as a special assistant coach working primarily Eddy Curry's weight-training regimen. In a different world, i might wish that Mase would impart to Eddy that wonderful sense of hunger he had, but i have legitimate concerns that Eddy would balloon up to 395 and get diabetes before the trade deadline. Mase can't do any harm, and i think cutting him an honest check is a (very small) gesture on behalf of owner James Dolan to placate the Knicks' fanbase.
Resurrecting the careers of Roger Mason or Eddy Curry would be an awesome feather in the coaching staff's hat, but if the coaching staff are to hit homeruns (sans a Carmelo longball from Senor Turtle, Mr. Walsh), they need to establish either Gallo or Randolph as a top-flight, multifaceted forward.
The fan narrative this offseason was a deeper rotation, and D'Antoni has echoed that sentiment. But frankly, the Knicks are better-suited to adopt a strict nine-man rotation early in the season, and adjust slowly as the season wears on (subject to the usual health concerns, efforts in practice, on-court performance of rotation players, etc.), because they simply aren't that talented - and need their best guys to compete hard, every night in order to be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Repetitions will be key early in the season, to help bring some familiarity and chemistry to a disparate (if kinda lovable) cast of characters.
Point guard rotation is easy to figure out, when shooting guard Andy Rautins is your third stringer. Ray will get all the minutes his health & fouls will permit, and Toney Douglass will sop up the rest. Rautins could maybe serve as a legit point backup for a game or two, but any serious injury to Felton or TD would have us scouring the NBDL for a warm body.
We have two elder statesmen on the team on the wings, and both Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler figure to play prominent roles this year at multiple positions. The other best wing on the team is Kelenna Azubuike, who is hurt. His injury has cast the door wide open for someone to claim a role on this club....and i'll be damned if anyone claimed it. In desperation, D'Antoni has named rookie Landry Fields as his starting shooting guard this year, with Gallo at small forward and Chandler backing them up. Fields is a seasoned four-year PAC-10 baller, an even-headed kid who tries to play an all-around game. He led the PAC-10 in rebounding his senior year, despite starting at small forward & shooting guard!
Whether Landry has the skills or athleticism to get that off on the NBA level remains to be seen, but D'Antoni has a bevy to pretenders to that throne on the bench, including thrice-hobbled three-point specialist Bill Walker (a great summer behind the arc, but where's the "D"?) , a rapidly-declining veteran Roger ("OK, call me Desmond") Mason, the seriously-injured but productive Kelenna Azubuike, and even backup point Toney Douglass (undersized but good defensive intensity) may all factor in the mix for minutes this season. Walsh's needs may best be served by developing Fields as an inexpensive yet productive rookie, to pair with an almost-paid Eddy Curry contract & a 2014 first round draft choice as the Knicks' most attractive assets to move prior to the deadline. If the pu-pu platter at shooting guard holds up until Azubuike is healthy, he could be the type of solidifying piece that could make the squad dangerous in the postseason. Kelenna is the Knicks' best defender, and would help everyone else settle into a more comfortable role.
For bigs, we have room for four guys - STAT, Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf & Timofey Mozgov. STAT will be an absolute stud, yes even without Steve Nash. He could've stayed a well-paid big fish in a small pond, but the Knicks were desparate enough for credibility to offer the full maximum the current CBA allows - no small gesture of faith from an owner on the verge of signing a potentially much tighter salary-capped league. But STAT had to be ready to take on a leadership role, to sacrifice some scoring for the good of the team (by defending & rebounding more), and even assume some playmaking responsibilities (some sets David Lee used to run could be useful).
Mozgov is a gangly but earnest Russian center, Walsh may deserve the credit for this one....can't see Timmy playing much more than fifteen minutes a night, but hopefully he will learn to commit personals HARD (legally) and show enough offensive skills to stay on the floor as long as his cardio and foul trouble permit. His wingspan and aggressive attitude alone could greatly endear him to the fans at MSG, but he'll be a decided underdog against most NBA starting centers.
Anthony Randolph should play 30-35 minutes a night off the bench. He'll be used at both center and power forward, and sometimes even small forward to exploit different defensive matchups. This will challenge his shot-blocking abilities and footwork one night, and post defense the next, which should build up his confidence. He'll make a lot of mistakes which will need good coaching in the film room. The more engaged he is, the more he will grow....and i believe that a quantum leap is necessary this year, in either Gallo or Randolph, for the Waldotoni train to stay on track. i think Randy probably holds the Knicks' best chances for team success this season.
i had been excited about Frenchman Ronny being an undersized, scrappy, unselfish defensive captain in the rich tradition of a Charles Oakley or a (gulp) Jared Jeffries. Instead, Ronny looked ordinary and undersized in a Knicks uni, and has lost the starting nod to Mozgov. i think Ronny is a sure bet to become an integral part of the Knicks' rotation at some point this season - he has displayed the "glue" abilities, the defense, the passing, that a D'Antoni team needs. Whether Turiaf sticks as a rotation player will be a testament to his abilities and preparation this offseason, preparing for SSOL. Shawne Williams sticks around as fifteenth man, an offensively-skilled project who is a great friend to know in the offseason. Eddy Curry's expiring contract will presumably be sitting at home eating Cheetos with a hamstring injury until the trade deadline. At that point, Patrick Ewing, Jr. might just have a job at MSG. Or even Anthony Mason, Jr?
i think the Knicks will finish the season strong, but they will open weak. The team hasn't truly compensated for the loss of Lee's rebounding yet, and our team defense is still below-average. i predict a 38-44 record and the 8th seed in the East...and hopefully we can stare Denver down into a Melo for Curry++++ at he deadline, and give us something to really cheer about in the offseason!
Keep the noize TURNED UP!! LGK!!