Re-edited at 8:10pm on Friday, September 24, 2010
"We can be as good as we want to be. In order to be a great leader, you must follow first. I've been able to follow Steve, Grant Hill, Shaquille O'Neal and Penny. Now I feel it's time for me to lead these young guys to success." (Amare' Stoudemire discussing the challenge of leading the reconstituted Knicks into the 2010-11 season)
"I had an OK rookie year, but this year I want to be more vocal and be one of the leaders on the court, at the same time, you can't be a leader if you don't hold up your end of the bargain. If people are slacking, I'll tell them. If I'm slacking, I want them to tell me." (Toney Douglas discussing the prospects of stepping up as team leader by also leading by example)
In the aftermath of 'The Decision' the Knicks under Donnie Walsh moved the franchise forward in contempt of certain disappointment. As the expectations of the summer of 2010 faded to carry Knicks fandom into and through the dog days of summer to the start of training camp two themes emerged as prime topics of conversation in the Knicks blogosphere. Aside from the constant speculation revolving around 'disgruntled' OTPs (Carmelo Anthony and CP3 to a lesser extent) a lot of talk in the blogosphere has been centered around the topic of the team's youth and leadership. Both topics are certain sources of excitement for a fan base that has endured a decade of chaos, instability and incompetence.
An "out with the old and in with the new" vibe permeates the Knicks as the summer's maneuverings in free agency and via trade has netted the Knicks the 7th youngest roster in the NBA (Shout out to the indy blogger who brought this to the fore). Entering the 2010 season the Knicks will field a roster of pups whose average age is 24.6 years per player- only the Timberwolves, Nets, Thunder, Kings, Wizards and Grizzlies possess younger rosters. With the presence of youth the horizon appears boundless with potential filling the skyline.
Amongst the Knicks promising youth movement are Holdovers Wilson Chandler and Toney Douglas along with Russian Import Timofey Mozgov. But the two players many believe could have breakout seasons that help catapult the teams playoff aspirations are the two youngest players on the Knicks roster. Those two players are Danilo Gallinari and Anthony Randolph. Gallinari and Randolph's stories run parallel with both coming into the league during the 2008 NBA draft. Both were highly regarded by the Knicks scouting department. Both, Gallinari and Randolph flashed potential during their two years in the NBA. Both have also endured injuries that have slowed their development. Although Gallinari would end up going to the Knicks with the teams 6th pick in the 2008 NBA draft and Randolph was selected 14th by the Warriors in that same draft, both are now on the Knicks 2011 roster as two of the brightest reason for hope and optimism.
Randolph, currently the youngest Knick, was brought over from Golden State as the prize in a four player trade that sent David Lee to the Warriors. Randolph is considered to be a player with incredible potential. Many comparisons have been drawn between Randolph and Lamar Odom because of their length, athleticism, skill set and versatility. Other comparisons are drawn to Jermaine O'Neal, a player once acquired by Walsh as a key player in the formidable Indiana Pacer revival of the early 21st century. The comparison is made not due to the similarity of styles of play but by fans speculating what impact Randolph can have and potential he can unlock while with the Knicks. Randolph is also similar in frame, athleticism and length to NBA scoring champ, Kevin Durant, and may channel a poor man's version of Durant's offensive game while evolving into an intimidating roaming help or one on one defender. But the promise of youth if not unlocked could instead produce frustrating enigmas.
For instance, during the 2005 off-season the Knicks acquired Eddy Curry (then 22 years of age) from the Bulls. The Knicks acquired Curry for his potential as a possible premier low post scorer. Curry had shown flashes of that potential while with the Bulls near the end of his 2001-02 rookie season and during the 2004-05 season on a playoff bound Bulls team. Despite a disappointing 2005-06, Curry had a break out season during the Knicks 2006-07 campaign averaging about 20 points and 7 rebounds in 35 minutes of action as the Knicks primary post scorer.
On the cusp of realizing his potential, Curry regressed during the 2007-08 season and his on court presence with the Knicks would continue to tailspin in each successive season with the organization. Although Curry's precipitous decline with the Knicks can be attributed to a combination of a lack of work ethic, discipline and injuries (aggravated by weight gain resulting from a lack of conditioning), Curry's problems reached further. Aside form off court turmoil, Curry's on court devolution may have been exacerbated by a team in crisis, disarray and transition that left it bereft of leadership.
During 2007-08 season a sexual harassment law suit undermined the authority of the team's head coach. The instability on the sidelines was compounded by a mutiny of the team's star point guard and possibly the locker room as well. The following seasons leading to the summer of 2010 saw a revolving door of 'rent a knicks' more important for the fluidity with which their contracts could be expedited from the payrolls than what skill sets and long range prospects those players provided.
Under a constantly shifting terrain (in which the organizations focus was towards a clean break from the missteps of the prior regime) coach player communication was not at a premium. Nor was their a premium placed on the long term prospects of players within the organization. The end result undermined the seeds of leadership found on contending teams like the Celtics who were maximizing the efforts of their promising young players (Rajon Rondo and Glen Davis). Curry's cautionary tale is an extreme example of a promising player's wayward drift while on rudderless team in transition.
Unlike Curry, Randolph (the self described baby on a very young Knicks team) has demonstrated resilience by working through former coach Don Nelson's dog house to close out strong during his rookie campaign. Randolph's work ethic carried him through the 2009 off-season and resulted in an outstanding Summer League showing and an invite to work out with the US Means Basketball Team. Randolph is also said to approach defense and rebounding with great zeal. Randolph and other Knicks have been seen around the Knicks practice facility for a good part of the summer offseason. Randolph and the other group of young Knicks should benefit from the apparent stability that signaled the close of this summer's makeover.
The young core of Knicks should also benefit from the presence of veteran imports such as Amare' Stoudemire, Ronny Turiaf and Raymond Felton. A locker room headed by a Star Forward workhorse, a rugged and selfless role player and a defiant point guard from a great college hoops program should help guide a young reconstituted Knicks team. When joined by veteran sophomore, Toney Douglas (whose off season two a day workouts in anticipation of the upcoming season are well chronicled) the Knicks appear ready to replant the seeds of leadership needed to help raise the next generation of promising players.
Though few expect the Knicks to go further than a lower playoff seeding. This Knicks team (like 2008 World Champion Celtics) may draw from the wisdom of an African proverb. With youth and hope in abundance the leaders on the Knicks may heed 'ora na azu nwa' (it takes a village to raise a child) as they embark upon a new journey of validation. A journey that will surely require that the team's stable of youth reach their collective potential.