It’s September 26th, training camp is just around the corner, and no season preview has yet appeared in this space. We think the time is ripe for that to change. Let’s do this Good, Bad and Ugly style because it’s a great, great film – and it’s a very useful tool to describe what may be in store for this squad.
Notwithstanding some necessary and unnecessary sacrifices – which we’ll get to shortly – to accomplish the win-now imperative, the Knicks have put together a leathery team (leathery being my favorite synonym listed on Thesaurus.com to the word “tough”, which I did not want to use. They are probably also lusty. I’m not quite sure why that’s listed as a synonym for tough – but I digress.) This team was already kind of flinty last season, what with Shump, Jorts, Tyson, Jeffries, and others, but now they’re going to display a certain kind of grizzled flintiness that comes with the battle scars and lost athleticism of age. Guys like Kidd, Camby and Thomas are old enough to know how to deliver a flagrant foul while concealing the appearance of one and also to have earned the benefit of the doubt from the refs when the infraction hovers over the borderline.
But it’s not just the aged veterans that contribute to the grit but also the two new backcourt additions. They don’t call Raymond Felton the “bulldog” just because he likes to eat everyone’s table scraps when they’re done, but also because of his tendency to be a defensive irritant. And though it may look like an ostrich, or something, taught Ronnie Brewer to shoot, the Knicks retained him not to shoot but to imitate Iman Shumpert during his convalescence. (Brewer’s shot looks so funky because he broke his arm in the 5th grade and it never healed properly.) And even though Brewer has spent most of his time in the league at the 2 and 3 positions, he was a point guard in college and that versatility can only help if age issues catch up with the Knicks over the next several years.
The Knicks are old. But there’s a lot of them. The depth chart is well, pretty deep:
PG: Felton, Kidd, Prigioni
SG: Shumpert, Smith, Brewer
SF: ‘Melo, Brewer, Novak
PF: Amar’e, Thomas, Camby
C: Chandler, Camby, Thomas
With age comes experience and the players on this roster have all been deep into the playoffs. For the most part, the era of waiting for players to develop is over. These guys are developed and they don’t need any hand-holding. Each player should know what is expected of him and there should be little uncertainty as to roles. And though we explore the ravages of age a bit further below, it’s also interesting to note that age and success appear to have some correlation.
The Knicks are so into older men that I’m assuming they lost interest in T-Mac because he’s just 33. Rather, it seems like they’re more interested in the venerable Rasheed Wallace. If the Knicks sign Rashweed, who is 38, he will be one of the ten oldest players in the league, yet he will be just the 4th oldest Knick. And even though rookies are traditionally youthful, the Knicks felt like eschewing tradition in order to make Pablo Prigioni the oldest rookie ever (Jonah believes). Even Chris Smith, should he make the team, would be a 24 year old rook.
Further, despite the possible correlation between age and success, as noted above, I’m pretty sure I don’t need to link to a source to have some assurance that there’s also a correlation between age and injury. So all that depth, especially in the front-court, might be somewhat tenuous.
Now if you’re one of those who doesn’t like to read anything about Jeremy Lin, or reflexively responds to mentions of him with exhortations to “GO TO BROOKLYN”, please skip this section, because I’m getting tired of being told to move to King’s County, even though I know it’s lovely, and their arena looks neat. But if I’m evaluating what the Knicks may be this year it feels natural to also consider what they might have been.
It’s no secret that I think Lin will be (or maybe even already is) better than Felton. I wish the Knicks still had him. They could have kept him and still acquired everyone else they managed to acquire this off-season. The fact is there wasn’t much downside to keeping him and they’ve conditioned the fans to accept much worse moves. That’s all I’ll say about Lin specifically for now – my more detailed diatribes are in the past, or possibly reserved for the future.
More generally though, the Knicks are all-in. They lost Lin and they traded Kostas Papanikolaou, last year’s Euro-League MVP for Felton (I’m really hoping we don’t ask ourselves this in the future: “We traded Kostas for who??!!?”). The Knicks could have continued to build with what little youth they had, since ‘Melo isn’t that old and it took Paul Pierce – a player to whom he has been frequently compared – until roughly his 30th birthday to change his game to a more team-oriented style. But now the Knicks have basically just Shumpert in the youth department. They have a very short window with their roster as currently assembled. Clyde knows it too. (“I think their window is a two-year window right now…They have to capitalize right away.”)
The Knicks don’t just have to win big now, they have to win big RIGHT NOW, because father time isn’t going to do Kidd, Prigioni, Camby, Thomas, and let’s face it, even Amar’e, any favors over the next 3 years. The Knicks are completely rebuilt, but frankly, already on the downslope.
The good news is that in 3 years the Knicks have the potential to have about a clean a book as possible, and rebuild once again with cap-space if they so choose.
I guess it’s customary to give a prediction in a preview, yes? Ok, um, 50-32, 4th seed. Boom. I give the squad 50 wins because I like to give them the benefit of the doubt but the fact is that deep inside I feel like they haven’t earned this. The Knicks are under .500 in games in which Amar’e and ‘Melo both play, and though many fans don’t like to face it, that is just a fact, excuses be damned. Anyway, I’d obviously like to see the team exceed these expectations in what’s shaping up to be a tough Eastern Conference.
Here’s to looking forward to a new Knicks’ season, will all its attendant drama, recrimination, and yes, joy.