Tuesday, September 16, 2008

NY Knicks 2008-09 Preview

The New York Knicks are set to tip off their 63rd season of professional basketball on October 30 against the Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks are coming off a season in which they finished with a 23-59 record, good enough for last place in the Atlantic Division. The season was an outright failure resulting with the firing of Head Coach and GM Isiah Thomas. In come former Suns head Coach Mike D'Antoni and former Pacers GM Donnie Walsh. But can D'Antoni and Walsh provide any light at the end of a dark tunnel for the Knicks in the upcoming season?

Hiring Mike D'Antoni was a fantastic P.R. move for the Knicks. They needed to give their fans something to be optimistic about and who better to hire then the most fan-friendly coach in the NBA. Unfortunately, D'Antoni won't make much of a difference this season because the Knicks still have the same roster bogged down by incohesive parts and over-inflated egos that Isiah Thomas coached last year. The Eastern Conference has slowly improved and the Knicks do not have the pieces to compete yet.

Mike D'Antoni is known for his "7 Seconds or Less" offense because he believes the best chance to score is within the first 7 seconds of each possession. This offense in Phoenix was predicated on having a player that could be his facilitator on the court. Unfortunately for the Knicks, they do not have a player capable of this role. Neither incumbent PG Stephon Marbury nor newly acquired PG Chris Duhon is that type of player. Therefore this season will be an experiment and a slow integration of D'Antoni's offensive philosophies.

Despite all the managerial and coaching changes, the Knicks haven't truly started rebuilding yet. Right now they are in a quagmire; stuck between the mistakes of Isiah Thomas's past and Donnie Walsh's vision of the future. The goal is to free up cap room for 2010 to make a run at LeBron James or Dwayne Wade. This factor makes it impossible to deal with this team seriously today because they are trying desperately to shed salary for the future. No one, including team management, sees this iteration of the Knicks as anything but a stumbling block. There is not a player on this roster that can be said to be an integral part to any kind of rebuilding process that is about to kick-off. Even rookie Danilo Gallinari remains a question mark until he proves he can play ball in the NBA. While guys like Gallinari, Wilson Chandler or Jamal Crawford may prove indispensable under D'Antoni's offense, only Gallinari could be left on the roster in two years.

So is this season already a wasted season? Not necessarily. There is much left to transpire in the ensuing months that could have a huge impact not only on the Knicks but on several NBA teams. Consider that Marbury does eventually have to be dealt with (or simply dealt outright). Ditto Eddy Curry and/or Zach Randolph, who failed miserably as a tandem a year ago. Any team that makes a swap for them will be sending back a bad player with a large contract to even out the deal. Without unloading some of their salary cap-killers, the Knicks will be irrelevant through 2010. The goal in the next two seasons is to cut salary and not take on too many bad contacts.

Another useful part of this season will be watching to see how the youngsters acquit themselves. The aforementioned Gallinari and Chandler each have a wonderful opportunity to blend in with D'Antoni's free-flowing offense. Both could be huge surprises in an otherwise dreary season. Nate Robinson, likewise, will be tasked with a similar role as Leandro Barbosa in Phoenix, coming off the bench to spark the offense. While it's virtually unimaginable that Robinson could be nearly as effective as Barbosa, a season like this is a perfect opportunity to prove that he can be.

Look for the Knicks to finish second to last (ahead of the lowly Nets) in the Atlantic Division. But this season is more about the many things that occur outside of the standings and competitive action. It's about the first glimmers of light after a long, dark night. It's not much, but to Knick fans it has to be better than anything that's come about in recent memory.