Monthly Archives: April 2010

In position for Donnie Walsh to deliver: Knicks season on the sofa

As the New York Knicks meandered through the final week of another 50+ loss season, I had the pleasure of heading to the States. No basketball for me on this trip. I’m in San Francisco tieing the knot with the Sports Lass (who I guess I should now refer to as Mrs Sports Bloke). We were supposed to head home to England tomorrow but, thanks to an Icelandic volcano and some cancelled flights, are now stuck on the Left Coast until the end of the month. This is a not inexpensive hassle but it does at least give me some time to reflect on the dregs of the Knicks’ season and look forward to what is now a make or break summer for Donnie Walsh.

Two wins and four losses over their final six games meant the Knicks finished 29-53 for the season. The only real bright spots here came in the form of a surprising 104-101 win over the Boston Celtics – in which Danilo Gallinari topped 30 points and flukily banked in a three pointer to seal the win – and a 40-point fourth quarter rally against the Washington Wizards that resulted in an improbable comeback win. In between times, defeats to Miami and Orlando were almost as predictable as the stuttering fourth quarter that cost the team a win in Indiana and the insipid defenceless display in the season finale at Toronto.

But at least this unforgiving season is finally all done and the re-building can begin in earnest. Here’s what we can say for certain: the days of Al Harrington, Chris Duhon, Jonathan Bender and Eddie House as Knicks are over. Sergio Rodriguez, JR Giddens and Tracy McGrady will almost definitely join them looking for work. With next year’s salary cap now announced at a higher-than-expected 56 million dollars and only Gallo, Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas and the execrable Eddy Curry still on the books, Donnie Walsh has 34 million dollars to spend. And you can trust that he will spend it wisely.

The moves Walsh could potentially make have already been analysed to death. But whether you believe a dream team free agent bonanza of Lebron James and Chris Bosh is imminent or a pipe dream, the fact remains that Walsh has delivered on his promise to get the Knicks to a fiscal position where they become contenders again. The Celtics won 24 games the season before they added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and went on to win the title. Things change quickly in the NBA. The true curse of Isiah Thomas’ tenure at the helm was that his awful decisions ensured the Knicks were never in the financial position to improve their circumstances. Now, thanks to Donnie, they are in the conversation for the first time in years.

There’s no point second guessing what Walsh will do this summer. The man has an alphabet of plans he can utilise. He also has the ability and the contacts to keep people off the scent. Did you honestly see the Zach Randolph or Jamal Crawford trades coming before Wlash pulled the trigger? By explaining his plan, sticking to it and delivering on what he promised (to date), Walsh has earned, at least to my mind, the trust of the Garden faithful. People scoffed when he said he’d create room for two max free agents by trading Jared “Mr Intangible” Jeffries. Walsh pulled it off, albeit with a trade that potentially wrecks his prospects in future drafts. He even got rid of Jerome “Big Snax” James, whose acquisition was the symbolic nadir of Thomas’ reign. You have to believe, now he’s put the team in a position to turn the corner, that Donnie will deliver a drastically improved roster mext term.

I don’t believe Lebron or Wade will come to New York. I think Joe Johnson and Chris Bosh might be a more realistic aim. Even if that fails, grabbing Marcus Camby and keeping David Lee for the front court and using what’s left to get a decent point guard for Douglas to back-up will surely be a dramatic improvement on what we’ve watched for the last two years. The potential addition of Camby intrigues me. I’ve just watched him dominate the boards and the paint in Portland’s playoff win in Phoenix. His rebounding and blocking abilities would compensate for Lee’s absent defence  and the pair would surely work well together. There’s plenty of NBA power forwards who play no D but are bailed out by the defensive dominance of their center. Randolph and Marc Gasol in Memphis spring immediately to mind. And who’s to say Lee won’t dramatically improve his defence over the summer as he did with his offensive game last off-season? Despite recently referring to himself in the third person in an interview, the man has heart, has flourished in New York, has elevated him game and wants to be part of the Knicks’ turnaround. For me, he deserves a contract.

Based on the evidence of season’s last few weeks, Bill Walker and The Earl of Barron both deserve low cost bench spots next year. Barron seems athletic enough to play in Mike D’Antoni’s offence and, more importantly, seemed hell-bent on proving his worth after rotting in the D-League for a season. He’s be a viable back-up for someone like Camby. Walker is impressively athletic and contributes at both ends of the floor. After his original stock in the draft was wrecked by injury, he possesses a similar desire to show what he can do. Give me this attitude of that of a money-hungry mediocre veteran (yes, Mr Harrington, I’m referring to you) any day of the week. New York has long been a home to the league’s waifs and strays. From CBA bag boys (Starks) to unwanted lunatics (Spree), the Garden has always allowed previously unheralded players to become stars or perceived malcontents to attain redemption.

So, yes, the worst is over. Aside from Eddy Curry and Utah’s draft pick, the wretched vestiges of Isiah’s reign are gone. This season, at times truly awful to witness, is finally done and the Knicks are in position to finally turn the corner. In Donnie Walsh, they have the man who will make it happen. For Mike D’Antoni, the time for excuses is over now he’ll have the necessary talent at his disposal. And while it’s far too early for the Garden faithful to start dreaming of long play-off runs and the like, it’s a guarantee that the time is approaching where we can hold our heads high and, whisper it, dare to dream just a little.

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Finally, the Knicks win in the west – Season on the sofa week 23 review

God bless the Los Angeles Clippers. They are as reliable in their incompetence as Tim Lincecum is with a fastball. Be honest, if you had lost the first four games of a Western Conference road trip and you knew that even a performance for the ages from your best player wasn’t good enough to defeat a team as lowly as the Golden State Warriors, is there another team you’d rather play than the Clippers on the last game of the trip to ensure you at least returned home with one win in your pocket?

Of course not. And, the Clippers being the Clippers, the team no longer coached by Mike “Squinty” Dunleavy duly obliged, falling to the Knicks 113-107 just hours after an earthquake shook downtown Los Angeles. David Lee led the way with 29 points and 10 boards and, for once, was ably assisted by Al Harrington who, with Tracy McGrady resting his ever-ailing sore left knee, made the most of a start with a 26 point return. In a shock reversal of his efforts against the Clippers last season where he virtually handed two Ws to the Clips by drawing a pair of ludicrous technical fouls, Harrington made the difference down the stretch, getting the better of his old running mate Baron Davis and scoring six points (four from the line) in the final 72 seconds to close out the game.

The other noteworthy aspects of this match-up came primarily from the bench. Firstly, the debut of Earl Barron, the seven-foot center signed from the D League on a 10-day deal, gave the Knicks a real boost with 10 points and six rebounds in a 17-minute stint. Sergio Rodriguez dealt out 10 dimes in 22 minutes and Toney Douglas, nonsensically supplanted in the starting line-up by Chris Duhon, shot 3 of 4 from beyond the arc. While the Clippers starters got the better of the Knicks’ first five in the game’s opening exchanges, D’Antoni’s second string, led by Douglas and Rodriguez, brought them back into the game and then into the lead. That, and the first consistent bursts of energy and defence seen on this current road trip, helped the Knicks get over the line.

So, a predictably dire road trip ended on a meaningless high. Good job the degree of difficulty in terms of opponents lessened as the five-game swing went on. Having opened the trip with a shellacking in Phoenix (see last week’s column), D’Antoni and his charges succeeded in lowering expectations to record depths for their visits to Utah and Portland. Both Knicks performances in these games fell into the “stop me if you’ve heard this one before” category.

Against the Jazz, the Knicks fell behind early, giving up 44 points on 85% (YES, EIGHTY-FIVE PER CENT!) shooting – and virtually no defence – in the opening quarter, before rallying back to parity near the end of the third. An ice-cold fourth quarter in which a malfunctioning Knicks offence managed a paltry 11 points sealed the deal in Utah’s favour. No execution down the stretch equals no victory. Yet again.

Facing the Blazers, the Knicks produced the all-too familiar 48 heartless, effortless, distracted minutes on their way to a 118-90 beatdown. As Mike D’Antoni noted, the game started badly at the opening top and “went downhill from there”. The Knicks were manhandled on the boards, out-rebounded 50 to 30. They managed just four fast break points all night. The win clinched a playoff spot for Portland. The loss had Knicks fans reaching for the sick bucket.

How badly to you have to play to lose a game in which one of your players records the NBA’s first 30-point, 20-rebound, 10-assist game in 34 years? Awfully, if the opponent in question is the Golden State Warriors. As is customary when the Knicks play the Warriors, the Oakland hoops police ensured no defence was allowed within five miles of the Oracle Arena and the scoreboard rattled around accordingly. After the Portland debacle, D’Antoni revealed he had appealed to the “competitiveness and pride” of his players. The resulting 128-117 loss suggested that only David Lee was listening.

With his jump shot firing and his pick and roll game restored thanks to the otherwise unwelcome re-introduction of Chris Duhon, Lee scored 37 points, hauled down 20 rebounds and dished out 10 assists. It was the first 30/20/10 return in an NBA game since Kareem Abdul Jabbar completed the feat in March 1976. Lee played 46 minutes, including late fourth quarter garbage time when the game was already lost but that should not diminish his effort.

The one question is does raise is way D’Antoni had Lee out there at all. Could one reading of this be that the Knicks are quietly putting Lee in the shop window for use in a sign and trade this summer? Unlike with Nate, Jordan Hill and, more recently T-Mac, the coach appears to appreciate Lee’s play and, if Donnie Walsh’s plan for next season doesn’t include the former Florida Gator, wants him to land in a good spot.

So how was Lee’s historic effort neutralised? A total absence of defensive effort led to Anthony Morrow and Reggie Williams tormenting the Knicks with 35 and 23 points respectively. On the other side of the ball, a lack of interior toughness saw Ronny Turiaf transform into the second coming of Dwight Howard, making five rejections in a 15-minute block party. The Warriors also forced 22 turnovers while giving up only 10. Their victory moved coach Don Nelson within one game of equalling Lenny Wilkens record total of 1,332 NBA wins.

As if such things needed confirmation, the Knicks one and four Western conference swing reeked of the resignation that comes from a team eliminated from the playoff picture with players who know the team will be blown up in the summer. Everyone know the big picture with the Knicks but, as I’ve said at various points this season, knowing things will eventually get better does not provide in the aftermatch of dispirited performances and bad defeats. The only bright spot this season haas been the play of David Lee. The irony is that it seems no matter how hard he continues to play, his future as a Knick looks as bleak as those of the teammates who consistently failed to match the standards he sets.

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