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New York Knicks Preview - Straight Bangin'

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nyk.gifNew York Knickerbockers - Straight Bangin'
Last Year's Record: 33-49
Key Losses: Steve Francis, Channing Frye, Anucha Browne Sanders lawsuit
Key Additions: Zach Randolph, Dan Dickau, Fred Jones, Jared Jordan, Wilson Chandler (23rd pick), Demetris Nichols (53rd pick)

1) What significant moves were made during the offseason?
On draft night, the Knicks acquired Zach Randolph. Optimists believe that his 20 and 10 will make their way across the country and take up residence on a nightly basis in the Garden. Skeptics feel as though he's redundant. All can agree that trading the underachieving, soft Channing Frye and the discontented, oft-injured Steve Francis for Z-Bo helped the Knicks "win" the trade from a basketball perspective. There are questions, of course, about whether Randolph, whose history includes punching a teammate, reckless driving, and some sort of strip club-based mourning ritual, will be an off-court distraction. Randolph is said to be calmer and more mature now, while Francis was his own melodrama, so it might be an even trade in that regard. Besides, I think that other things might obscure Randolph so long as he falls short of prison rape or something similar. And then there's Stephon's ongoing religious revival.

The other new arrivals aren't likely to have a huge impact this season, although Nichols can stroke it and Chandler might be athletic enough to become a good front-court defender. And, as I think about it, I'd like to correct the first statement in this paragraph--Fred Jones may very well get knocked out by Nate Robinson in practice if Jones even thinks about trying to steal any of the circus-freak shine that Robinson has relished since arriving in Manhattan. So in that way, Jones's presence may be felt. Especially by him and a whatever hand Robinson might use.

2) What are the team's biggest strengths?
One thing the Knicks won't lack is absurdity. Another is girth. The Brickers will also be blessed with a dangerous array of offensive abilities. This response is built around positive thinking, so leave your caveats, objections, and dismissals until the next question.

Star Child can still get into the lane and finish at the rim on par with the best point guards, and his passing can be smart and charitable when he's in a rhythm. Jamal Crawford has a diverse perimeter game, and he's comfortable shooting the three, a mid-range runner, or a fade-away, making him difficult to defend when he's on. Inside, Eddy Curry has emerged as a legitimate twenty-point scorer thanks to a deft touch and a growing collection of post moves. He's also a load, making it hard to move him away from the rim once he's established position. That's not an insignificant attribute. Curry's low-post scoring may be complemented by Randolph, a back-to-the-basket forward who can drift out to the top of the key or to the extended elbow area and consistently hit jumpers. Overlooked is that Quentin Richardson has always been a big man trapped in a small man's body. Though he has fashioned himself as a three-point gunner since helping Phoenix establish its prevailing style, Q remains an able low-post scorer and can put the ball on the floor against slower small forwards. With Curry and Randolph drawing attention from the biggest defenders, Q may find more inside scoring opportunities if he commits to getting inside more often. Most teams don't have such a pronounced set of offensive capabilities among its five leading players.

How it will all mesh is not yet clear, but the potential potency is intriguing. I'd like to think that guided by the humility preached by his new father, Jesus, Stephon will commit to serving as the cohesion that this team will need to execute effectively. Imagine, for a moment, Stephon bringing the ball up the floor, getting a high screen from Randolph, and then either: driving to the lane for a layup or dish to Curry; passing out of the hedge to Randolph for a pick-and-pop jumper; passing to Randolph who gets it into Curry or feeds Richardson with his feet set as the defense rotates; drawing a sagging defense and kicking it out to Jamal for an open three or a pull-up jumper as the scrambling defense goes flying by. It's kind of exciting, isn't?

The Knicks may also lead the Eastern Conference in critical Energy Guys. (Out West and league-wide, I don't see how anyone can fuck with Golden State.) David Lee is indefatigable on the glass and Renaldo Balkman is basically paid to run and move parts of his body on defense. And, of course, there's Nate Robinson, a leading candidate for Least Efficient Player of the Year. From aborted one-man alley-oops to far too much dribbling, Nate has energy and is always moving something--his arms, his legs, his mouth.

3) What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
Ownership, management, and coaching. Those, honestly, are the biggest problems.

When assessing just the roster, defense is the key deficiency. The Knicks don't try hard enough to play it.

If you were to look at the traditional numbers from last season--things like points per game surrendered and opponent's field goal percentage--you'd see a team that was somewhere between the middle and the lower third of the league. But that doesn't tell the qualitative story, the story that's hidden by second halves spent trying to salvage first-half embarrassments so that the team can net out at a respectable loss, not a what-a-joke blowout. The Knicks have a lot of those. There are simply too many nights when the Brickers look disinterested on defense, allowing other teams to enter the lane with impunity or surrendering a cavalcade of open looks. A guard will look away as his man blows by him; a big man will make a half-hearted attempt to rotate; someone on the wing will lean over and waive his arms rather than moving his feet to impede a dribbler's forward progress; an eager offensive rebounder will waltz up the rim and leave confused Knicks staring at each other. Those are enduring images with this team, and that has to change if the franchise's fortunes are to improve.

The Knicks will also need to establish chemistry, define offensive roles, and fully integrate Randolph. While his skills may work well with Curry's, his defense won't, and the ball might get held for too long by too many players. Te flip side of the sunny picture painted above is an offense that is inconsistent, streaky, and too often disjointed. Also, Nate Robinson is on the team, and he is just about worthless unless he helps a fight break out. If, somehow in this new NBA, the Knicks do get brolic on a consistent basis, though, then Robinson will be an asset.

4) What are the goals for this team?
I think that James Dolan, Isiah Thomas, and the Knick players would all say that a reasonable goal would be making the playoffs and winning a series. If pressed, they might concede that they would at least like to be competitive in a playoff series. I find that hollow, because the Knicks do not have a championship nucleus, and you can only re-paint an old car so many times. What's the point of trying to hit the glass ceiling faster than ever? (Is there any other hackneyed gimmick I can employ?)

If you really care about the Knicks, you should hope that the culture of the team changes this year. A leader should emerge, on the floor and in the locker room. It should not phone in so many games. It should play defense consistently. Those are goals that seem more important than finishing around .500, feeling complacent, and passing off a playoff appearance as an authentic progression. With all due respect to Gilbert Arenas, the goal is not to become the Washington Wizards; the goal is to win a championship.

5) Any storylines that will help Knicks fans cope if this year is like last year?

- Say-anything, bang-anything Stephon Marbury and his religious awakening. Henry has chronicled it well here, and you also might want to watch this and this:

- He doesn't have to go home, but he sure as @#$% had better not stay here. Now that Isiah Thomas has cost the Garden more than $11 million and brought even more shame upon a franchise that I didn't think he could debase any more, his eventual ouster may well be in the works. With a vainglorious moron like James Dolan in charge, there are no guarantees. Especially if keeping Isiah serves as a means for the ever misguided Dolan to appease his ego. But if Isiah is forced out by things like "logic" and "decency," Knicks fans should consult with the victims of kidnappings to find out what's it like when hostage situations end. Minus the Stockholm Syndrome, hopefully.

- The miseducation of David Lee. It's sort of sad that he has to be on this team. It seems like he could be an important player on a contender. As it be, his quasi-legend and martyr status will only grow during another season in New York.

- Nate Robinson could always get banned. Again. Seriously. Who knows for what sort of manifest stupidity his body may serve as a vehicle? He'll have a rich second career at streetball events and on public-access rap television programs.

6) Were you going to talk about Isiah at any greater length?
That can come tomorrow. Seriously, check back. It will be fun.

Predicted Record: 36-46

There will still be too little defense and too much disorder on offense. But it might be more fun to watch.