Of course the ultimate goal for a team is to make the playoffs, regardless of what sport you’re in and even if the team is going through a rebuilding year. For the New York Knicks, getting into the postseason in Year One of the new regime would be a feather in the caps of team president Donnie Walsh and head coach Mike D’Antoni, but the short term obviously does not outweigh the long term.
Both men knew that coming into the season and Walsh has done a superb job ridding the roster of a number of Isiah Thomas blemishes. Couple that with the up-tempo style that D’Antoni runs and the players currently wearing blue and orange have hustled every night and played until the final gun. Quite an improvement over what has taken place the last few seasons on 33rd street.
The mere fact that we’re still talking about the possibility of the playoffs with less than 10 games remaining in the regular season is a testament to the entire organization and that in itself has made the maiden campaign for Walsh and D’Antoni a success. Going back to his introductory press conference, the new coach hit the nail on the head.
“I guarantee you that there are 30 teams out there preparing to make the playoffs for next year and we’re going to do everything we can to get there,” D’Antoni said back in May. “The only thing I can promise you is that we’re going to play hard and we’re going to be exciting. So put on your seatbelts and let’s go for it.”
Putting it in perspective like that, D’Antoni may have played it down the middle but knew that he would be able to turn this thing around, just maybe not as fast. Even with the distraction of Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry and a revolving door at Madison Square Garden, the team has played spirited basketball and become more than watchable.
Understanding that, sneaking into the eighth seed and getting swept by an Eastern Conference powerhouse such as Cleveland or Boston would not do that much as far as progress goes, even in a season where the draft is not being viewed as a particularly deep one.
With Wednesday night’s 140-135 overtime loss to the lowly Clippers, the Knicks fell to 28-43, 5 1/2 games behind the Bulls, who currently sit in that eighth spot. With four teams with less than 20 wins at this point in the season, it would be highly unlikely that the Knicks would come away with a top three pick in June’s draft, but you never know.
Getting younger and deeper will help the team for their aspirations of being a contender by 2010, otherwise known as the Year of LeBron James. Even if they cannot sign the Cavaliers superstar, other big names like Chris Bosh and Dewayne Wade will also become available.
It may initially hurt once the Knicks are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but down the road it will be for the best.