New York – We knew going into this 2009-10 season that the Knicks were sacrificing this season by trading away most of their long-term contracts to clear salary-cap space in preparation for the class of 2010 free-agent sweepstakes. We knew such NBA superstuds with expiring contracts like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, and Amare Stoudemire could be available for purchase so the Knicks rid themselves of over-paid, one dimensional talents like Zack Randolph and Jamal Crawford in the process.
But, after watching them play an exhibition game last night at Madison Square Garden against the Philadelphia 76ers in which they lost, 93-85, the bigger question hanging over this team is, will this season of financial sacrifice be over before it barely begins?
The Knicks have lopped off about $17.34 million off their 2010-11 books, and are only set to pay about $18.1 million combined to Eddy Curry and Jared Jeffries that year (both player options … thanks to Isiah Thomas), plus the rookie deals of Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari (about $5.4 million, combined). That’s $23.5 million, a pretty barren landscape, with lots of flexibility for the big signings.
But, there’s no guarantee James or any of the other free agents will want to become part of this team, no matter how much money Knicks owner, Jim Dolan, lays on the table.
Tonight, Mike D’Antoni’s team either gave us exactly what their true capabilities are or an enormously poor aberration. The Knicks brass has to hope they aren’t as bad as they showed tonight in front of a sparce home crowd as they shot 29 of 94 from the field (31%) while throwing up more bricks from three point land (7 of 41 for 17%) than was put into the construction of the Empire State Building.
Al Harrington is their only legitimate scorer and he probably won’t be here next year. Chris Duhon is their only legitimate point guard and he probably won’t be here next year. David Lee is their only legitimate rebounder and he probably won’t be here next year.
This is primarily an outside shooting team that can’t shoot from the outside. After watching recent Knick pickup, Darko Milicic, the 7 footer who was the number 2 pick in the 2003 NBA draft, play tonight, there isn’t any inside presence, either. To compare the Knicks shooting tonight to a fisherman who couldn’t cast his line into the ocean if he was standing right on the shore would be a compliment to the fisherman.
Still, Mike D’Antoni found some positives to extoll about his team after tonight’s performance.
“Well, I was happy with the defense,” he said. “I thought we played well in spurts but defensively we were okay. One of these days, we have to make some shots.”
“I don’t think it’s a big deal, right now but obviously, you can’t shoot 30% or 7 for 41 although that might be an improvement from our last game so we might be on an uptick,” he joked. At least, I think he was joking.
Last week, D’Antoni went out on a limb by announcing to the press that Danilo Gallinari, the 19 year old Italian drafted by the Knicks last year, was the “greatest shooter he’s ever seen.” Tonight, the greatest shooter ever shot 1 of 6 from the field and 1 of 4 from the three-point stripe, making his performance decidedly not the “greatest.”
“Guys like Gallinari and Wilson Chandler are hesitating on their shot, right now,” said D’Antoni. “I think it’s contagious, sometimes. We just need to relax and we will.”
“Gallinari is going to take 30,000 shots in his career, here. I don’t think at age 19, we should start worrying about it,” D’Antoni continued. “After 10,000 shots, then we’ll talk about it but give him a chance. It’s the third game of the pre-season and we’ve been running the heck out them and probably don’t have their legs under them, yet. One night, we won’t miss them.”
Gallinari isn’t worried by his shooting slump.
“I feel good. I think we played a good game. We played good defense. For everybody, the offensive rhythm will come. No doubt about it. You just have to go through a slump. It’s normal when it happens.”
As one scribe whispered to me in the Knicks locker room tonight after the game, “just 86 more games (including four pre-season games) to go till the end of the season.”