The talk all around the National Basketball Association as the current season begins has been the plethora of teams who are merely looking to go through the motions in anticipation of the free agent class coming up in the summer. It is almost as if this – and in some cases – last season were mere inconveniences as general managers were only concerned with clearing salary cap space.
With names such as LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson becoming available, GM’s are salivating at the prospect of one or more than these players inking long-term deals with their respective clubs. There is no doubt that Knicks team president Donnie Walsh has a plan in place, but that doesn’t mean that he and head coach Mike D’Antoni are not viewing this season as a vital one. In fact, D’Antoni has stated that his goal is to win 40 games and feels that number would be sufficient to secure a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
They may not be going into the schedule with a fully loaded roster, but the Knicks will play hard and get the most out of a group that includes many expiring contracts. The fans at Madison Square Garden may not have a lot to cheer for but they certainly will not get cheated with half-hearted efforts that became commonplace during the end of the Isiah Thomas era.
GUARDS (2008-09 stats)
*CHRIS DUHON (79 games, 11.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 7.2 APG) – The former Chicago Bull seemed at times to be totally out of gas and averaged 36.8 minutes per game. Because of the shortage of players in the backcourt, he had to suck it up and stay in there. A good soldier and serviceable player.
*WILSON CHANDLER (82 games, 14.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.1 APG) – The swingman out of DePaul is entering his third year in the league and became an integral part of the line-up last season. He will see minutes at both shooting guard and small forward.
*NATE ROBINSON (74 games, 17.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 4.1 APG) – Last season’s Sixth Man runner up will be the first guard off the bench and will surely get some starts along the way. A big fan favorite, the generously listed 5’9” Robinson has become sort of an icon with his slam-dunk contest victories. Was re-signed as a restricted free agent in the offseason.
*LARRY HUGHES (55 games, 11.7 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.2 APG) – A 14-year veteran, Hughes came to New York during the season from Chicago and brought along with him some leadership and stability.
*TONEY DOUGLAS (35 games, 21.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.6 APG with Florida State) – The Knicks were very high on Douglas and traded with the Lakers on Draft Night to acquire the former Seminole, who was chosen in the first round (29th overall) by the defending NBA champions.
*AL HARRINGTON (73 games, 20.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.6 APG) – A pleasant surprise after he was brought in from the Warriors, Harrington has become a team leader in this young locker room. The Knicks dealt their scoring leader, Jamaal Crawford, for Harrington and he stepped into that role admirably.
*DAVID LEE (81 games, 16.0 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 2.1 APG) – Also a restricted free agent and a fan favorite, Lee deserved to be brought back like his mate Robinson. In his breakout campaign, Lee had a league-leading 65 double-doubles.
*JARED JEFFERIES (56 games, 5.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.4 APG) – The oft-injured big man will also see time at the center position. Hopefully the free agent acquisition from Washington will finally pay off after three seasons full of disappointment.
*DANILO GALLINARI (28 games, 6.1 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.5 APG) – Much of his rookie season was lost to injury and Gallinari had back surgery on April 7 to correct the condition. He will eventually work his way into the starting line-up but will have to add some muscle to his 6’10”, 225-pound frame to be effective in the NBA.
*JORDAN HILL (34 games, 18.3 PPG, 11.0 RPG at Arizona) – The Knicks first round pick (eighth overall) is very raw but has a big upside. The underclassman led the team in rebounding and was second in scoring. Do not expect a big contribution from Hill this year.
*MARCUS LANDRY – An undrafted free agent, the Wisconsin product will be on the bubble all season long in a frontcourt that is loaded.
*EDDY CURRY (3 games, 1.7 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.0 APG) – Another wasted season for the former man-child, Curry is still only 26 with eight professional years under his wide belt. The seven-footer arrived at training camp in (for him) very good condition but still had to stay on the sideline because of various injuries. So much wasted potential for the fourth overall pick by Chicago in the 2001 draft.
*DARKO MILICIC (61 games, 5.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 0.6 APG) – Wouldn’t it be ironic if Milicic becomes a serviceable player where his former coach (and the guy who drafted him second overall six years ago) Larry Brown had the worst tenure of his illustrious career? The undersized Knicks had nothing to lose by taking a flyer on the seven-foot Serbian.
PREDICTION: The stability and continuity of the roster will give the Knicks a slight improvement in the win column, but they will fall short of the 40-win mark. D’Antoni will run an exciting offense, sans Curry, and this team will be ready to add a big name in 2010.