The Knicks are already all-in, so why not all-Lin?

I keep hearing about the Knicks weighing whether to make a basketball decision or a marketing decision. To me, this is an oversimplification in many ways. It’s not just that they would be losing out on marketing opportunities by letting him go, it’s also the fact that Lin represents one of the most exciting periods of being a Knick fan ever.

These last couple of weeks I feel that a lot of people have applied an almost TOO sober approach to Jeremy Lin, questioning whether he will really be the player he seemed to be during Linsanity, suggesting he may somehow revert to the perpetual end-of-the-bench guy he previously was. Watching Jeremy Lin back in February was fun to the point that it transcended basketball. I literally shrieked with pure astonishment when I saw Lin hit the game-winning three against Toronto. This story was incredible in itself but that it should happen to the most cursed franchise of the last decade, my Knicks, just made it seem more like a dream than anything else.

Ok, so fine, I too thought that Lin should have played in the Miami series, if he truly was as he said, at 85%. And he is not yet proven over a whole season, so the third year of his contract is obviously, as Carmelo said (rather unnecessarily), ridiculous at this point. But one naturally cannot blame Lin for seeking the most possible money, and frankly, the marketing opportunities he brings to a team means that any potential luxury tax hit he triggers will likely be covered anyway. Which brings me to the decision the Knicks are facing; financially, retaining Lin cannot realistically be a problem. And with that in mind, since the team is way over the cap either way, not matching Lin would make no sense whatsoever, as they are unable to sign any players for more than the veteran’s minimum going forward. Do they really think they’ll find better players – or assets if you will – by hunting for veteran’s minimum players?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly – the Knicks must have been able to anticipate that at least one team would swoop in and give Lin this kind of offer when they let him test the market. That being the case, if they truly won’t match the Rockets’ offer, why would they not have made any effort to sign-and-trade Lin for any kind of assets? I absolutely want Lin to return to the Knicks, but what would really annoy me would be to see the league’s most marketable player leave for absolutely nothing in return.

I really hope the front office matches Lin, because that to me would keep their heretofore impeccable offseason intact. Otherwise I will be left wondering if there really wasn’t a much better way to handle this whole Jeremy Lin saga.

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WIN NOW

As a fan, any time things don’t go your way, you often have to assume a glass half-full approach, if only to preserve some semblance of sanity in the long run. Examples of this include how I in July of 2010 rationalized that beating LeBron might be more fun than having LeBron on your team anyway, or how I now feel that the Knicks actually might be better served having Lin/Kidd/Shumpert than Lin/Nash, pointing to Shumpert’s potential and how this setup will define everyone’s role more clearly (with Lin as the obvious starter and Kidd the clear backup). Make no mistake though, the truth is I wanted Nash even if it would have cost us Shumpert, and the reason for this is very simple: WIN NOW.

First of all, constantly hearing things along the lines of “we’ll get better next year, and then the year after that, who knows?” isn’t quite what you’re looking for if you suffered through the near misses of the 90’s and (at least part of) the rebuilding plan of the late 00’s. Secondly, and more importantly, with upwards of 60 million a year committed to 3 players, the Knicks are by default in win now-mode. Whatever makes the team the best it can be over the duration of those contracts has to be done, attempting some sort of middleground where we also develop draft picks and bank on that ever-deceitful word POTENTIAL to give us a better team down the line is flat out stupid. I’d rather be the Celtics (a contender that should never be overlooked) for 3 years and then take my chances, than be the Hawks (a surefire second round exit, no more, sometimes less) for 5 years. Don’t get me wrong, keeping Shumpert is definitely a positive in my opinion, though not because “IN THREE YEARS HE COULD BE AN ALL-STAR!”, but because he’s already proven to be a valuable player, for example in being able to defend the likes of Derrick Rose effectively.

Also, let’s not forget that the more the Knicks can form a true winning culture over the next few years, the more the perception of the franchise will change and the easier it will be to re-tool on the fly, just look at teams like the Lakers and Spurs – they routinely have seemingly no assets outside of their star players and yet they somehow tweak their rosters and remain competitive year after year. The only way to do that is never accepting mediocrity, and for that reason I’m glad that the front office did everything they could to make a move they felt would improve the team significantly right now, regardless of whether it would have looked just as good five years from now or not.

”Off” Season

It’s that time of the year again. The time when the Knicks usually make more noise than in the regular season and in the playoffs. I’m of course talking about the off season.

4 days in and here is what we know so far.

Players and their agents are still using the Knicks for leverage to get the most out of the deal with the team they really want to play for. Jason Kidd has made a habit out of using the Knicks to boost his pay in free agency and 2012 was no different. Steve Nash, meanwhile, lives in NYC in the summer but supposedly he chose L.A. in the end over the Knicks because he wanted to be close to his children (rrrrrrriiiiiiiiight). At least we were not the ones to get hit the worst by Nash flirting ways, as Toronto went all in with a 36 million dollar offer and the “Jersey Shore grenade” signing of Landry Fields to go with it.

What else do we know? We know now that the lockout was a complete smoke screen. Wasn’t the whole point that player salaries had gotten out of control and needed to be lowered to reasonable levels otherwise the teams would go under financially? Phoenix owner Robert Sarver was one of the stingiest and toughest negotiators during the lockout, so how does he explain throwing max money on Eric Gordon just a half-year later, not to mention signing Beasley and Dragic to massive deals as well? And on that note…

… how about the old term “you don’t know what you got until it’s gone”? Phoenix traded away Dragic for Aaron Brooks and a pick and a season later they are signing Dragic to 30+ MUSD. And what about the Rockets who gave away Jeremy Lin for nothing and now wants to sign him for 40 MUSD just 25 starts later? These guys are really smart I can see why they have the best jobs in the world. And while we’re on the Rockets…

Daryl Morey. Has there ever been a more falsely glorified GM? The dude captained a ship that missed the playoffs for three straight years and still he is constantly praised by the media for no other apparent reason than being smart with numbers. But this isn’t The World Championships of Microsoft Excel, this is the NBA. And in the NBA you don’t win by throwing 8 million per year on a back-up center. That team is officially going nowhere ever since taking the to-be-champs Lakers to 7 games a few years ago. But hey, keep singing Morey’s praises for reaching another 9th seed in the years 2013-2020, and in the meantime we can all wait for the basketball version of Moneyball starring Seth Rogen as Daryl Morey to premier in 2021.

But how bout them Knicks you ask? 4 days in to free agency and I’m already reading that New York is considered one of the free agency losers so far. If by loser people are referring to NOT giving away millions on marginal players as mentioned above, than I’m more than fine with that. Isiah Thomas is no longer in charge and I think we can all agree that panic button signings is not the way to go. Still, Grunwald needs to add pieces if we want to at least reach the second round or better, and by the looks of things, since the free agents on the market are being over priced this task seems harder and harder.

Most importantly, Grunwald needs to make a decision on Jeremy Lin and I’d be shocked if he wasn’t re-signed (unless he was packaged in a sign-and-trade). I am all for keeping Lin, even with a so called poison pill contract for years 3 and 4. No matter how you slice it, Jeremy Lin brought the most excitement to the Knicks since reaching the finals in 99. You don’t throw that away just because of a small sample size or the fact that he was injured at the end of the season.

Also, we need to re-sign JR Smith in my opinion, but can we really keep him for around 3 million per year? With all these scrubs making 5-10 million a year, do I really think Smith would be fine to take half or a third of what players that are not better than him make? I’m not convinced, but I’d be impressed if Grunwald pulls it off.

Steve Novak. The best pure three-point shooter I’ve ever seen in a Knicks uni (in transition and un-guarded). But the man couldn’t hit the ocean with a stone in the playoffs when people were actually guarding him. For the right price, I’m good with Novak returning, but if it becomes any sort of bidding war, forget it, bring in some more defense instead.

Landry Fields. Have a great time in Toronto. You should send a thank you card to Grunwald and Nash and be thankful for all the annual April-November vacations you will enjoy counting your 20 million.

That concludes the free agent decisions on the current Knicks, so where do we go from here? From where I sit, I think signing Raymond Felton and Marcus Camby would be a good play, given the market and the limited funds we have to spend. Felton has proven he can work in New York and that he can ball together with Amar’e. How about Felton and Stoudemire off the bench as a scoring 2nd unit? And with Marcus Camby to spell the sans-Chandler minutes (plus as insurance for all the Tyson foul trouble games).

Is there a think-big move out there? Well, the obvious one would be Dwight Howard. I don’t like the guy, he seems childish with flip-flopping agendas, appears fragile and petty while at the same trying to be Superman with a goofy-cartoonish side competing in a likability contest. So in terms of the personality I’d like to root for, I’d much rather have Tyson Chandler or Stoudemire (or basically anyone else on the Knicks or even in the league for that matter). But if there ever is an opportunity to trade for Dwight Howard, in terms of talent, I can’t see how you don’t make that trade almost regardless of the asking price. Tyson Chandler plus a Jeremy Lin sign-and-trade may be an option? Or Chandler and Stoudemire, while taking back Hedo. I don’t know and I don’t really care, if we have an opportunity to get the top 3-5 player in the league (depending who you ask) you have to take it. Especially when the Knicks play in the only city that Howard has previously declared he wants to play in. The fact that the only team he wanted to play for was the Nets, that would only be icing on the cake if we manage to get him. Let’s face it, Dwight Howard only wants to feel loved, let’s give him that. After a full season at MSG, do you really think he’d ever turn us down when we’d have his bird rights and could give him the most $$$ out of any team in the league? I didn’t think so.

I still got nothing but love for this team

I’m sitting here trying to process the fact that the season is over. As I’m doing so I’m watching the post game interviews with Amar’e, Melo and Chandler on MSG not knowing what to expect in the midst of the disappointment of yet another first round loss and yet I find myself realizing that I truly love MY team. For the first time in a very very long time I’ve got a team that I like, players that I like and respect, the team is made up of personalities that I’m drawn to and I can sense a team spirit that I feel is genuine. This year had its ups and downs to say the least, but it was never boring and as the season went on I built a genuine liking to this team from top to bottom. I’m sure there’s going to be a roller-coaster of an off-season with rumors, trades and free agent signings, as well as crucial decisions to be made on expiring contracts on the team. But until then I’m just grateful that for the first time since the 90s I’ve got a Knicks team that I truly enjoy supporting. So to Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Jeremy Lin, Steve Novak, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Josh Harrelson, Mike Bibby, Jared Jeffries, Baron Davis and the rest of the orange and blue including the coaching staff, Glen Grunwald and even the Big Boss Mr. Dolan, I want to say thank you and here’s hoping the future brings as much success on the court that it has brought to me as a supporter this year. I truly hope this is the start of something great.

Oh and I almost forgot, thanks to the one and only Walt Clyde Frazier who together with Mike Breen make every League Pass night a pure joy to watch regardless of the box score. It’s a bummer it’s already summer so for next season let’s get rid of the Matador D and let’s start boundin’ and astoundin’, swishin’ and dishin’, postin’ and toastin’, wheelin and dealin’, swoopin’ and hoopin’ and huffin’ and stuffin’ as soon as possible.

Love, Andreas

Larry Johnson 2.0

It’s easy to forget Amar’e Stoudemire’s first months in the Knicks blue and orange, when he was consistently dominating, scoring 30+ points night in and night out, and legitimately proving himself as a Top 5 player in the league. I can still remember how Stat completely owned Kevin Garnett in Game 1 of the playoffs last year before he injured his back. An injury that slowed him down and kept his performance level down throughout this season, until very recently when we started to see flashes of the “old” Stoudemire, only to see him get injured once again.

If you’re like me you’re absolutely terrified of what will happen with Amar’e and his future injury status. The reason why Stoudemire’s injury woes are much more of a concern than any normal player is not just because we’d potentially lose one of our best players; his contract would also kill the franchise’s realistic chances of repairing the problem. It’s questionable if Stoudemire is worth 20 million a year even at his best, because of his tendency to only care about offense and after all basketball is just as much about defense as it is offense. Worse yet, an injured or seriously hampered Amar’e is 1/3 of the cap space just sitting there, staring at us for the coming three seasons. That’s why it’s imperative that we find a way to make the most of the situation, regardless of if Amar’e returns to full explosiveness and health or not. And I think I may have the solution in the form of a former Knick great.

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The young Larry Johnson was one of the most dominant players in the history of the NCAA. And when he came into the NBA, drafted by the Charlotte Hornets as the #1 pick, he instantly became one of the most dominant players at the professional level too. The moniker “grandmama” was born out of a Converse ad he did and LJ became a phenomenon. He was athletic, powerful and just sheer dominant. He crushed the boards and impressed in the slamdunk contest. His game was built on strength and even though he was short, he held his own as a power forward in the paint. In short (no pun) he was quite similar to Amar’e Stoudemire. But unfortunately for LJ, back injuries slowed down his game, and his athleticism was taken away as a result. Gone were the flashy dunks and the imposing power game.

LJ had to reinvent his game. And that’s exactly what he did in New York when he was traded to the Knicks for Anthony Mason. Even though he wasn’t as dominant in the paint, he became very smart and deceptive, getting to the basket with head-fakes and easy lay-ups rather than dunks. He developed an outside shot ranging all the way to three point land. He became a willing passer. But most of all he became the consummate team mate and unquestionable leader of the Knicks. In the Knicks run to the finals in 1999, Houston may have been the team’s most reliable scorer, Sprewell was the closest the team came to a major star and Marcus Camby was the team’s X-factor. But all through this, Larry Johnson was the heart and soul of the team and Jeff van Gundy who was the coach at the time has many times since stated that Larry Johnson was the best team mate he ever coached. Even though his stats declined and his star power decreased, he was the leader of the team and still managed to give us the single biggest play of the last 20 years.

If Amar’e won’t come back 100%, then this is how I envision Stoudemire for his coming years as a Knick, he should follow the blueprint written by LJ. First of all, Amar’e has got the leadership qualities and the personality to follow LJ’s path. When Stoudemire came to NY in 2010 and declared that “the Knicks are back” that forever made him the leader of the current team regardless of points per game and highlight dunks. And we know Stat’s already got the mid-range jumper in his arsenal. We’ve even seen him connect from three in key moments, which is a component he definitely should be able to develop in which case he would be un-guardable at 6’11. If he can master getting rebounds by boxing out and getting in the right position rather than outjumping the opponents, and if he can learn to get buckets in the paint by outsmarting and outmaneuvering the opponents rather than outmuscling them, he should be more than fine. The key is that he needs to find a way to just stay on the court consistently, even if it means altering the way he plays the game. That’s why I want him to take his time and not risk anything long term with his back injury, the next three seasons are more important than just one post-season, particularly given Stoudemire’s contract.

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Naturally, I’d like to see Amar’e fully recover and get his full explosiveness back to where it was last year before the injuries. The 25 and 10 Amar’e that was a legitimate MVP candidate the first half of last season is of course everyone’s dream, and I hope with everything I’ve got that he will recover quickly and heal completely, and get back to that level. But even if he doesn’t, I want to remain optimistic that there is a Larry Johnson 2.0 in there just waiting to take the Knicks to the promised land.

Farewell D’Antoni! Greetings (at least for now) Woodson!

The reason why I haven’t blogged in a while, despite massive events going down in Knickland is that this roller-coaster of a season has left me completely exhausted. It’s not that I didn’t have an immediate reaction to Mike D’Antoni’s firing resignation that was worth blogging about. It’s just that with this season, you never want to declare anything good or bad, because in the end that always comes back to bite me in the ass. Both me and Theo made pretty clear in the end that D’Antoni leaving was the only solution. And we were probably two of his biggest supporters, in terms of wanting him to have a fair shot at playing his style of basketball with a set group of talented players over a consistent period of time. During the short Linsanity era (with Melo sidelined) D’Antoni showed what a team that buys into his system can do.

And it seemed like everybody (minus Melo) enjoyed playing for Coach D. Maybe a little too much? If your best players hate to lose more than anything in the world – like a Kobe or a D-Rose – or if the sheer impact of their game dominance – like a Lebron or Wade – is second to none, then that usually translates into the whole team lifting their play. The best players in the world are individually superior and still make their teammates better. When you have that, like D’Antoni had in Phoenix with Nash, then a laissez-faire player’s coach can work great. But when the star players don’t have this quality, and to be honest neither Carmelo nor Stoudemire possess this natural ability to lead by example and demand 100% of their teammates, then things will eventually become too relaxed and without purpose. Hell, Carmelo even admitted himself he’s been relaxing before Woodson took over, so how the hell are his teammates supposed to be held accountable if they play defense when they feel like it and not all the time?

My point is this. Clearly this group of guys needs a lot more whip than carrot. The players that management assembled for D’Antoni to coach were never right for him. That doesn’t make D’Antoni a bad coach, although it does make him one-dimensional. He never demanded defense, that’s pretty clear. And he didn’t adapt to the personnel as much as he probably should have, sticking to his system no matter what the roster looked like. I like D’Antoni a lot, he seems like a great guy, and under the right circumstances I think he could have done great things in New York. I hope he will do that somewhere else soon, and I’m sure he will. But the time to leave had arrived, and credit D’Antoni for taking the Dolan hush-hush money (D’Antoni hasn’t uttered one word about the organization since leaving and don’t count on him ever saying a word either) before things got ugly.

And with the end of the D’Antoni era, so begins the Mike Woodson era. So far, I think that Woodson has done a graceful job in taking over, showing D’Antoni the respect he deserves as a fellow coach while carefully avoiding any journalistic traps to indirectly bash his predecessor.

I’m also seeing some refreshing things on the court in Woodson’s coaching style, which I feel is a real upgrade from D’Antoni. Obviously, the defense has become much better in the 7-1 run since Woodson took over, the stats speaks for themselves on this one. Although one could definitely argue that this could come from a rejuvenation and wake-up call in general which comes with a coaching change. But what I’m seeing (to be fair via League pass, so it’s not like I’m close enough to actually know this of course) is that Woodson gets on his players when they make sloppy plays in a way that D’Antoni never seemed to.

What’s more, I really like the time-outs that Woodson are taking during crucial points of the game. I always felt that D’Antoni mostly took time-outs when the damage was already done, the defeatist kind of time-outs that just reeked of “here we go again, this is over, may as well call a time-out and say a prayer”. Typically if the Knicks were in the lead and started to show signs of lackadaisical play, D’Antoni would just let the game progress and try to let the Knick players find their rhythm again, way too often resulting in the opposition eating up the Knicks lead completely before D’Antoni took a time-out. With Woodson, I’m seeing him actually take a time-out as soon as things seem to be going in the wrong direction and actually trying to correct it before it gets out of hand. This happened in the 4th quarter against the Bucks yesterday, with the Knicks up 84-74 with 4 minutes to go. Baron Davis had a sloppy turnover which led to a Brandon Jennings fast break lay-up. Next, Davis shot an off-balance jumper on the next possession and on the following play the Bucks reduced the lead to 6. On the next possession, JR Smith threw up a missed three. Thankfully, the Bucks missed on its next possession and the Knicks had a 6 point lead and the ball with 2:55 seconds left. Normally in a situation like this, D’Antoni would just let it play out, but here Woodson called a time-out. And this is what I personally like, try to correct what’s wrong before it’s too late, rather than just rely on the free-flowing offense to eventually result in a basket. Out of the time-out Woodson drew up a play to get the ball to Carmelo (unfortunately without result) but after the time-out the Knicks were able to slow the game down and grind out a win. This is of course just one example, but I like that Woodson is trying to actually control the tempo and organize the decision making on the court a little bit more. And you have to love that defensively, the players are actually competing hard for once. As an example of this, it was nice to see Brandon Jennings finally be marginalized against the Knicks (6-22 shooting, 15 points). And I thought his comments after the game was very interesting too (a veiled shot at D’Antoni, who was coach when the Knicks passed on him): “They did play a lot more aggressively than since I been in the NBA. They just played harder.”

I think we can all agree that it’s better to win a majority of the time by holding the opponents to a low score while sacrificing a beautiful viewing experience, than to win a minority of the time trying to outscore the opponent at an uncontrolled and hectic pace? So what does that mean for Woodson, if he can keep this up? Should he stay? Since I don’t think Phil Jackson wants to come back to coach a .500 team and since Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich are both taken, as of right now if Woodson keeps this up, I’d back him to coach the Knicks next season too. If the defense that we’re seeing so far is here to stay and not just a temporary injection, then I’m all for it.

Who’s to blame?/What kind of players do I want on my team?

How can a team with this roster be this bad? We are now 42 games into the season and at that point the “we just need time to gel as a team” starts to get old, right now there is just no reasonable explanation as to how the Knicks are 18-24 and currently out of the playoffs. I’ve gotta agree with Andreas and say that my patience with D’Antoni is finally wearing thin, because the way the team has been struggling to execute on either end lately (although to be fair, the Bulls game, aside from giving up 287 offensive rebounds, wasn’t horrible), a lot of the blame has to be shouldered by the coach. My previously unflinching commitment to D’Antoni has mostly been based around the fact that I haven’t seen any particularly tempting replacements anyway. But by now “generic coach” would seem like a better option, and not even because I think D’Antoni is a bad coach, but because he just won’t work out for this team. Him and Carmelo never seemed like they would be a good fit, since D’Antoni’s “system” is predicated on free-flowing ball movement, and always dominated by the point guard, whereas Melo thrives when he can go to work in isolations. D’Antoni’s system is at once his greatest claim to fame and something of a curse, because it provides players with a built-in excuse for playing poorly. A system doesn’t make you miss open jumpers or lay-ups or fail to understand the mechanics of “boxing out—>rebound”, but that is still how any discussion of this particular coach will be framed. Aside from the triangle offense and the so-called Seven Seconds or Less offense, does anyone know the offensive coaching philosophy of any single coach in the league?

My problem at this juncture is mostly that I can’t decide who I’m most annoyed with, D’Antoni, Melo or Stoudemire. Carmelo has more or less career-worst averages in every category except assists (including .400 FG%) and Stoudemire has played nothing short of terrible 90% of the season. It’s so annoying as a fan to see every other team in the league seem more pumped up and eager to win on any given night than the Knicks are, and to see every single team get more out of their franchise players than the Knicks do. The really maddening part is once again, when I look at the roster and come back to why I seriously thought this team could hang with anybody just a couple of weeks ago… Sure, Linsanity came against relatively weak teams… but this team without Carmelo, Amar’e, Baron Davis and JR Smith won seven in a row. Adding two perennial all-NBA players and two players who at the very least can provide major sparks for the team maybe 10-15 minutes a game should push such a team near championship level, not push it out of the playoffs. I know the saying goes that you need stars to win it all, and I would definitely agree with that. But in the midst of this terrible underperforming from our two 100-million dollar players, hearing that Lou Williams’ 28 points was a team high for the 76ers for this entire season, kind of seemed refreshing. I wouldn’t want the Knicks to be more like that team, because that Philadelphia team is never winning a title, but stars are only stars if they win, especially if their supporting cast equals that of the Knicks (you can’t really blame someone like Deron Williams for not managing to win with that horrendous New Jersey roster). It’s time Melo and Stat start playing even remotely like the players their contracts suggest they are, and if that means “generic coach” needs to be brought in, so be it.

One final thought though, whatever happens with the Knicks during this season or the next, don’t trade Tyson Chandler. Obviously credit is due to Jeremy Lin for the most exciting time as a Knick fan in over 12 years and for that he should definitely be held on to as well, but Tyson Chandler is exactly the kind of player that you have no trouble rooting for no matter how the team is playing or what the game is like. He fights hard on every possession, plays within his limits, gives you about three easy dunks every game, and plays with a passion always highlighted by the ensuing roars on those dunks. He’s like Kevin Garnett, only if Garnett actually still seemed like a nice person. I don’t even want Tyson Chandler traded straight up for Dwight Howard, and while that may seem totally irrational, to use an oft-used Carmelo expression, “at the end of the day”, you need to feel like you actually WANT to root for the players on your team. I have never liked Dwight Howard and his recent trade request antics haven’t improved my opinion of him, whereas Chandler is exactly the kind of player I want on my team, and in the end, that stuff really matters too.