Knicks basketball starts up in just under 7 hours, and nobody has bothered to do a nice preview for them. Where has the official CBS Knicks blogger been to make that happen? What, that's me? Oh...
Yet again, the Knicks are waiting for LeBron. But there are some interesting differences between this season and last season, despite both of them being seasons with no chance for an NBA title. The two main differences between this season and last season are:
1) Knicks have a better roster this year. Q-Rich is gone, but Darko is here to add post defense, lotto pick Jordan Hill exists, and anything he does will be a bonus, late 1st round draft pick Toney Douglas will enter the Knicks heavy minute rotation and has shown flashes of being a good defending guard, something the Knicks desperately need, and Danilo Gallinari is going to be healthy this season, and bring his mix of outside shooting and surprising defense to the mix.
2) Knicks have a better situation going into this year. Nobody is going to be chanting "We want Steph!" at opening night at the Garden this year. Reporters havn't covered the Knicks like the paparazzi all over Brittney, as was the case last season. People know their roles, they know the Knicks don't have too many moves up their sleeves this season, and they are likely to feel comfortable in their security of being a Knick all year long. Plus there is one full year in the D'Antoni system under the belts of most key contributers. There is a lot to be said for that.
I think both these things should translate to a few more wins then the 32-50 record.
Now the most common argument against the Knicks showing any improvement is "Everyone else got better, too!". Well, the Knicks don't care about the top of the East. They were better then the Knicks anyway, and they beat the Knicks most every time last year. The Knicks arn't going to start going .500 or even .250 against the cream of the crop. And did the teams competing for the bottom of the East really improve as much or more then the Knicks did? Knicks filled their greatest hole, interior defense, and added two lottery picks (Danilo might as well be an addition after sitting out most of last year) and a defending guard. That's pretty strong.
But let's say that you still don't believe that the Knicks, despite having a better roster, a better scenario, more experience with the SSOL, and less distractions this season, are good enough to improve their 32-50 record. Here are 3 other ways the Knicks may get better as the season goes along.
1) Cuttino Mobley's insured contract. What a great trade chip this contract is. It's 9.5 million and 80% insured. So right now, it represents a way for a team to save almost 8 million dollars in salary. In these harsh economic times, what kind of player can you get if you give a team 8 million dollars? I'd like to think you could get a pretty nice piece for that kinda contract.
Now Donnie Walsh will dangle this bad boy in an effort to move Eddy Curry or Jared Jeffries, but if he can't move either of them, expect him to flip it for either a 1 year rental or a young player in a bad sitation that won't cut into the 2010 plan too much.
2) Larry Hughes's 13.5 million dollar expiring contract. The Knicks have no use for Larry Hughes. Mostly because he is, as Charles Barkley would say, "turrrrrible". But perhaps the Knicks could swap this expiring deal for a expiring deal that better suits the team. Or maybe this high dollar contract will be the perfect matching contract towards a superstar that gets disgruntled at some point this season, and can be had for peanuts. The large amount of dollar signs on Larry Hughes' contract makes it a very flexable tool that can be used in a number of ways to improve the Knicks, either in 2009, 2010, or maybe both.
3) Youth. The simple reason may end up being the right one in this case. The Knicks are still, at their core, very young. Danilo, Hill Ghostface Douglas, Nate, Lee, Chandler. These guys still have room to grow. Nate during the preseason looked like the light clicked on for him that he can be a 2.5 steal/game player. Lee will continue to improve his jumper with time. Danilo will get better as the season goes on and he passes the half century mark in NBA games played. Chandler will continue to figure out how to best guard wingmen and how to get his own shot, and his outside stroke will likely get better with time. There is still some untapped upside with a majority of the Knicks rotation. The Knicks should fufill some of that upside this season, maybe just a little, but maybe a fair amount.
Will the Knicks make it all the way to the playoffs? I don't know. I kinda hope they don't. I think this is a 36 win team as currently assembled. If the Knicks make just 1 good move, they could be a 39 win team easily, which could easily make the playoffs this year. But I'd rather the Knicks made the good move of trading Jeffries or Curry then the good move that gets the Knicks the 8 seed. The playoffs would be awesome, but there will be plenty of playoffs in the future after this season. I'd rather do all we can to lock up a situation to lure the King to the Basketball Mecca then try to make the playoffs with no chance of doing anything.
But I kinda think the Knicks will in fact make the playoffs, despite my best wishes. Donnie Walsh is no dummy. He knows the stupid sports media is going to act like the LeBronless Knicks need to make the playoffs this year to be an attractive place for LeBron to sign. I don't understand how people think a teams success or lack thereof before LeBron shows up will indicate their success with LeBron. You just run your team around LeBron if you have him, so the pieces hardly matter around him. But anyway, after Walsh makes an effort to free salary up, if he can't find any takers for Jeffries/Curry, expect him to trade away those two contracts I mentioned to try to obtain a couple rentals to help propel the Knicks into the playoffs. With no #1 pick in 2010, the Knicks have nothing to lose by trading their expiring contracts for useful pieces, and may well take that road as the season goes on.
I really hope Walsh pulls off another masterpiece trade, gets rid of Jeffries or Curry, and the playoff dream fades away. But if that doesn't occur, New York could well challenge for that 8 seed, a lot harder then you think. If it happens, you heard it here first.