PBT Season Preview: The New York Knicks

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Gallinari_celebrates.jpgToday starts PBT’s run through every team in the NBA, looking at the changes and upcoming season. Every weekday from now through the start of the season a new team will be the focus. We start with the Knicks and will spend this week in the Atlantic Division.

Last season: An uninspiring 29-53 record that was not good enough to make the playoffs, for roughly the 495th consecutive season. And, as always, it was Isiah’s fault.

Head Coach: Mike D’Antoni, who if the Knicks really struggle again will find out just how much fun the New York media can be.

Key Departures: David Lee, Chris Duhon, Al Harrington, Jordan Hill

Key Additions: Amare Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf, Kelenna Azubuike

Best case scenario: Making the playoffs. Well, unless they find a way to trade for Carmelo Anthony, then the expectations would fast become unreasonable.

For that to happen: First, the Carmelo to New York trade is about as likely as Jessica Alba calling me today (the Knicks don’t have the picks and young players Denver would want in a trade; if Melo is coming to the Knicks it is as a free agent, meaning he is willing to forego $10 million or more). So lets take that off the table and talk about this team making the playoffs with the roster it has.

This radically remade team would have to gel quickly, and that would start with Raymond Felton growing into the Steve Nash role faster than expected. Felton is actually a very efficient scorer in transition — last season for the Bobcats he shot 66.4 percent in transition. The question is can he direct and set up guys well at that pace. Felton also is going to have to be better as the pick-and-roll ball handler, and he shot 47 percent in that role last year  – defenses know and fear what Stoudemire does as the roll man, they will back off and dare Felton to make them pay.

The rest of the key players like Anthony Randolph and Danilo Gallinari — who we think will have pretty big years — would have to find their sea legs quickly.

The Knicks also would have to play passable defense, particularly in transition — last season the Knicks gave up more points per possession in transition than they scored. That has to change. Also, the Knicks need to get good rebounding and production out of Ronny Turiaf at center. Or Eddy Curry… yea, that could happen.

More likely the Knicks will: Be the most fun Knicks team to watch in years, however will take some time to gel. They may well get off to slow start. They won’t play great defense. There will be flashes of what Randolph can do, Stoudemire will throw down over people, Gallinari should take a step forward. There are pieces here and they are going to be entertaining to watch.

But how to fit all the pieces together will take time. Look for some D’Antoni to throw out wild lineups for a while, trying to find what works. Can a Felton/Toney Douglas backcourt work? Traditional positions will be out the window as Stoudemire may get some run at the five and the three, all with the goal of just finding lineups that work. By the end of the season, if they are healthy, expect the Knicks to be playing better.

And there is nothing wrong with that. Just like it took time to climb out of the hole the franchise was in, it will take time to build something meaningful. These Knicks will be so much more entertaining and fun that the losses will not sting as much. There is hope now, you will see it building. Live with that, enjoy it, revel in it. Don’t expect at title right now, expect to have fun.

Oh, and you can safely bet on a season that no matter what the team does on the court there will be a tidal wave of speculation about every decent free agent or trade piece out there.

Prediction: 38 wins, an improvement but in a new and deeper East they will miss the playoffs again by a few games. That will lead some in New York to question if D’Antoni and Donnie Walsh have done what they promised. But those people will forget how far they had to come. The Knicks will be the best they have been in years, with a promise for the future intact. That is a bug step out of the hole for this franchise.

Jeremy Lin says “at times it kind of sucks” being only Asian-American in NBA

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When Jeremy Lin landed in Toronto — after being bought out and waived by the Hawks, clearing the way for him to sign with the Raptors for the playoff push — the number of cameras and reporters in the Raptors locker room instantly ballooned. Lin remains one of the most popular players worldwide in the NBA, he’s a social media phenom, and there are cameras there to track his every move and send it around the world, particularly back to Asia.

Lin isn’t in the NBA because he’s famous and sells tickets — he’s a quality guard who can help a team, there’s a reason the contending Raptors picked him up — but he inhabits the role of both player and groundbreaker.

Lin talked about that (and Asians in popular culture) with Cary Chow of the Undefeated in an interesting Q&A at The Undefeated, where he said being the only Asian-American in the NBA is not easy.

At times it kind of sucks. At other times it’s amazing. Amazing because you get to challenge everyone’s viewpoints and perspectives. I’m rooting for so many more Asians to come in. Last year, when I was with Brooklyn and we had Ding [Yanyuhang] on the summer league team, I was like, ‘Dude, please make the team. We’d have so much fun together during the season.’

On the feeling that he has to represent an entire race.

Yeah. At first it was something I ran from and really struggled with. Now I embrace it way more and am more equipped to handle it. I’m not perfect, but I kind of know who I want to be at this point in my career, so I keep trucking along and doing things the right way and stay above all the distractions.

Lin has handled his fame deftly over the years. He has challenges and opportunities not open to other players, and that’s the balancing act. It takes someone smart, but also grounded and balanced to pull it all off. The Raptors got all that, along with the extra cameras around the team.

Mostly, though, the Raptors got a player who is going to help them make a deep playoff run.

 

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.