NEW YORK KNICKS
By Charlie Zegers
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Knicks took a giant leap forward by replacing the controversial and ineffective Isiah Thomas with general manager Donnie Walsh and coach Mike D'Antoni before last season. But the re-engineering of the franchise won't be completed until next summer, when the team hopes to make a run at one or two of the elite 2010 free agents. Until then, the team will be in a holding pattern, focused primarily on maintaining cap flexibility for the "Summer of LeBron."
Walsh made overtures at a couple of big-name free agents this summer - most notably Jason Kidd
. Kidd's presence would have been a selling point to players like LeBron James
and Dwyane Wade
. But when Kidd opted for a more lucrative deal to stay in Dallas, Walsh more or less shut down operations for the summer. The team's only additions were Darko Milicic
, draft picks Jordan Hill
and Toney Douglas
, and free agent signees Gabe Pruitt
and Warren Carter
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
One of the reasons Mike D'Antoni's players put up such great fantasy numbers is the "seven seconds or less" offensive philosophy. Another is that D'Antoni tends to play a short rotation, with only seven or eight players logging heavy minutes. The Knicks' five starters - most likely Lee, Al Harrington
and Wilson Chandler
in the frontcourt and Chris Duhon
and Larry Hughes
in the backcourt - should average around 35 minutes per game, and Robinson, as the sixth man, could get 28-30. Milicic and second-year forward Danilo Gallinari
could complete the eight-man rotation, replacing Quentin Richardson
and Chris Wilcox
, but if he plays as well as the Knicks are hoping, he could start at small forward, which would shift Chandler to shooting guard and Hughes to the bench.
But the Knicks' biggest priority - that 2010 free agent class - could have an impact on the rotation. The NBA sent out a warning that next year's cap could be reduced; Walsh doesn't have as much room as he originally anticipated. That makes moving another unwanted contract - like the deals belonging to Jared Jeffries and Eddy Curry - a big priority. That could mean one or both of those little-used big men could break into the rotation, at least at the start of the season.
A restricted free agent this summer, Lee was hoping to parlay his constant stream of double-doubles into a long-term contract worth around $10 million per. The Knicks didn't bite, and neither did anyone else; he'll play on a one-year deal this season and then look to cash in next summer. Opinions on Lee vary - his rebounding ability is well-documented, and he has a very effective game from 10 feet and in. But he doesn't block shots and isn't much of a defender. Walsh wouldn't hesitate to move Lee if it meant getting an Eddy Curry
or Jared Jeffries
off the books, and Lee's value would probably take a hit playing elsewhere.
Eddy Curry: An out-of-shape Curry played a total of 12 minutes last season. He's reportedly in much better condition for this year's training camp, but even at peak form, he seems a bad fit for Mike D'Antoni's offense. He could crack the rotation to start the season, if only because the Knicks are so desperate to move his contract. When healthy and motivated, he's one of the better low-post scorers in the league, but he contributes little else, is an atrocious rebounder and hasn't been healthy or motivated all that often.
Darko Milicic: Can Milicic justify his lofty draft position? No, that ship sailed long ago. But he seems like a good fit for this team. His shot-blocking ability is unquestioned, and no one else on New York's roster has shown that skill. And his offensive game - he's far more comfortable facing up than playing with his back to the basket - should be a good fit in D'Antoni's system.
Chandler showed flashes of his considerable potential at the tail end of his rookie year, then emerged as a quality rotation player last season. He's now considered one of very few current Knicks that's part of Donnie Walsh's plans for 2010 and beyond. At 6-8, 220, Chandler is a combo forward who can float out to the three-point line (over 100 threes made last season) or muscle up on the low block. He could eventually wind up making his living as an athletic four in the mode of Shawn Marion
, but this season he'll likely log most of his playing time at small forward. He could even get some run at shooting guard if Gallinari plays well enough to force his way into the starting five.
Al Harrington: After a falling-out with Warriors coach Don Nelson, Harrington was languishing on the bench in Oakland. But Donnie Walsh acquired the multi-talented forward in a trade last November, and Harrington emerged as one of New York's go-to scorers, averaging over 20 points and 2.3 made threes per game as a Knick. But the return on Walsh's investment wasn't all positive - Harrington cost the Knicks a couple of games with poor decision-making and technical fouls. He's playing for his next contract - his deal expires after this season.
Danilo Gallinari: The sixth overall pick in the 2008 draft, Gallinari played very little as a rookie due to a back problem that eventually required surgery. When able to play, he showed a very good feel for the game, an excellent stroke from long range (over 44% from three, though in a small sample) and better-than-advertised defense. The Knicks are hoping Gallinari, if healthy, will emerge as a quality combo forward option; this season, he'll likely replace Quentin Richardson as the first forward off the bench and primary outside shooting threat.
Jordan Hill: The eighth overall selection in the 2009 draft, Hill is an energetic-but-raw big man. The Knicks are hoping he'll develop into a poor man's Amar'e Stoudemire. In the short term, it's hard to imagine Hill getting significant minutes, but a trade could open things up during the year.
Jared Jeffries: Mike D'Antoni was so desperate for a defensive presence on the interior, he tried the reed-thin (6-11, 230) Jeffries at center last season. The only real reason for him to crack the rotation this season will be as a trade showcase - Donnie Walsh would dearly love to clear Jeffries $6.8 million player option off the books for 2010.
Warren Carter: Carter played for the Knicks' summer-league team after spending the last two seasons overseas. He could make the team as an end-of-bench player.
Chris Hunter: Another end-of-bench possibility for Mike D'Antoni, ex-Michigan Wolverine Chris Hunter was a 20-and-10 guy for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the D-League last season.
In the first half of last season, Duhon put up very impressive numbers - as you might expect from a point guard running Mike D'Antoni's offense. But his play really tailed off during the second half due to a variety of nagging injuries and plain old over-use - Duhon averaged over 38 minutes per game in January, after the trade of Jamal Crawford
, injury to Nate Robinson
and the sudden retirement of Cuttino Mobley
left the team short-handed. Improving at point guard was a major priority for the team this summer, but they weren't able to draft Stephen Curry
, trade for Ricky Rubio
or work out a deal with Jason Kidd
or Andre Miller
, so Duhon returns as the starter mostly by default. Look for D'Antoni to try and reduce his workload this season.
Larry Hughes: Hughes has the potential to be a big scorer for New York, but was hobbled by toe and ankle injuries and was in and out of the lineup after arriving from Chicago. If completely healthy, he could approach the numbers he put up with the Wizards - 20 points, three assists, six boards and a steal per game - but health is a major question mark. Like Al Harrington and Chris Duhon, Hughes is playing for his next contract.
Nate Robinson: As a restricted free agent, Robinson flirted with a number of teams this summer, including one in the Greek league - and Donnie Walsh never seemed that devastated about the possibility of letting him go. But an offer never materialized, and Krypto-Nate will be back at Madison Square Garden on a one-year deal this season. A fan favorite for his energy and scoring ability off the bench, Robinson seems to thrive in a sixth-man role. In addition to his scoring, he's a surprisingly good rebounder for his position and size (3.9 rpg last season in under 30 mpg) and generates more than a steal per game. But his upside is limited - he doesn't run the offense well enough to play the point regularly, and at 5-7 is highly unlikely to win a starting job at the two.
Toney Douglas: The Knicks missed out on most of the top point guards at the top of the 2009 draft, but may have gotten a steal late in the first round in Florida State's Douglas. He was used as a lead guard at FSU, averaging over 20 points per game for the Seminoles. This season, he could earn significant playing time as backup to Chris Duhon.
Joe Crawford: Crawford was waived by the Lakers last spring and landed in New York to close out the season. He's hoping to win a bench spot in training camp.
Gabe Pruitt: Pruitt signed with the Knicks as a free agent after spending the last two seasons with the Celtics. He could make the team as a third point guard behind Duhon and rookie Toney Douglas.
Let's be clear - any player that lands a regular role in Mike D'Antoni's rotation is worthy of a spot on your fantasy roster - D'Antoni's offense is that prolific. We like Gallinari as a sleeper because he could slip in drafts due to his injury history, but he's one of very few Knicks that seems to have a long-term future with the team - meaning D'Antoni and Walsh will do what they can to help him succeed. Toney Douglas
is another player worth watching.
We don't know about you, but we'd prefer our big men block a shot every now and again - especially ones likely to get drafted as early as Lee. Be wary of Harrington and Hughes as well -- both have expiring contracts and probably won't be part of the Knicks' plans beyond this year; it's not hard to envision them losing playing time to some of New York's younger prospects.
Article first appeared on 9/21/09