Charles Barkley admits it: These Knicks are good

Charles Barkley attends the gala opening of The

Charles Barkley attends the gala opening of The Greenbrier Casino Club. (July 2, 2010) (Credit: AP)

Charles Barkley retired as a player in 2000, and in the intervening dozen years visited the World's Most Famous Arena to watch the Knicks . . . once!?!

Why?

"Cause y'all's team stunk," he said. "Why would I go see y'all play? One thing about me is I'm not going to watch the bad teams play."

So, presumably it is a good sign that the TNT star -- for years the most visible Knicks skeptic on television -- will be at Madison Square Garden Thursday night for a rare appearance as a game analyst when the Lakers come to town.

And, get this: Unlike when he visited 23 months ago for a game against the Heat, at which time he pooh-poohed the notion the Knicks were "back," Sir Charles has been won over.

Mostly.

"I think they're a good team, and I think Jason Kidd has had a huge effect on Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith," Barkley said Tuesday, before Kidd's latest heroics against the Nets. (Barkley was in Los Angeles taping a celebrity edition of "The Price is Right.")

"But when I look at their stats, they only outrebounded the teams they've played like twice. That concerns me. And I don't know if they can keep shooting threes like that. That's my only critique. It's not a criticism, it's a critique."

Entering Wednesday night, the Knicks ranked third in the NBA in three-point field-goal percentage at .409 and 27th in rebounding differential at minus-3.8.

Hence Barkley's stance on the looming question for the Knicks: What to do with Amar'e Stoudemire?

"Even though they're winning, they are getting killed on the boards," he said. "So is he going to help them with the defense and rebounding or not? That's a very simple question for me."

Another key to the Knicks maintaining their momentum is keeping their older players healthy -- one older player above all others.

"Jason Kidd was the best leader we had in the NBA for a while when he was in New Jersey," Barkley said.

So how is he still doing this at age 39?

"He plays the game with his brain," Barkley said.

This will be Barkley's second foray into game analysis this season. "I like doing the games, because you get a little stagnant and bored in a studio," he said. "I like the action of the game."

Being courtside at the Garden could be interesting because Knicks fans are well aware of his bluntly stated positions on their team.

"I think they will treat me fine; I think fans appreciate you being honest," he said. "First of all, I've been right. I don't say things because I don't like the Knicks. But they stunk."

Barkley insisted his motives are pure. "For me, it's never personal," he said. "It's always about basketball. I'm never going to have a hidden agenda."

Players don't always see it that way.

Monday night the Heat's LeBron James suggested Barkley "shut up" after Dwyane Wade bounced back with a strong game after Barkley suggested he was declining physically.

"Oh my God," Barkley said. "These guys are so sensitive."

Barkley conceded the Knicks' revival is good for the NBA, and will be even more so "if Brooklyn can ever keep that [Brook] Lopez kid healthy," for the sake of the teams' budding rivalry.

In the meantime, it's enough that the Knicks are better. Even Charles thinks so! Mostly.

"Everybody in New York thinks the Knicks are Playboy bunnies, and I have been telling them for years the Knicks are a rabbit," he said. "They're closer to a Playboy bunny this year but for the last few years these guys are like, 'We have a really good team!' And I say, 'You really think that?' And I say, 'No, they don't.' But this is the best team they've had in a while."

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