Newsday's Al Iannazzone takes you inside the Knicks.
Time running out on expiring players
Danilo Gallinari seemed to have a rhythm going against the Magic after he had a rare poor shooting night in Denver. Gallo shot with confidence and looked like he was engaged. The Knicks were hanging in against Orlando for most of the game (before the 114-102 loss) and Gallinari's shooting was part of the reason.
But Gallo went to the bench with two minutes left in the third quarter and that was pretty much the end for him.
If the reasoning is because Gallinari isn't a strong defender, the logic is lost on me here, since the Knicks didn't get any stops in the fourth quarter. Nate Robinson's hot hand was the only thing that kept the Knicks from getting blown out as the Magic imposed their will on the game.
Overall, I have to say I can understand Mike D'Antoni's logic right now with going almost exclusively with the veterans, despite yet another extended losing streak (they take five straight L's into Tuesday's game against the Suns, who have the NBA's best record). If you consider the daunting stretch of games the team is in the midst of -- BOS, LAL, DEN, ORL, PHX, ORL, ATL -- it is probably best to go into battle with vets, who are better built to take this kind of a pounding. Only Gallinari and Wilson Chandler (whose two bad defensive mistakes in the third quarter -- including helping off of Rashard Lewis..seriously? -- cost the Knicks back-to-back threes in the 13-3 run during the third quarter)are seeing rotation minutes.
Rookies Toney Douglas and Jordan Hill have been tethered to the bench for the past two games. D'Antoni said he planned to stop juggling lineups and combinations and just go with a set rotation, limited to eight players over the past two games.
So if the plan is to not play Douglas and Hill, should they be sent to the D-League to get some game time? I think the coaching staff would prefer to keep them in practice to work with them closely. But there is something to be said about letting them go to the D-League so they can build up some confidence and maybe not get infected by the losing.
I think eventually D'Antoni has to pull the plug, however. Yes, his loyalty to Chris Duhon is necessary because Duhon -- for better or for worse -- is the only playmaking point guard who can run the pick-and-roll. It's no coincidence that as his shot is starting to fall, the pick-and-roll has been far more effective in the past two games.
[An aside: That's a position that clearly needs a major upgrade this summer, when there won't be any big-name PGs available (middle-of-the-road types Steve Blake and T.J. Ford lead the list). So the Knicks scouts had better be focusing PGs around the league that could be had via trades. I'd start with Dallas' J.J. Barea and, of course, monitor what the Minnesota Timberwolves will do with all of their PGs (Jonny Flynn, Ramon Sessions and, yes, Ricky Rubio). Washington's Randy Foye will be a RFA with a $4.7M qualifyer.
The point guard position is so vital in D'Antoni's strategy. In fact, if LeBron James does decide to sign with the Knicks, don't be surprised if the offense is designed around him as the "point guard" with shooters all around him and an athletic big. If LeBron doesn't sign, the Knicks really have to put all emphasis on landing the best point guard possible (that fits the system), trying to lure Joe Johnson and then go hard after Rudy Gay (restricted free agent).]
Meanwhile, as far as this season goes, I can see D'Antoni's strategy with minutes. Give the veterans the first half of the season. These are players who are playing for their next contract and he should give them ample opportunity to do that. For those who believe they shouldn't be given such opportunity because of the poor start, keep in mind that how an organization treats players is an underrated aspect of the free agent value system.
Also, you can't trade Jared Jeffries to clear more cap space if you bury him on the bench next to Darko Milicic. He has to play.
But when we reach Game 41, if the season is still the disaster it's been over the first 17 games, then D'Antoni has no other excuses than to hand the ball to the young players and make the second half of the season all about development. Make Gallinari the focal point. Tell Chandler he must average 10 free throws a game. Have Douglas learn how to set up others and find his offense within the structure of a system, rather than on his own. Let Hill feel the bruises of the nightly battles and understand exactly how hard you have to play to succeed at this level.
Hell, I'd even give Marcus Landry some minutes, just because you know the kid will compete and play hard.
Obviously you still need to play some vets, especially Eddy Curry. For the rest, I'd make it a competition: The players who give you the most honest, consistent effort over the first 41 games -- right now David Lee and Al Harrington lead the way -- get the extra burn with the kids. But make no mistake about it. The final three months of the season should be strictly about growth and development.
And, of course, knowing exactly what you have going into the most important offseason the franchise has had since 1996. Perhaps you discover you have players to bring forward, beyond 2010. And perhaps you see that you have assets to utilize for trades or even to try to get back into the first round of the draft.
This may be the long wait before next summer for fans, but for Donnie Walsh and his staff, this needs to be an extremely busy time. They can not afford another Brandon Jennings situation. This time around, they need to have a feel for everyone's game.