WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – New point guard Derrick Rose took more questions about his pending civil rape trial than about the team, and starting center Joakim Noah was excused from the Knicks’ annual media day and first day of training camp because of a family matter.
This wasn’t an ideal way for the Knicks to start a new season, but it didn’t affect their optimism.
“I don’t think there’s been this type of excitement surrounding our team since I’ve been here,” Carmelo Anthony said Monday inside a ballroom at the Ritz Carlton. “I haven’t felt like this in a long time.”
Anthony thinks the Knicks, on paper, have a team that can end a three-year playoff drought. But everything surrounding Rose and the overall health of some of their historically injury plagued players are real questions and concerns with training camp starting Tuesday.
Just as team president Phil Jackson did Friday, Rose downplayed his situation, even after reports Monday that the LAPD has an active criminal investigation against him. His civil rape case is scheduled to go to trial Oct. 4, the night of the Knicks’ first preseason game.
“My concern is just playing well this year,” Rose said. “I can’t think about a case that I feel like I’m innocent in. I feel like I didn’t do anything wrong. I can’t let that distract me with the year that I have ahead of me.”
By all accounts, Rose, a former NBA MVP, has put all of his focus into making sure he’s healthy and able to return to the level he played at before needing multiple knee surgeries. What Rose showed during workouts and pickup games are reasons Anthony and the Knicks are looking forward to this season.
“I’ve seen him play multiple times,” Anthony said. “He’s extremely focused right now. He’s healthy. He has a different mindset. He has a clear mind and he’s ready to go and try to help us with our goals.”
Rose will be on the court when Jeff Hornacek holds his first practice as Knicks coach, but the intense and emotional Noah won’t be. The Knicks hope Noah will rejoin the team Wednesday, when training camp moves to West Point.
The Knicks have three new starters and nine new players overall, so this month is crucial for them to get acclimated with each other and what Hornacek wants from them. But from working out with his teammates, Anthony said the “focus level is at an all-time high.”
They are expected to run the triangle offense in the halfcourt, but Hornacek wants to blend some pick-and-roll action and take advantage of the Knicks’ versatility. New shooting guard Courtney Lee said he made sure he came into camp in the best shape possible because Hornacek told him, “we’re going to run a lot.”
If healthy, the Knicks have a strong starting unit and solid top seven players overall in Rose, Lee, Anthony, Porzingis, Noah, Brandon Jennings and Lance Thomas. After an impressive rookie season, Porzingis figures to be even better with the improved talent around him.
Porzingis said he worked on his lower body strength, post-up game and ball-handling during the offseason.
“I feel more comfortable with the ball now,” Porzingis said. “So you’re going to see some new stuff this season. You’re going to see some new stuff and hopefully some more put-back dunks.”
After helping the U.S. national team win the gold medal in the Olympics, Anthony, 32, said he returned to the Knicks in the best shape he’s been in a long time. With more talent around him, the nine-time All-Star hopes he won’t have to do as much, but Anthony said the pressure is still on him.
“Let’s just be quite frank, at the end of the day it’s going to take me being the best that I can be on the basketball court to make this successful alongside everybody doing their job and playing their role and being the best that they can be,” Anthony said. “I’ll figure the game out as the game comes and whatever that particular moment needs me to be.
“Some of the pressure is off of me. But at the end of the day, you guys know the pressure is definitely on me. So I accept that. I embrace it”