MILAN -- Andy Rautins raced up the court and quickly recognized the situation. He was flanked by three hustling teammates and there was only one defender back. With the defense sloughing off to force the pass, Rautins picked up his dribble, pulled up at the three-point line and let fire. It caught the side of the rim and bounced out of bounds.
For a moment, the once bustling gym had an awkward silence until assistant coach Dan D'Antoni regrouped the players back down the other end to start again. As the players took their spots, Mike D'Antoni casually walked over the Rautins and gave the rookie some firm, quiet advice about his awful decision.
Then Raymond Felton, a few feet away, jumped into the conversation.
"Four-on-one, you got to get a layup, yo," he said, looking right into Rautins' eyes with sincerity. "If you're gonna take that shot four-on-one, you got to make it. You got to make it."
Rautins turned to his teammates on the white squad and padded his chest and offered a sheepish, "My bad, y'all."
On one hand, that is exactly the kind of leadership and accountability that this team has sorely lacked in recent years. It was a refreshing scene to witness.
But on the other hand, it does emphasize just how important it is to have enough knock-down shooters. On a day here at the Palalido where jet lag had started to show in the legs of the players, the bouncy rims tasted a lot of leather. It could be a sign of fatigue -- this is the seventh day of camp -- but perimeter shooting is not something to disregard, even this early in the season. Especially not in this system, with Amar'e Stoudemire as your marquee guy.
"I think it was something last year that they didn't do well as they'd like," said newcomer Roger Mason Jr., one of the few marksman on the team. "And this year, with Amar'e being here and attracting so much inside, it's going to be important for us to spread the floor."
The starting lineup has two players -- Felton and Danilo Gallianri -- who have some perimeter prowess, but with Stoudemire, Ronny Turiaf and especially with Wilson Chandler (30.7% from 3PT in his career) at the two, there may not be enough of a threat from the outside to keep the middle open. That's where the injury to Kelenna Azubuike is so critical. Though he is expected to be ready in time for the start of the season, the fact that Azubuike, a tough defender and quality outside shooter, will have missed most of camp will mean he'll need time to adjust.
Last season the Knicks shot 45.5 percent from the floor, which was the high-end of the lower third of the league. They made 34.6 percent from three-point range, which was the ninth-worst in the league. These are numbers that must improve if the Seven Seconds or Less offense is going to work. They have the athletes to do it, but do they have enough shooting?
D'Antoni believes they do. In fact, when asked about it he replied, "I'd be surprised if we don't shoot well."
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* - Chris Mullin and John Starks are both here representing the NBA and participating in fan-friendly events. Mullin was at the famous Piazza Duomo Friday afternoon and, even at 47, the St. John's legend can still make that net snap with that sweet lefty jumper. Mullin has visited Milan before. He was here in 2007 as executive vice president of the Golden State Warriors, when he scouted an 18-year-old budding star named Danilo Gallinari. "I liked him a lot," Mullin said.
Mullin wound up taking Anthony Randolph in 2008, the year Gallinari went to the Knicks at No. 6. He needled former Warriors coach Don Nelson with his assessment of Randolph:
"From what I saw in practice, his potential is pretty high," Mullin said.
Nelson was very tough on Randolph as a rookie and Mullin, among others in the organization, were frustrated with the coach's reluctance to get the most out of the youngster's talents. Nelson would often tell Randolph his only job was to rebound and block shots, not handle the ball. Nelson often benched Randolph, which destroyed the players' confidence.
"It's a little dangerous because there's so much talent there," Mullin said, "but once he gets into a stable situation, he'll do really well."
Mullin admitted that he talked to Donnie Walsh about Randolph as early as Nov. 2008 - the first full month of his rookie season -- when the two worked out the Al Harrington trade.
Oh and, yes, since Mullin's contract was not extended by the Warriors at the end of the 2009 season, he has been directly linked to his mentor, Walsh, who would love to hire him with the Knicks and has actively pursued it. The front office is already loaded with Allan Houston, Glen Grunwald, John Gabriel and Misho Ostarcevic.
* - A contingent from the famed AC Milan soccer team greeted the Knicks when they arrived at the Palalido for practice on Friday. Danilo Gallinari was presented with a jersey and a soccer ball from Milan legend Paolo Maldini.