It was fine to send those subliminal messages to LeBron James on Thursday, when everyone from team owner James Dolan to Donnie Walsh to Mike D'Antoni emphasized how playing in New York is a challenge not everyone can -- or wants to -- handle. The point was made, driven home, understood and absolutely true.
And now, with LeBron the new enemy, it's time the Knicks offer a new message:
I would hope you would support who we are, not who we are not.
Credit that to fictional coach Norman Dale, from, of course, Hoosiers.
The fact of the matter is, after preparing two years to land LeBron James and failing, there can be no quick remedy, no immediate response. This is a headache that will pound for a while. So, as Em says, hold your nose, here goes the cold water.
After two years of live chats in which we made it a weekly tradition to predict the opening night lineup for 2010-11, here's what we have right now:
PG Raymond Felton
SG Danilo Gallinari
SF Anthony Randolph
PF Amar'e Stoudemire
C Eddy Curry
What you see there is ridiculous length and skill, but not enough perimeter shooting and questionable defense across the frontcourt. Defending this lineup is quite simple: pack it in. Don't let Stoudemire get into open space where he can destroy you (and the rim) with his quickness and explosion, contain Felton on the drive and tie up Randolph on his head-down, drive-to-the-basket tendencies. Frustrate Curry with doubles and just never help off of Gallinari.
OK, dunk your head into the ice again.
Things could obviously change. Not even Mike D'Antoni really knows what his Fav Five will look like come November. Perhaps you go with Kelenna Azubuike, who has perimeter touch and can defend, at the two next to Felton and create a strong backcourt that can take on opposing guards of any size. So you lose length by sliding Stoudemire to the five, moving Wilson Chandler to the four and putting Gallinari at the three. Randolph comes off the bench for matchup nightmares against backup bigs, Bill Walker has athleticism and can provide some scoring and you also have Toney Douglas to bring in for more perimeter shooting and yet another gritty backcourt defender. There is no doubt this team will have to play up-tempo and rely heavy on transition and speed.
Feeling a little bit better?
Now check the finances. If you factor in Felton at about $8M (his deal is in the finalizing stages today) and add another $2M for the three second round picks (to fill out the roster), the Knicks have a payroll of $54.2M, which leaves them $3.8M shy of the $58.044 salary cap.
They could use that money to find another shooter, such as Rasual Butler or Roger Mason, or another young, athletic finisher, such as Shannon Brown.
Or they could just pocket the cap space, be patient and see what may come up down the road on the trade front.
Let's not mention Eddy Curry's expiring contract as an asset until one of two things happen: 1. he gets on the court, is healthy and contributes, 2. the February trade deadline arrives. Curry right now is cold product. You aren't moving him unless you are willing to lock into something long-term that someone else doesn't want.
So I think for now that puts to rest any talk of snatching Darren Collison and Emeka Okafor. The Hornets would be foolish to move Collison if they're not sure what the future holds for Chris Paul. The Knicks also aren't about to entertain the idea of taking on Gilbert Arenas and all that baggage, which not only includes the gun issue, but a troubled knee and a hefty contract. Those type of moves got this franchise in trouble before. The mission here, along with targeting LeBron, was to never repeat the sins of the past.
The goal now? Flexibility. Collect some assets, develop them and wait to strike. That's what the David Lee sign-and-trade was all about. The Knicks needed bodies and needed assets. They got one in Randolph, who is extremely popular among GMs around the league for his potential. Azubuike is a nice role player and expires. The Knicks still have Chandler and Douglas and, if it comes to it, Gallinari is also there. They have become a fairly young team with very affordable contracts, which is something you couldn't say about this franchise in a very long time.
But reality is what it is. This team has to be exactly what they are: young, energetic, gritty and relentless. Otherwise, they're dead.
And unless Gallinari turns into something much bigger than anyone expected, the Knicks know they're still going to need a star to be the cornerstone of a championship contender, especially in the East. Stoudemire is an all-star, but no one is trying to suggest he's a superstar. The Knicks, however, wanted to send the message at his press conference on Thursday that he was the one who dared to take the first step to be part of the rebuild. He is special mainly because of that.
But there's no question this roster isn't a finished product. It only would have been if LeBron had decided to choose New York. He didn't, so the work will take a little bit longer.
Instant gratification can be exhilarating and they're pounding shots of it right now in South Beach. But there is also something to be said about the climb (not to get all Miley Cyrus on you). Perhaps you'll have to wait a little longer, see if Carmelo Anthony has the guts to pass on that three-year, $65M extension and leave Denver for the Big Apple, the big opportunity and, yes, big challenge that awaits here. Melo has to know he'll make plenty of scratch here. His brand is lagging behind fellow Class of '03 draftees LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. In fact, his jersey isn't even top 10 in sales. As of the last count, released in January, Anthony ranked 11th.
He can wait it out until next summer, when the Knicks will certainly have cap space (and can maneuver easily to create enough for a max offer), or he can try to motivate the Nuggets into working out a trade, which would then allow the Knicks to immediately sign him to a Bird Rights extension. It may not happen until the trade deadline, if at all. The Nuggets certainly don't want to trade their superstar.
Then there is Paul and Deron Williams, who have decisions to make, themselves. Does Paul want to hang around another year or two and see if the Hornets will build a legit team around him in a Western Conference where 50 wins -- 50 wins -- was just enough to get you a playoff berth? Does Williams want to stay in Utah now that his pick-and-roll mate, Carlos Boozer, is gone?
Last but not least is Tony Parker. Eventually the Spurs have to figure out what they want to do with him. If George Hill is Gregg Popovich's guy now and if the Spurs aren't willing to financially commit to Parker as they did to Manu Ginobili, he absolutely wants out. Oh and let's not forget about the guy over in Spain, Ricky Rubio, who is still another year away from coming over to the NBA. Eventually the Timberwolves will have to deal with that situation if Rubio is completely against playing in Minnesota.
What we have here are options, all of which are available to the Knicks because of one critical element: flexibility.