A year ago, Queens product Ron Artest spoke with the desperation of a fan when he practically pleaded for one of the top free agents to sign with the Knicks and rejuvenate the dormant franchise, but the realist in him said that too many stars were afraid of the pressure that comes with playing in New York.
Amar’e Stoudemire clearly isn’t one of those players.
"He has heart," Artest said. "Of course. I know Amar’e had a chance to do it. The way he played in the playoffs last year, he has the heart.
"You have to accept the challenge. You want to be The Man, you’ve got to understand New York, and if you can’t take the pressure, it’s going to be hard. Obviously, Amar’e has been great."
Artest, the proud product of the Queensbridge projects and St. John’s, was crushed when the Knicks passed on him in the 1999 NBA draft. He apparently is so impressed with the Knicks that he made a bold prediction after 35 games: "They’re definitely going to the playoffs this year."
The Knicks (21-14) enter today’s game against Artest’s Lakers comfortably in the sixth spot in the East, 71/2 games ahead of the ninth-place Bucks. The top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs. The Knicks — who have gone 18-6 since their 3-8 start — haven’t been among that group since 2003-04.
The Lakers make their annual appearance at the Garden on Feb. 11, but Artest said he already can imagine what the Garden must be like this season.
"I’m assuming the city is on fire a little bit," he said. "They have a chance to grab some more Knicks fans. The last few years, I don’t know if kids grew up Knicks fans in New York."
Felton All-Star material?
There’s a great deal of intrigue with every release of the latest results of All-Star voting to see if Amar’e Stoudemire can pass Kevin Garnett and become the Knicks’ first All-Star starter since Patrick Ewing in 1992. In the most recent returns, Stoudemire cut what was a 100,000-vote deficit to less than 25,000. The voting, which can be done at nba.com (or, exclusively to vote for Knicks players, voteknicks.com), closes on Jan. 23. The starters for the East and West will be announced on Jan. 27.
Whether or not he gets the start, Stoudemire is a given to make the All-Star team as a reserve, which is decided by the coaches. What remains to be seen is if he’ll go to Los Angeles on Feb. 20 alone or be joined by a teammate. The Knicks haven't had two All-Stars in the same season since Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell in 2001.
Suns coach Alvin Gentry believes Raymond Felton has to be considered "very highly’’ for All-Star recognition, considering what he’s brought to the Knicks along with Stoudemire. "I think Raymond Felton is playing as well as any point guard in the NBA right now,’’ Gentry said of Felton. That’s high praise, considering that Gentry has a point guard who is a two-time MVP on his roster in Steve Nash and plays against some of the league’s best point guards, such as Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Jason Kidd.
Felton may not have the votes, but he has the numbers for a legitimate campaign. He is in the top 10 in four important categories among guards in the East: Scoring (18.2 points per game, fourth), steals (1.88 per game, third), assists-to-turnover ratio (2.54, ninth) and points/rebounds/assists (30.6 combined per game, third).
Dwyane Wade seems to have one starting guard spot locked up, and there is a close battle for the other guard spot between Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose. Whoever doesn't get the starting spot certainly will make the team as a reserve, which leaves the question: Does Felton get the nod as a third point guard or do the coaches select a shooting guard such as Orlando’s Jason Richardson, who moved over to the East from the West in the trade with Phoenix?
Fields of gold
After being awarded his second straight NBA Eastern Conference rookie of the month honor this past week, Landry Fields already has achieved the most accolades of any Knicks rookie in more than two decades. Not since Mark Jackson (1987-88) has a Knicks rookie won it more than once. Jackson also was named rookie of the year, but considering Blake Griffin’s rim-rocking dominance in the West, let’s just appreciate Fields from the perspective of Knicks history.
Is it fair to consider him one of the best second-round picks in franchise history? Consider the quality player that Trevor Ariza (2004) made himself into. You also have to note that Gerald Wilkins (1985) became a quality starter and a scorer. There were several others, such as Phil Jackson (1967) and Dave Stallworth (1965) and one of the franchise’s all-time greatest scorers, Richie Guerin (1954).
But it’ll take a lot for Fields to become the best second-round pick in franchise history. That honor, of course, goes to Willis Reed (1964), who went on to lead the team to two championships and is — to date — the only Knicks player to be named NBA MVP.
Reed isn’t all that proud of being arguably the greatest second-round pick in league history. He has never gotten over the fact that the Knicks took him after Jim "Bad News" Barnes was selected with their first pick.
Nash reunion in 2012?
From the moment Mike D’Antoni arrived in New York, it seemed Steve Nash eventually would follow. But despite rumors that suggest the Suns, unquestionably headed toward a rebuilding mode, have discussed trading Nash, it isn't likely to happen — and especially unlikely that Suns owner Robert Sarver would send him to the Knicks.
Nash, who has one year left on his contract at $11.6 million, isn’t going to ask for a trade either. "I signed up for this,’’ Nash said Thursday. "I’m committed to trying to build a team here . . . I’m still happy. I just want to try to win games for these fans and our team because that’s the most frustrating thing.’’
Nash will be 38 when he becomes a free agent again in 2012. Considering that he keeps himself in terrific shape and doesn’t look as if he’ll be slowing down anytime soon, that might be the most logical time to consider a reunion with D’Antoni and Amar’e Stoudemire in New York so the trio can chase their championship ambitions one more time. He’d be a backup point guard by then, but what a perfect backup he would be behind Felton . . . or Deron Williams . . . or Chris Paul . . .
Around the NBA
The Heat went into Friday's game in Milwaukee with 11 straight wins on the road. Miami is chasing the NBA's all-time record of 16 straight road wins set by the dominant Lakers team in 1971-72. The Heat, with LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh, are most compared to that Lakers team, which had the original Big Three of Jerry West, Gail Goodrich and Wilt Chamberlain. But was that Lakers team as dialed into the nightly motivation that seems to drive this Heat team, which, as James Jones admits, seeks out their detractors? "We have 20,000 fans and we see 1,000 Knicks fans; we focus on the Knicks fans," Jones told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, "and try to prove them wrong.’’ . . . Dirk Nowitzki’s knee still is giving him issues, so the Mavericks have convinced him to be a little more conservative with his anxiousness to get back onto the court . . . Kobe Bryant told the New York Post’s Peter Vecsey that he has almost no cartilage left under his kneecap, which has kept him from practicing most of this season . . . ESPN.com reports that the Pacers are no longer rebuffing talks involving Danny Granger, who, it should be pointed out, is a favorite of Donnie Walsh . . . Marcus Camby said his preference is to stay in Portland, but he hears the trade rumors. "I take it as applause,’’ he told ESPN.com. "It’s always nice to be wanted.’’ . . . Your weekly Carmelo Anthony trade chatter hasn’t changed from what we’ve been telling you since the summer, despite an endless cycle of reports from various outlets: His preference remains New York, he still isn’t going to sign an extension with the Nuggets and nothing is likely to happen until just before the Feb. 24 trade deadline.