First of all, I recommend checking out Anthony Donahue's interview with Patrick Ewing Jr., the Knicks' recent training camp invitee. Li'l Pat is a charismatic bloke, and "Rice Balls" gets some interesting, direct responses from him. That's no small feat in early September, when "just working hard" and "I think we have a good team this year" are the answers du jour.
On a related note, I've spent the last few days in my Thinking Cave, fraternizing with spiders and raccoons and pondering existence. One of the discussion points was the role of the fifteenth man on a basketball team such as the Knicks. This stems back to a dinner conversation I had with Seth the Greater (née Seth Pollack) regarding the Suns' bench. My quesadilla and I were baffled that Taylor Griffin had stuck in Phoenix for so much of the '09-'10 season (He spent some time in the D-League and has since been waived, but still...). How could Griffin- who's a decent enough player but doesn't have much to offer on an NBA floor at this point- hold a spot on the Suns when so many other guys with more potential were stranded elsewhere? Seth and his omelet explained that T-Griff wasn't the most talented player, but he worked his ass off, did what he was told, and ran guys like Amar'e Stoudemire ragged in practice. He also played a total of 32 minutes last season. As is often the case when talking to Seth the Greater, I felt enlightened.
See, the guys at the end of the bench pretty much never play. I know that's obvious, but I think we lose sight of that around this time of year. In years past, we (or was it just me?) have clamored for folks like Morris Almond and Joe Crawford to make the squad and been perplexed when they got shafted or, in Mo Nuts' case, didn't even get a training camp invite. Those two are more talented than a number of past Knicks, but that's not the point. Scoring prowess isn't enough when you probably won't see the floor and definitely won't get the ball. No, these training camp invites with non-guaranteed contracts need to bring something else: that Taylor Griffin factor. Patrick Ewing Jr. and whoever else gets signed for training camp will be competing for a chance to ride the bench, be a good sport, and push the Knicks' big guns in practice. I can imagine a few archetypes that would fit the bill:
A young fringe pro with something to prove could irritate the rotation players and keep them on their toes in scrimmages and drills. Nobody wants to get embarrassed by a no-name.
A veteran journeyman or wash-up with just a little left in the tank could take the fledglings under his wing, tutor them in the finer points of the game, and set an example in his conduct.
A comically large individual could play the role of bruiser and beat the big men into game shape.
A hyper-enthusiastic goofball could give super high fives and blow any tension out of the locker room.
A fan favorite could attract some niche audience or just garner attention in name alone.
Whoever it is, that 15th Knick might get occasional minutes and would be a D-League candidate (though that would be unprecedented), but he'll mostly be there for intra-squad use. So, who will it be? I don't know Patrick Ewing Jr. or his game well enough to gauge his usefulness as a practice player. Nor do I know if Quincy Douby or Maurice Ager (both unsigned at this point, mind you) are wily enough or veteran enough to play the role of wily veteran. I don't know who else Donnie Walsh has on the phone, but I imagine we'll find out in the next few weeks. Moreso than some other roster decisions, the selection and employment of that 15th man will be a behind-the-scenes affair. His time to shine probably won't be before our eyes, and that's worth keeping in mind as training camp approaches. Remind me of this the next time the Knicks invite someone like Allan Houston to camp. Man, was I a grouchy little college freshman.
Anyway, any thoughts on the guys mentioned and any other numbers you think Donnie Walsh should call? Share in the comments. Thanks to Seth Pollack and the cave critters for their role in this post.