Some year’s, the summer NBA offseason’s looked forward to even more than the onseason.
1996 was one of those years. Not only ‘cuz I’d just graduated from high school and my girlfriend’s parents worked late every night, leaving us free run of the house (and each other) the whole time. No, the ’96 offseason had been anticipated by Knick fans for a long time, after a disappointing season.
Bear in mind, back in the magical, Dolan-free years of the 90s, the Knicks could have a season where they advanced to the 2nd round, took a game from the 72-win Bulls and very nearly a second (stupid Rodman and his stupid assists to stupid Bill Wennington), and have it all considered a massive failure. These days, MSG throws a confetti party for less than that.
That was a weird year, and a weird team. For some reason, and I even knew it back then, I’ll always remember that team as the J.R. Reid Knicks. I have no idea why he stood out to me so much, but he did. Gary Grant was on that team, too; I remember always having to catch myself before calling him "Cary" and that he once hit a game-winning shot at the buzzer in a very rare and entertaining overtime loss to the Clippers. Brad Lohaus was on that team, too. I remember thinking I probably wouldn’t remember him. And really, I don’t.
That was the offseason the Knicks spent what was then big money on Detroit’s rising young two-guard, Allan Houston, as well as New Jersey point guard Chris Childs, who’d been a revelation for the Nets. This was also the offseason the Knicks traded Anthony Mason, who’d been the ill-suited centerpiece of now ex-Knick coach Don Nelson’s ill-suited plan to shift the offense away from Patrick Ewing and center it on Mace’s point-forward skills. Nellie also had fallen in love with Hubert Davis over John Starks, making him perhaps the only human in history besides Mrs. Hubert Davis to feel that way.
The Knicks also had 3 1st round picks that year. You just fell out of your chair, didn’t you? The Dolan Knicks don’t have 3 1st round picks in a decade. But yes, Virginia, the Knicks had three that year: 18, 19, and 21. I’ve detailed the idiocy of their decisions in prior blogs, but to summarize: instead of packaging picks to move up in a draft that was LOADED with future HOFers and All-Stars, the Knicks drafted 3 guys who all. Played. The. Same. Position. And none of them, at least at the NBA level, played it very well, or for very long.
I was excited heading into last summer because I thought the Knicks would build upon their best season in 15 years and we’d be looking at their latest best plan to knock off the Pacers and/or Heat. The only disappointment I can compare how this year’s turned out was the night in college I left the bar with a girl I’d been eyeing for weeks, and she talked a big game and acted like she’d invented the body swerve, and when we got back to her room she admitted she was a virgin. And not a very confident one, either.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just wasn’t what I’d expected. Or wanted. (This is precisely how I feel about Raymond Felton, especially in light of the unfortunate revelations about his personal life of late. I feel for the man. On a human level, I totally do. As a point guard, he just isn’t what I wanted, though).
I looked back at a few posts I made over the summer about the Knicks. I’m proud of some of my predictions. I’m mortified by others. You can see them for yourself here and here, if you wish. To summarize what I got right and what I got very, very wrong:
THINGS I GOT RIGHT
–I knew Metta’s knee would fuck up this year. That’s what happens when someone 34 years old rushes back irrationally quickly from a serious knee injury to play meaningless games for a Laker team going nowhere late last year (remember Metta the next time you hear some blowhard questioning an athlete’s pain tolerance…like a-hole did here).
–I knew Chandler wouldn’t get through the season without missing serious time. Because if you paid any attention to Tyson Chandler’s career before he won DPOY and the NY press fell head over heels for him, you’d remember him as a dude with recurring injury problems. And the Knicks ain’t exactly the Suns when it comes to resurrecting dudes…unless those dudes are Rick Brunson or Quentin Richardson.
–I knew Woodson would be gone after this year (can’t put this one in the win column yet…but I’m willing to take on anyone who cares to bet otherwise).
–I knew the Nets would fall far short of expectations because KG and Paul Pierce haven’t beaten a legit team in a playoff series in God knows how many years and how much mileage ago. And because the history of Russians and five-year plans of any kind is not a good one. Am I right, Josef?
THINGS I GOT VERY, VERY WRONG
–I thought Beno Udrih would be a fan favorite within the season’s first month. I’m not sure anyone has actually seen Udrih since the first month. I think Beno does have value. But once you’re in the Loaf’s doghouse, that’s it. You know the Loaf spends so much time talking about not sitting places? It’s ‘cuz he gets all his sitting in in the doghouse.
–I thought Bargnani would be a significant upgrade over Steve Novak, because he can (or at least he’ll try to) do things Novak never would, i.e. anything beyond standing behind the 3-point line waiting to be wide open to shoot. Turns out Novak may be wiser than Bargs when it comes to the value of restraint.
–I thought Shump would establish himself as an elite defensive player. I don’t know how much of the blame for Shump’s stagnation/regression falls on Iman and how much falls on the circus-in-a-bad-way organization he chafes under. I do know I used to consider Shump’s best- and worst-case scenarios as a player to be Scottie Pippen or Gerald Wilkins. Now? Now I feel like writing a letter to Wilkins and apologizing for insulting him with that comparison.
–I severely overrated the shooting prowess of Bargnani, Metta, and Udrih while criminally underrating the impact of the spacing that Kidd, Copeland, and Novak provided last year. Although Kidd went entire seasons without hitting a shot, he was mostly willing to take 3s. I don’t blame Udrih, really, because no NBA player, regardless of skill level, can hit a 3 from the bench. But Udrih’s more of a mid-range player, and on a team whose offense revolves around Melo and to a lesser extent STAT, the mid-range area tends to have no vacancies. And while I do still think Bargnani, in a vacuum, is a better player than Novak, he isn’t playing in a vacuum. He plays on a team that doesn’t really have a role for his skill set. As for Copeland…I still hate Indiana for signing him and never playing him. Dicks. Yeah, it’s smart. Sure. You’re still dicks, though.
Also, it’s been obvious from the start of the season that the Knicks miss Kidd’s IQ and ball movement. One of the differences when you watch clips of the Knicks offense from last year to this is how often you see guys (especially Melo) having to work harder to get the ball, or guys receiving the ball in less-than-ideal positions. Maybe you can’t measure basketball IQ. But you can tangibly notice its absence. Last year the Knicks were hot-headed, but intelligent. This year they seem fatalistic and dumb.
Today we hear about moving Shump for Darren Collison, shortly after the Lazarus-ing of reports about moving Shump for Kenneth Faried, which complements all the reports about the Knicks going after Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge or even Iceberg Slim in a few years. I don’t see where Faried, or Love, or Aldridge would play if Melo’s still there. As Anthony gets older, he’s not going to get quicker. If his best position right now is power forward–and he’s rebounding well-enough to justify his place there, even outside of the brilliant scoring–how is bringing in another power forward going to work, exactly? How the hell would Durant and Anthony even work together?
I’m tired of the Knick model of management, which seems to be just bring in the biggest name you can as head coach or as players, regardless of the fit. Tom Thibodeau was a Knick assistant. Ditto Steve Clifford. Those guys are doing two of the best coaching jobs in the league this year. Meanwhile, the Knicks are stuck with the Loaf behind the Bench, and as Seth pointed out yesterday, the Loaf’s #1 skill is not sitting down.
Back in 1996, the Knicks followed Pat Riley and Don Nelson as head coach with a then-unknown and unglamorous assistant. Jeff Van Gundy worked out pretty well, I thought. Now I live in fear the Knicks will announce Woodson has "resigned" this summer (the Knicks saying someone has "resigned" is like Michael Corleone suggesting you "relax and go out on the boat for a while") and replace him with Lionel Hollins, because Hollins will be the biggest name they can get.
Again: predictions are generally silly, because we usually predict what’s predictable. I don’t have any limbs to go out on with predictions this time. Being a Knick fan under this management is already going out on a limb enough.