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July mailbag, part two: starters, end goals, owners and techs

It’s hot out there. Come chill.

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MLB: Miami Marlins at New York Mets Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Part one of the July mailbag dealt with minutes distributions, three-man lineups and the start of what promises to be years of Giannis†. Part two is equal parts grounded and daydreamy.

1) What is your ideal starting lineup given the current roster?

— LatvianPrankster

For opening night, how about Dennis Smith Jr., Damyean Dotson, RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox and Julius Randle?

David Fizdale has long suggested Randle at center intrigues him. “Playing him as a five is scary because he’s strong enough to guard any center... but there is not one center in this league that wants to have him coming downhill... with that dribble and that power,” he said on ESPN over a year ago. “He’s one of the most unique scorers in the league right now. I think he’s a matchup problem for any team. He’s a Swiss Army knife five.”

I’m not starting Mitchell Robinson on day one because I want him to continue developing at a comfortable pace. This is still a second-year player who averaged just under six fouls per 36 minutes. Figure he either wins the starting center spot soon enough or is finishing games before he’s starting them. There’s a wonderful short novel by Jeannette Winterson called “Weight,” a re-imagining of the Atlas myth. The gods punished Atlas by forcing him to hold the weight of the world for eternity. Let’s not rush to give Robinson the enormous weight waiting for him as New York City’s latest young savior.

I like this five-man set because everyone theoretically does at least one thing that should help the others. DSJ can penetrate and attack closeouts, which would hopefully come about as teams deal with Randle, an actual hub of an offense. Dotson is your spot-up space creator behind the arc. Knox presents that option, too, and while he’s no plus rebounder, having Randle, Barrett and Dotson around should mitigate that.

It’s no fool-proof lineup. There’s zero rim protection. The only defender you wouldn’t be laughed at for calling “competent” is Dotson; Smith showed improvement on that end in his brief time in New York, but we’ll need a full season of that before it’s anything more than a temporary tattoo on his rep. It’s also fair to question the wisdom of entrusting Smith, who had the highest usage rate of any Knick last year, to spread the wealth in a way that keeps Knox, Barrett and Randle all happy.

My lineup isn’t sustainable, but it’s meant to maximize learning until something clearer makes itself known. Smith and Frank Ntilikina are both facing decisions on their fourth-year options this fall. They finally have a legit scorer to work around in Randle. Let the youngsters grow alongside a vet who commands double-teams and knows how to pass. Let Barrett get his first taste of the league alongside people who know how to score and don’t need him to take on that load; let him grow as a playmaker, knowing that will be a bigger deal down the road than his willingness to take any and all shots. One more thing: if Knox struggles for more than a week, Marcus Morris will take his spot and may not let go.

2) What constitutes a successful season for each player and what is most important for them to reach that goal?

— Spike Lee’s Joint

RANDLE: Generate All-Star buzz by staying healthy and stepping into a leadership role

DSJ: Generate “There’s our point guard!” buzz by improving from deep and the line

ROBINSON: Growth re: fewer fouls, more minutes & the occasional wet jumper/post move

RJ: Growth re: the right-hand and the playmaking

FRANK: Establish reliable excellence on defense & mediocrity at a minimum on offense

TRIER: Earn a starting spot w/more playmaking & defense & less elbowing people in the face

ELFRID: Shoot, pass and defend well enough to make fans hope he re-signs

KNOX: Establish something in his game beyond scoring

PORTIS: Play well enough, long enough so we forget you once broke a teammate’s face

BULLOCK & ELLINGTON: Shoot really, really well

DOTSON: Cement starting spot by developing some off-the-bounce/midrange tomfoolery

BRAZDEIKIS: Earn immortal cult hero status by dunking on Kristaps Porzingis

TAJ: Join the pantheon of brief beloved Knick big men like Buck Williams, Terry Cummings and Kurt Thomas (Jazz Game Edition) winning over the press and the fans by hitting the floor, diving into the crowd, relentless defense & intangibles

MORRIS: Become the most popular player in the NBA by posterizing Enes Kanter

3) If you could swap Dolan with a...managing partner/owner from another team, who would it be? Why would you want [them]? Also explain why you would want to dump Dolan onto the other team.

— Allan_Houstatlantavegas

I’d swap Dolan with the Wilpons in a heartbeat. The Wilpons run the Mets like they’re the Pirates or the A’s. There may as well be signs up outside Not Shea Stadium that say “NO BIG-MARKET SENSIBILITIES NEED APPLY.” So let them run the Knicks, who every year skimp out on paying about $50M in property taxes and enjoy the profit-protection of the salary cap. Exploiting the masses AND a systemic cheap-ass-ness that ensures no team can operate like the Yankees? That’s the Wilpons’ wet dream. Jeff would stick his nose where it doesn’t belong, showcase a gross misogyny and micromanage behind the scenes. Been there. Done that.

As a Met fan, I think I could handle Dolan better than I have as a Knick fan. He’s stupid wealthy, and if there’s one insult never to be lobbed in his direction, it’s “cheap.” He cares deeply about press coverage and would once again own his own TV station. He’d love chasing big-name free agents and winning the back pages; unlike basketball players, great baseball players don’t seem allergic to coming to the big city. His stupid band could play all it wants: the national anthem, the seventh-inning stretch, shows after games, off-nights, Flushing battles of the bands, Cooperstown open mics, etc.

The Wilpons took sole control of the Mets right around when the Ewing/Van Gundy years were wrapping up. Since then, in a sport where the playoffs are far more exclusive than the NBA, the Mets have been more successful, reaching three postseasons, winning three series and playing in a Fall Classic. In 2000, co-owner Wilpon saw the Mets reach another World Series, one that might have gone differently if the umpires did their job and ejected a hyped-up and enabled monster who whipped a bat shard at an innocent hitter.

Under Dolan, Met fans would enjoy their team flexing some financial muscle for a change. Knick fans would eat Jeff Wilpon alive. As far as the poison seeds of nepotism go, Charles Dolan was Vito Corleone. James Dolan is Sonny. Jeff Wilpon is Shooter McGavin. Knick fans eat pieces of shit like him for breakfast.

I’d love to hear y’all’s owner swap proposals. Go P&T, P&T.

4) Remember basketball cards?

As an obsessive basketball card collector in the early ‘90s, I remember Rex Chapman’s 1990 Skybox clearly. Skybox was here for the sizzle, not the steak; their cards were light on facts but heavy on the style. Even when that style looked like your cousin who never went to church getting snazzed up for Easter photos at the Sears over in the good mall.

The Skybox that always got me choked up?

I don’t know if words can convey to you what it felt like to spend months opening packs of cards and flipping through endless duplicates of Armen Gilliam and Rony Seikaly and Tate George and Johnny Newman until finally you’re flipping through a new pack and there he is. The Man. There was a zap that went through my head whenever I got a Michael Jordan card, a Magic Johnson, or Ewing. I’ve written about why the Knicks in particular meant as much as they did to me in those years. Anything that brought them honor picked me up, too.

As the cards brought pleasure, so too could they bring pain.

There’s a card I must’ve had like ten of that I never thought twice about that you’ll see online now for as much as $1000. You know why? Hint: it’s got nothing to do with Mark Jackson.

The men circled in red are Lyle and Erik Menendez. This card’s photo is from the time between when the brothers murdered their parents and their eventual arrest and conviction. The Menendez brothers went on quite the shopping spree after collecting the first insurance payment from their parents’ deaths, including courtside seats at MSG in 1989-90. And now you know... the rest of the story.

5) Which Knick gets the first technical in the regular season? Can be player, coach or owner.

— DontDrinkFromDaHudson

Smart money says Trier’s first fast-break of the season features him elbowing some poor soul square in the mug. “Square in the mug” tastes like Dick Tracy, right?

Fizdale is another candidate for first tech. I think he’s gonna wanna send the message quick that expectations have upped and that losing is no longer kosher. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him with some early remonstration.

6) If you saw KD and Kyrie walking down the street in New York and you had one chance to heckle them, what would you say and why? (not heckling them is not an option)

— James Marceda

Gonna be buried in teaching the next three weeks, then probably looking for a new job. Hit me up with leads, prayers or encouragement. See y’all later in August.