RANGERS TRAINING CAMP LIVE WILL AIR THURSDAY AT 11 AM ON MSG NETWORKS
Knicks Roster Taking Shape
Amar’e Stoudemire finds it amazing that he is now the most tenured current Knick on the roster. What might be even more amazing is that Carmelo Anthony is right behind him with the second-longest consecutive service as a Knickerbocker.
And as the dust now settles after the latest roster overhaul, the team that will start the 2012-13 season is now in place. The last four years have seen perpetual change and this year the team returns just six players, with Amar’e and Melo as the centerpieces, but there are several other familiar faces, too, as Raymond Felton, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas are back for a second stint in New York.
The signing of Ronnie Brewer, which was announced last week, all but completed a roster that is now at 14 players, with 13 on guaranteed contracts. The 14th, forward Chris Copeland, is on a one-year non-guaranteed deal. The 15th (and final) spot may go to one more veteran to improve the depth of the frontcourt, with names such as Lou Amundson, Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen, Josh Howard, Yi Jianlian and Shawne Williams (among many others) still looking for a home. The team may go in another direction, however, and use that 15th spot for D-League call-ups, with the likes of Wesley Witherspoon, D.J. Kennedy and Artie Parakhouski catching the eyes of scouts during the NBA Summer League. Those players could wind up with the Knicks’ D-League affiliate in Erie and come up when or if needed.
Having an open roster spot allows for some flexibility. For those wondering, the NBA allows a maximum of 15 players on the roster and the active roster per game has been raised to 13. D-League players can only be called-up when there is a roster spot available.
As things stand right now, the potential starting lineup would be Felton and Brewer in the backcourt, with Melo, Amar’e and Tyson Chandler in the frontcourt. The first four off the bench in a nine-man rotation would likely be Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith, Steve Novak and Camby. This is also not including injured Iman Shumpert, who is not likely to return from injury until January, while Argentine point guard Pablo Prigioni also figures to get backcourt burn.
What Mike Woodson has to work with here is a versatile group of 10 (including Shumpert) that is unquestionably tougher than last year’s group. The additions of Felton and Brewer alone prove that, along with the experience that Kidd and Camby bring. This is a team built in a defensive-minded mold and it will be interesting to see how quickly that kind of personality can be developed and how quickly that kind of reputation can be earned. Remember, for most of the last four years, the Knicks have been regularly labeled — and unfairly last season — as a bad defensive team.
“A lot of people want to play defense,” Brewer said in an interview with WFAN last week, “but some people just don’t have the ability to do it.”
Brewer, for one, gives Woodson options late in games when the team needs to get stops to protect a lead. For instance, if Stoudemire is struggling, Brewer can slide down play the wing and Woodson can move Anthony to the power forward spot, where we’ve seen him thrive before (especially in the international game) and where he is actually a better defender and rebounder. Brewer’s presence also allows Woodson to keep Carmelo from having to exclusively guard the likes of LeBron James and Paul Pierce. If you’ve paid close attention, those players rarely spend the entire game checking Melo, but because of the lack of man power, Melo has almost always had to check them.
James White, who signed a one-year deal and played in three summer league games just to get himself acclimated with Woodson’s system, also hopes to figure into the wing rotation. White will be an interesting player to watch in training camp as part of the second unit while Shumpert is out. There is some thought that Smith could be the starter at the shooting guard spot over Brewer, but Smith’s offense may be better suited off the bench, especially with the chemisty he and Steve Novak developed as key reserves last season. Smith also made it clear he would be happy to play wherever Kidd is playing, which is an indication he would remain open to staying in a reserve role.
In the backcourt, Kidd can still play some point but also has transformed his game later in his career to slide over to the off-guard position as a three-point threat and playmaker, which would make room for Prigioni, who is a self-described pass-first point guard.
“That’s how I think as a point guard,” Prigioni told the New York Post. “I don’t want to score 30 points. I want to play for my teammates.”
More on Prigioni later, but this depth and experience in the backcourt also allows Shumpert to take the necessary time to make a full comeback from his knee injury and avoid the pressure of rushing his return because of a hole in the lineup. Backcourt depth (mainly because of health) was a major Achilles Heel for the Knicks last season.
Shumpert, 22, for now, remains the youngest player on the roster but at least Woodson can’t call him ‘Rook’ anymore. It will be interesting to see if Woody takes to using the term of endearment for Prigioni, who, at 35, will be the NBA’s oldest rookie. But he won’t be one of the Knicks’ oldest players. In fact, there will be three players — Kidd, Camby and Kurt Thomas — older than Prigioni.
Overall the Knicks will be one of the NBA’s oldest teams. The 14-man roster will open training camp with an average age of 30.4 years of age. The projected starting five, however, has an average age of 28.2 and the projected 10-man rotation, including Shumpert, will be 29.5 years.
NOT ABOUT THE MONEY
If the Heat and Celtics have proved anything over the last few seasons, its that attracting key players at a discount are extremely important to the success of superteams. Brewer is one player who turned down more lucrative offers to take a one-year flier to play for the Knicks at the veterans minimum. Brewer, 27, is a well-respected defensive player who brings similar intangibles that the departed Landry Fields brought (and is similarly a mediocre perimeter shooter) and there’s no question there will be a logjam for minutes once Shumpert returns. But this was a good gamble for Brewer, who became a free agent when the Bulls declined to pick up a $4.37 million team option on his contract, could get himself a good payday next summer if he has a strong season in New York.
“It didn’t come down to money,” Brewer said in the WFAN interview. “It’s where you want to go and where you feel comfortable.”
Prigioni will be one of the lowest paid players on the team at the rookie minimum of $473,000. Prigioni, who has been a highly-paid star in Europe for most of his career, came to the Knicks after a few years of flirting with the idea of testing his skills at the NBA level.
“It’s more important to me the people of New York showed me they wanted me to go and play and really feel I can help the team,” Prigioni said in a New York Post story.
Prigioni said the Knicks have been recruiting him for the last four years and the opportunity came this year when he became a free agent. Manu Ginobili, who has been Prigioni’s backcourt mate for years with the Argentine national team, said he encouraged the move.
“I’ve talked to him a lot about not letting opportunities get away,” Ginobili told reporters in London. “Then you’re 45, retired and may think, ‘What if?'”
The NBA didn’t listen to our suggestion that the 2012-13 season should open with the Knicks and Nets, but the league did decide to begin the New York basketball season that way. After the league opens on Oct. 30 with the traditional championship ring ceremony — and Ray Allen in a Heat uniform, wow — with Celtics-Heat, the Knicks begin two nights later in the Nets’ new arena in Brooklyn. It should be a wild and fun night and possibly the start of a long-awaited true rivalry between the neighboring franchises.
It does seem the NBA wants to get the sparks flying early, as the Knicks and Nets will meet three times within the first six weeks of the season. They will also be a featured matchup on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Though it will be the usual 41 home games and 41 road games and certainly a welcome return to normalcy after last season’s lockout-shortened 66-game madness, this is going to be a challenging schedule for a team looking to end a 40-year championship drought. The season opens in Brooklyn and the very next night the Madison Square Garden opener will have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the defending champion Heat on the marquee. Nothing like hitting the ground running.
In fact, the first 10 games of the season are a grind, with a home-and-home, back-to-back against the Philadelphia 76ers and road games at San Antonio and Memphis in the stretch. November brings nine of 15 games on the road.
As usual, the Knicks will be a regular feature on every holiday throughout the winter, but for the first time in years they will not host a Christmas Day game. Instead, the Knicks will be in Los Angeles to play the Lakers as the showcase game on ABC. They will host the Trail Blazers on New Year’s Day (in the evening) and after hosting the Nets for MLK Day, the Knicks will be back in Los Angeles to play the Clippers on St. Patrick’s Day and then host the Celtics on Easter Sunday.
The Knicks are also expected to be featured in an NBA Europe game on Jan. 17, when Melo, Tyson and Prigioni will return to London to play a regular season game against the Detroit Pistons. The league has yet to officially announce this, but several reports have indicated this to be the plan.
The Knicks will also be among the most nationally-televised teams and all of us as MSG Network will be there every step of the way, as well. After the opener in Brooklyn is on TNT, we open the season with the Heat game on Nov. 2. Yes, that is also the return of Friday Night Knicks, the Emmy Award-winning production that features Robert Randolph and the Family Band’s theme music. The Knicks have 15 Friday Night Knicks dates this season and for those concerned about the team’s recent struggles on Friday night and connecting them to the award-winning theme, Randolph tweeted to the fellas at the great fan blog, Posting & Toasting, “OK, I’ll write a new song!”
Gonna go out on a limb here and say those losses had nothing to do with the song. But if RR wants to build on his Emmy success, we’re all for it.
Jeremy Lin was one player who was immune to the Friday Night struggles, as his signature game — 38 points against the Lakers — came on a Friday Night Knicks broadcast. And Lin will be back on Friday Night Knicks on Nov. 23, when he and the Rockets host the Knicks in Houston. Lin then makes his one and only appearance at the Garden on Dec. 17 (a Monday, for the record), when he comes in with the Rockets.
The London Games opened over the weekend and USA Basketball began pool play on Sunday with a 98-71 win over France. Melo had nine points and nine rebounds in 17 minutes and struggled with his shooting at 3 for 10 from the field. His field goal attempts were the second-highest on the team behind Kevin Durant, who led the U.S. with 22 points on 6 of 13 shooting. Chandler had eight points, nine rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot in a very effective and efficient 11 minutes against former Knick Ronny Turiaf. Melo and Tyson joined Durant as the leading rebounders for the U.S.
Chandler, the only true center on the team, has struggled with foul trouble, but this time it was Melo who had three early fouls. The NBA stars are still adjusting to international officiating.
“There were some calls where we looked up and were like, ‘What are we doing wrong?’,” Anthony told reporters in London.
France took advantage of early fouls by the U.S. to keep it close through the first quarter, but by the second half the game turned into a rout.
“They got us to foul them a lot,” Anthony said. “In the second half, once we figure it out, really settled down on the defensive end, our defense really took off.”
Good to hear Melo not only talk about defense as a primary focus, but manage to play so effectively in a team concept despite a poor shooting night. How this carries over into the season will be something to watch once October arrives.
For now, the next game for Melo, Tyson and the Americans is Tuesday against Tunisia.
So, the report has it that Martin Brodeur engaged a big-time — as in Pat Brisson — agent as Free Agency Day descends on us this Sunday. Do you believe it? Me? Nay.
Meanwhile, Marty’s buddy — at least for the moment — Zach Parise has had an equally large-image rep (Don Meehan) ready to find a pot ‘o NHL goal for the Devils’ (for now) captain.
Apart from the fact that they have been teammates in New Jersey, Parise and Brodeur share a common theme along with dozens of other big leaguers. They know that “Free Agency” ain’t free; at least not to ownership who’ll match the National Mint if necessary to secure their favorite player prey.
That’s why the likes of Ryan Suter, Jaromir Jagr, Matt Carle, Alex Semin and Jason Garrison, among other significant free agents, figure to be wealthier next season than they are right now.
While it’s conceivable to imagine Parise skating for another club in 2012-2013, the idea of Brodeur wearing anything but Devils black, red and white challenges the imagination.
However, just because Marty allegedly — as in allegedly — secured a representative does not mean that he’s saying bye-bye to either Newark, Bayonne or other New Jersey points East or West. It could be that he merely wants to hammer out a reasonable deal with the Devils.
OR, there’s always a possibility that even at the advanced age of 40, Monsieur Brodeur will seek greener — as in $$$$$ — pastures elsewhere. That’s why the Free Agent Frenzy could also be renamed the “Money-Money-Money Melodrama.”
Surely, if Parise’s agents haven’t committed to the Devils by Midnight, Saturday, you can bet your bottom shinguards that the odds are no better than 50-50 that he’s remain in the Lou Lamoriello fold.
And, if Zach seeks total freedom, there are any number of teams lining up around the corner looking for Parise’s John Hancock. The media mass keeps repeating the likes of Rangers, Red Wings, Wild; why even the Stanley Cup champion Kings might even jump into the moolah morass.
Suter, among the NHL’s best defensemen, is another fascinating case. My buddy, Stu Hackel, writing for Sports Illustrated.com, figures that the Red Wings would be an ideal landing pad for Suter. Hackel’s logic is impeccable since Detroit needs a replacement for the retired future Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom.
Another compelling question surrounds the future of Jagr, who played capably for Philadelphia, but appears willing to look elsewhere. The Maven is just wondering — wondering, that is — about how Double J would look in an Islanders uniform.
Speaking of Jack Capuano’s sextet, it appears as if P.A. Parenteau will seek his fortune — and I do mean fortune — in a county other than Nassau. Pal Hackel figures that the Red Wings would be a solid spot for Parenteau as a linemate for Pavel Datsyuk. (Not a bad thought, I say.) However, I see the francophone-seeking Canadiens going after Parenteau with more francs than Detroit care to offer.
Of the Rangers’ free agents of note, Martin Biron figures to be back as Henrik Lundqvist’s support-system. I’d be more than astonished — if such a feat is possible — should Biron exit Manhattan. Then there’s the matter of Brandon Prust who apparently is in Calgary GM Jay Feaster’s crosshairs. According to my logic system, Prust wants enough to stay on Seventh Avenue — and the Blueshirts appreciate him enough — so that my odds are in the Rangers’ favor.
My personal favorite — one I’d grab if I was either Glen Sather, Garth Snow or Lou — is Garrison who totaled 16 goals and 17 assists for Florida thanks to his blue-line howitzer. An older version of Garrison, also available, is my buddy Sheldon Souray.
Somebody will do well latching on to Alex (I Won’t Come Cheap) Semin who was a 40-goal man just two seasons ago. The Maven considers him an ideal “Sather Project,” the kind of player many general managers would rather not have as a challenge. But Slats may love to take on Semin — simply because it’s a worthwhile challenge.
Other free agents worth considering include:
• BRYCE SALVADOR: After a super season, he’ll command good bucks but I believe he’ll stay in Newark.
• DUSTIN PENNER: Winning a Cup is enough to have him camp out again in LA.
• SHANE DOAN: if he forsakes Phoenix, there’s a lot of leadership that would be nice to have either in New Jersey or Long Island.
• TRAVIS MOEN: I love his size and grit — and what a neat name!
Seatbelts on, everybody, this is going to be SOME ride!
• WHITHER ZACH PARISE: Not even Albert Einstein, if he had produced a hockey Theory of Relativity, could have figured the future of Zach Parise. Which means neither The Maven, nor you, nor your Uncle Dudley knows how the Devils captain’s gyroscope is working. With Free Agency arriving on the weekend, ongoing talks between Parise’s main rep — Don Meehan — and Lou Lamoriello conceivably could produce a deal by Saturday night. But that’s the best-case scenario for New Jersey.
While Zach has uttered many cheery homilies about how much he loves the Devils and the Garden State ambience, agents have a habit of reducing reality to dollars and cents; and that doesn’t always equate with hockey common sense. Meanwhile, this much is certain; right now Parise is acting and talking like a Devil. When former assistant coach Adam Oates was named Washington’s head coach, Parise observed, “That’s a big loss for us. But we’ll be all right.”
The words “us” and “we” mean Devils. The unresolved question is whether or not they will remain operative next week? I say the odds are even-money, which is another way of reiterating that I haven’t a clue. Do you?
• DUMB AND DUMBER: Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini had an excellent coach in Tom Renney who followed the club’s game plan; which meant slowly developing top Draft picks into a winner. Unfortunately, Tamby never provided Renney with an adequate defense nor A-1 goaltending. That adds up to a D-minus team which is the manager’s fault, so don’t blame the coach.
But you know what happened; Renney got canned and Tambellini’s newly-minted mentor is Ralph Krueger. Now that might have made sense if Krueger had not been Renney’s personal hire and Renney clone. But since Krueger equals Renney, why fire the good coach in the first place?
Answer; Hockey logic!
• SNUBBING SHANNY AND SHERO: The fact that both Brendan Shanahan and Fred Shero were snubbed by the Hockey Hall of Fame Selection Committee inspires a simple question: do those Hall voters know what they’re doing? The way The Maven sees it there’s no way that Mats Sundin gets in and Shanny not; unless, of course, having played for the Toronto Maple Leafs invariably gives one an edge. (Hey the Shrine is in Toronto, is it not?)
There’s a very simple way to define IN or OUT when comparing Shanahan with Sundin. All things considered, Sundin was a good player who never skated for a Cup-winner. Period! By stark contrast, Shanny skated for not one, not two but THREE Stanley Champs (1997, 1998, 2002) with Detroit. Case closed!
As for Shero, it may be difficult for the young set to comprehend the monumental coaching job pulled off by the onetime Rangers defenseman in 1973-1974. At that point NHL expansion from six to twelve teams was only seven years old and few expected a newer team like the Flyers to challenge for the Stanley Cup.
But Freddie The Fog not only guided Philly to a Cup in 1974 — beating Bobby Orr and the Big, Bad Bruins — but repeated the Cup-winning feat in 1975. What’s more it’s entirely possible that the Flyers could have made it three in a row had Hall of Fame goalie Bernie Parent not been injured in the Drive for Three. Even without Parent, Shero piloted the Flyers to the 1976 Final round as he later did with the overachieving Blueshirts in 1979.
And this genius is not in the Hall of Fame? Who’s kidding whom??
• WHO’S THE NEXT MIKE SMITH? The sweetest goaltending story in 2012, this side of Jonathan Quick, was told in Phoenix where Mike Smith evolved from the netminding version of Clark Kent into a goalie Superman. If nothing else, Smith’s supersonic rise to marquee status proves that you can never tell from where the next crease wizard will emerge. However, I do have a potential site on the subject. The place is Winnipeg and The Maven predicts that the Jets will turn Jonas (The Beast) Gustavsson into the ace that he was not in Toronto. And to think that The Beast was acquired for only a conditional seventh round pick in the 2013 Draft.
• AN ALEXANDER SEMINAR: Of all the Free Agents-to-be the one who most fascinates me is Alex Semin because he’s in his playing prime and — more important — there seems to be an invisible “DO NOT TOUCH” sign next to his name. Nonetheless, there’s a coach out there who could tighten the Semin focus and turn him into a significant asset. Am I talking about John Tortorella? Why not?
• THIS PENGUIN WON’T FLY: Unlike others who believe that Pittsburgh has dynastic possibilities, I say Nay, Nay, Nay. For starters, Jordan Stall — now with Carolina — is irreplaceable. Believe me, Staal won’t be replaced by a very average Brandon Sutter.
Think about it, the Penguins downfall began with GM Ray Shero mistaking Paul Martin for Scott Niedermayer. It was then hastened by the move of vastly underrated — Syosset, Long Island native — Rob Scuderi to Los Angeles. Pitt’s defense — or whatever you want to call it — has never been as good.
On top of all that, there’s no guarantee that Sidney Crosby will be fit enough to play a concussion-free 82-game season. Last but certainly not least has been the decline and fall of Marc-Andre Fleury who — if this is possible — was worse even than Ilya Bryzgalov in the first playoff round. Based on what we saw last season, Fleury, at age 27, has had his best seasons behind him.
THREE REASONS WHY THE RICK NASH DEAL IS ONE OF THE BEST IN RANGERS HISTORY
1.CLASS LINEMATES: Since he became a Blue Jacket in 2002, Nash has been saddled with mediocre sidemen. Yet he still managed a 40 and 41-goal season. Imagine how much better he’ll perform with the likes of Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan as teammates. Coming to New York for Rick is like the guy who kept hitting himself in the head with a large, wooden mallet. When a pal asked him why he’s doing it, the chap replied, “Because it feels so great when I stop!” Ergo: No more mallets to Nash’s head. Or, as reader Michael Leboff writes me, “Richards and Nash is a combo to write home about. The Rangers are built to win now and for a long time.”
2.GOALTENDING: Columbus was saddled with some of the NHL’s worst rubber-stoppers. That, in turn, braked Rick who had to worry as much about backchecking — to protect Steve (The Sieve) Mason — as he did about scoring. With the likes of Vezina Trophy-winner Henrik (Call Me Henny) Lundqvist and Marty (As In Brodeur) Biron between the pipes, Nash will have an extra scoring gear he never could use as a Blue Jacket. It’s an underrated but important element,.
3. SWAP-HAPPY HOWSON: Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson dealt out of panic when panic was unnecessary. He could have retained Nash — who, if anything, is a professional — into 2012-2013. Columbus fans would have understood that rather than the lopsided move made that so favors New York. By mid-season, a contender such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Boston or even Los Angeles would have been crying for a sharpshooting left wing and Howson’s chances for a better return for Nash would have been a lot better than it was this month.,
One club owner told me that Brandon Dubinsky was worth only a second or third-round Draft pick. Artem Anisimov shows up but the trouble is you never know when. Tim Erixon was beaten out by Stu Bickel and was not likely to make Torts varsity. Under pressure to deliver and make the deal look good in Columbus, Erixon still is only 50-50 to stay in the NHL. Ergo: Glen Sather unloaded the unwanted from his Used Parts Lot for a pure diamond.
TWO REASONS WHY THE BLUE JACKETS FANS HAVE TO WONDER ABOUT MANAGEMENT
1. DRAFT PICKS: In its dubious dozen-year NHL history, Columbus has enjoyed only one outstanding Entry Draft ace — Nash. The year after they reached for Rick, the Blue Jackets snared — they should have forgotten — Nik Zherdev, fourth overall. As a stiff, he was right up there. Next was Alex Picard, their first pick — eighth overall — in 2004. What a non-ace he’s turned out to be. After that in 2005, it was Gilbert Brule, sixth overall in 2006. Already, Brule is passe. Non-stars who followed include Jakub Voracek and Nikita Filatov. By now you get the point. Before and after Nash this franchise got caught in the Draft, resulting in selection hypothermia.
2. SELLING THE DEAL TO FANS: Not that I’m a marketing Maven but I have to wonder how in the world Columbus tub-thumpers are going to sell this deal to their faithful. Dubie is the main man but can he be put on the Blue Jackets marquee? Not after the past season, my fine feathered friends. You would have thought that somehow Howson would have squeezed Michael Del Zotto from the Blueshirts. As Rangers fan Brian McCormack wrote me: “The fact that Glen Sather pulled this off without losing Del Zotto is absolutely stunning. And the fact that Howson wouldn’t hold Nash into next season to wait for a desperate g.m. shocks me.”
Glen Sather won the battle of the minds. Translated: Slats hit the Red Light Jackpot.
For months it had become apparent that Columbus had to unload Rick Nash.
Plus, everyone and his third-cousin-twice-removed knew that the Rangers were pursuing the big fellow with the potent shot.
The obstacle for months was purchase price; or, to put it another way, how much Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson would demand in return. Week after week, Howson had his sights on Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan. Who could blame him?
But here’s how Sather held the trump card. Howson knew that Nash desperately wanted to leave Ohio for a team that had a chance to contend. Keeping Rick for another season would have been tantamount to owning a disgruntled player in the lineup — sound like Jeff Carter? — and the Jackets simply couldn’t afford that.
One of Howson’s best pals told me a couple of weeks ago that Columbus was demanding three forwards; the Jackets had to compensate for losing their super-howitzer and only top NHL forwards would fill his bill.
What Scotty settled for was considerably less than that with all due respect to the Rangers en route to Ohio. Brandon Dubinsky was coming off a gosh-awful season with no guarantee that he’ll mature into the 30-goal scorer so many of us had thought he would be no less than a year ago.
Yet several NHL savants believed that the best of Dubie had come and gone.
Perhaps ominously — or meaningfully — The Hockey News 2011-2012 Pre-Season Annual singled out Dubinsky as a player who will be “Falling.” The X-ray added the following negative note about Dubie, “It’s unclear where he fits in the top six and the power play.”
Brandon’s disappointing play underlines the point and the arithmetic says it all. A year earlier he played in 77 games and produced 24-30-54 points. The 24 red lights suggested that the best was yet to come.
It was not. During 2011-2012, Dubie played another 77 games and emerged with 10–24-34. The drop of 14 goals and 20 points was beyond alarming.
Meanwhile Artem Anisimov has been a perplexing case of genius not willing out or — as we say in Brooklyn — “The potential he’s got; the results he’s not!”
Let’s face it, the Rapid Russian displayed talent but, simultaneously, betrayed his assets with maddening inconsistency.
Losing Tim Erixon is no big deal because the Blueshirts are loaded with top, young blueliners –Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, et. al. — and if strongman Michael Sauer recovers from his ailment and returns to the lineup John Tortorella will have a surplus of blueliners. Erixon was a work in progress last season and the fact that he needed more work was evident since most of his vocational time was spent in Hartford not Manhattan. Plus, the Blueshirts also received 21-year old defenseman Steven Delisle in the deal and a conditional third round draft pick.
Looking for the decisive denominator in this blockbuster exchange, The Maven harks back to a Sather observation of recent vintage: “What we really don’t want to do is dismantle the core of the organization. We’ve got a lot of good, young kids, and we want to let them grow and develop.”
The core remains untouched — intact.
Thus, Howson was unable to get his hands on the very-desirable Kreider nor Stepan; not evenMichael Del Zotto whose return next season made Erixon eminently tradeable.
As for the lost first round Draft pick; it’s not even an issue in terms of getting the Big Guy.
Nash will make the New York power play a POWER PLAY, adding to the riches of Brad Richardsnot to mention what should be a healthy return of Marian Gaborik.
With Zach Parise moving West and Nash coming East, the Rangers have hit the pot of GOAL!
And so I hand the microphone back to Tina Cervasio and scurry back to the cozy confines of the studio. When we reconvene this fall, once the humidity has subsided and the new season is ready to begin, everything as you remember it will be back in place. Well, almost everything. While old friends such as Raymond Felton, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas will be back in orange-and-blue, others such as Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields will not.
It was here, in Las Vegas, where the Knicks’ transformation took place and the foundation for the 2012-13 season was set. We were here for the NBA Summer League, which is typically a showcase for the future. But the Knicks Summer League team, and the games it played, went mostly overlooked as the urgency of the present — and the pressure to win a championship in the 40th anniversary of the last Knicks title — took precedence.
It was Camby and Jason Kidd who first promoted the idea of contending for a championship.
“Our goal is to try to win a championship next season,” Kidd said.
“Hopefully,” Camby said, “I can end my career here in New York with a championship.”
It was also in the words of Amar’e Stoudemire, who usually doesn’t shy from hyperbole, and once again channeled his inner-Ewing.
“We have to think,” he said, “anything less than a championship is a wasted season.”
Stoudemire arrived looking as fit as he usually does (15 pounds lighter) and seeming far less conflicted than last season, when he arrived at training camp trying to convince everyone he was ready to play (it was obvious in his decidedly below-the-rim performances that he was not). He has been training twice a day since the end of the season. Next month, he’ll spend a few weeks with The Post Whisperer, Hakeem Olajuwon, in Houston.
Knicks-Rockets has been a theme all summer, hasn’t it?
Stoudemire, who is well aware that many are starting to dismiss him as an All-Star caliber player, told me he isn’t carrying a chip on his shoulder. “No,” he said, “it’s a boulder.”
Already, he and Felton are reconnecting as basketball soulmates. Felton sounded off on his growing number of critics while joining the broadcast on MSG Network, vowing to return to form next season with the Knicks, which he considered a homecoming.
“That’s all I’m hearing from everybody, ‘Oh he wasn’t in shape last year’,” Felton said. “I played in the league seven years, this will be eight, and I came out of shape one year and that’s all everybody wants to talk about.
“They don’t talk about what you do good, they talk about when you do something bad. In this game, at this level, you have to take the good with the bad. So if that’s what everybody wants to talk about, I look forward to shutting everybody’s mouth.”
This will be an interesting training camp for the Knicks. A team filled with veterans looking for some form of redemption, whether it’s Carmelo Anthony (“tired of being blamed” forLin’s offer sheet not being matched), Stoudemire, Felton, Kidd or even Pablo Prigioni, who will be the NBA’s oldest rookie at 35 years old. A team that knows the clock has not only started, it’ll already be in a countdown once the season begins because at an average age of 31, the window of opportunity to make a championship run is essentially a porthole.
As for the summer league team? They didn’t win a single game and perhaps the good news there is none of the players on the roster figure to have a major impact on Mike Woodson‘s rotation this season. Perhaps James White, who appeared in three games and mostly worked to get a good sweat, will emerge as a wing defender off the bench. Perhaps Chris Copeland, who had moments where he shows some offensive flash, will earn one of the remaining two spots on the roster out of training camp.
As we go into August, when the NBA finally goes dormant (and we watch Melo, Tyson Chandlerand USA Basketball in the Olympics), the Knicks will see what names emerge from the free agency scrap heap. Randy Foye? Matt Barnes? Sonny Weems? Mo Evans? Perhaps another veteran wing player is waived? That remains to be seen.
Until then, however, we depart Las Vegas with a better focus on what the 2012-13 Knicks will be. Come October, we’ll begin to consider what they can become.
This was one of those romances that burns hot, but burns out. The break-up was official late Tuesday night when the Knicks confirmed they would not match the three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet that Jeremy Lin signed with the Houston Rockets. This was what Lin wanted, otherwise, why would he and his representation go back to the Rockets to renegotiate a deal that was already completed just to intensify the severity of a match by the Knicks?
Lin wasted no time putting out the word that he wanted to stay with the Knicks. He told SI.com, “Honestly, I preferred New York. But my main goal in free agency was to go to a team that had plans for me and wanted me.”
He also released a statement to the media:
“I loved this past year with the Knicks and truly appreciate the opportunity that New York gave me. The way the fans fully embraced me and our team was something I’ll always cherish forever. It was an extraordinary and unforgettable time that was easily the best year of my life. Now I am excited to be back with the Rockets. They made a very compelling pitch in terms of what I could bring to the team and for the city.”
There’s more, but you get the point.
It was our belief that the Knicks would — and should — match if anything just to ensure this very marketable asset would not be lost for nothing. He emerged from a waiver pick up into an international star and it was like finding a lottery ticket on the ground with the winning numbers. So despite the fact — and this is fact — that Jeremy had less interest in returning to New York than he did in returning to Houston, the Knicks could have played hardball, matched the contract, watched the Rockets’ franchise crash to the ground and forced Lin to play a backup role to Raymond Feltonuntil the moratorium passed on Jan. 15 and they could explore trades for the marquee prodigy.
That would, I guess, be considered a spiteful move. That would also create an unwanted Tebow/Sanchez controversy to dominate the conversation throughout training camp and into the season. So the hailstorm of criticism that is teeming over this decision by team management will be endured through the NBA’s dormant month of August. Eventually, it will be time to move on.
Perhaps at this point the Knicks knew they were, if I may use a Vegas term here, playing with house money in regards to Lin. The franchise enjoyed a tremendous windfall from his popularity and the seven-game winning streak during Linsanity vaulted the team back into playoff contention. Jeremy Lin was good for the Knicks.
And in turn, the Knicks were good for Jeremy Lin. This is where he got his opportunity, where he got his media-inspired fame and since-trademarked name. If you believe in fate, the two were destined to meet to create what we experienced in February. And while myself and many fans wanted to believe otherwise, this was not built to last. Not after the departure of Mike D’Antoni and his point guard-centric system. It is ironic, actually, how many fans fail to make the connection between D’Antoni’s depature — something many cheered — and Lin’s departure — which is being panned. D’Antoni’s offense vaulted Lin’s game as it did for Chris Duhon and Felton before him.
And with Lin growing close to Yao Ming, who was a driving force behind the effort to recruit Lin and his family back to the Rockets, which still have many connections to the Asian market, it is easy to see how he could be lured away from New York. Now Lin is exactly where he wants to be: the centerpiece of a massive rebuild. Meanwhile, the Knicks move on toward building for a long-awaited championship, with a decidedly veteran team in win-now mode, with one less future asset in the cupboard for when this era is over.
The departure of Lin removes a popular player from the roster, but not a leader from the locker room. It does not severely diminish the talent level or potential of this roster in the immediate future. What it does, however, is raises the pressure for these Knicks to make some magic of their own for the 2012-13 season. Carmelo Anthony was challenged by Lin for the position as the team’s most popular player, but now he maintains that status. He may also now have replaced LeBron James as one of the games most scrutinized players. Based on reactions published on Twitter and Facebook, Melo has a lot more work to do this season to re-establish himself with this frustrated fan base.
Felton, too, has his work cut out for him as he focuses on bouncing back from a poor season in Portland while others focus on if he can be an upgrade over Lin. Amar’e Stoudemire is certainly seeking redemption after a troubled season, as well.
Overall, the franchise is at a very critical point in time. This coming season marks the 40th anniversary of the last championship. While it’s a time to celebrate that great team, one of the NBA’s all-time best, it should also be motivation to play up to a higher standard.
Jeremy Lin is no longer a novelty on the roster. Now, the only novelty for the Knicks is to win.
The team has 12 players officially under contract, with one, Chris Copeland, signed to a non-guaranteed deal. Argentinian point guard Pablo Prigioni has reportedly agreed to terms, but has yet to be officially signed. With 13 players in the plan, that leaves two roster spots left to be filled. The Knicks will likely look for one more wing player and one more big out of the remaining pool of free agents. They have only veterans minimum contracts to offer.
Names such as Carlos Delfino, Marquis Daniels, C.J. Miles, Rasual Butler, Matt Barnes andMo Evans are still out there as potential wing players. And, hey, Knick-killer Matt Carroll is also still looking for a team, too. A candidate to consider at power forward include Lou Amundson, who could provide great energy and effort off the bench behind Stoudemire.
James White doesn’t want anyone to overlook him as a potential rotation player to fill that wing position behind J.R. Smith while Iman Shumpert recovers from his knee surgery. In my interview with him on MSG Network after Tuesday’s summer league game, White said his goal going into training camp was to earn that spot by proving he can be an effective defender and role player. White, a former high school phenom who has spent the last few years in Europe after some failed stints in the NBA, seems enthusiastic to embrace this role and finally establish himself as an NBA player.
“Definitely, especially on the defensive end,” White said. “I’m a veteran now, I pretty much understand the game now. That’s the key for me getting on the court is defense. So that’s what I’m going to focus on, playing defense and let the other stuff fall where it may.” SUMMER LEAGUE CONTINUES White’s run with the Knicks summer league team is done after three games (he only planned to play in three here), but the team continues Thursday against the Raptors at 4 p.m. (ET) on MSG Network. Amar’e Stoudemire, who arrived into town on Tuesday, promised he’d join us on the broadcast. It will be interesting to hear his thoughts on Lin, reuniting with Felton, the Knicks’ other offseason moves and his own plans this offseason (which include working with Hakeem Olajuwon). We may even get him to rock an MSG polo.
• IS GOMER A GONER? Once upon a time Scotty Gomez was a prized playmaker and then he got rich and traded and traded again. At last look the Canadiens high command still was kicking itself for the deal that dispatched defense-wonder Ryan McDonagh to New York. What new Habs boss Marc Bergevin now must determine is whether Gomer is a goner or if there’s still some worthwhile hockey in his body — and head.
The Maven believes that Scotty has value but not at the crazy money Montreal is reluctantly paying him. Granted, the possibilities are endless — including the minors — but I see a Gomez comeback in 2012-2013 and with the bleu, blanc et rouge of the Canadiens. Scotty has the skill — but does he have the will?
• THE MARTY-MOOSE EQUATION: While most citizens of Devils Country are pleased that both Martin Brodeur, 40, and Johan (Moose) Hedberg, 39, are returning to New Jersey, coach Peter DeBoer must don his thinking cap. Remember, it was DeBoer who became the first Devils mentor to dictate how many games Brodeur would play whether Mister Goalie liked it or not. Pistol Pete’s edict was accepted by Brodeur and the results were just two wins short of a Stanley Cup.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if DeBoer trims Marty again to something like a 52-30 equation, especially since Brodeur’s regular-plus-playoffs campaign in 2011-2012 lasted well into June. The coach will have no compunctions giving Moose the extra work. If The Sweet Swede isn’t the best back-up in the league, he’s among the top five, minimum.
• NHL vs. NHLPA — WHAT GIVES? WHO GIVES? If you’re wondering why a union vs. management war appears to be erupting between players and owners, you have to turn back the clock to the Summer of 2010. Labor peace existed between then union leader Paul Kelly and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. What’s more, the amicable relationship appeared enduring to the point of a reasonable CBA exchange as we speak.
Although Kelly was hired after a long union search, a tiny — but powerful — collection of players plotted behind the scenes to oust him. On a Summer night in a hotel room the putsch was completed and Kelly was outed while the rank-and-file players were away on vacation. (A post-ouster NHLPA probe was conducted at considerable expense but details were never made public.)
Despite the fact that players never were better paid nor better treated, the plotters wanted what amounted to a union warlord and they got him in Donald Fehr, a baseball man with no hockey experience. Why players — check out Zach Parise, Sid Crosby, even fourth-liners — who’ve never done better want a war can be easily explained. A tiny minority dumped the man who would have maintained peace.
Bottom Line: Hockey life for everybody would have been a lot less turbulent and uncertain these days had Paul Kelly not been unfairly canned by a canny few!
• JONATHAN VS. JONATHAN — A QUICK IRONY: During the 2006 Entry Draft Los Angeles Kings personnel could hardly contain handstands of joy when their first choice (11th overall) emerged and they chose Jonathan Bernier on the assumption that he would be LA’s goalie-of-the-future; say 2011-2012.
At that same time another Jonathan — this one from Connecticut named Quick — had played his last game of the season for U-Mass in Hockey East with another collegiate season ahead. The Kings thought so little of Kid Quick that he’d been LA’s fourth pick (72nd overall) in 2005 and had been as memorable as the Brooklyn Americans.
So, what’s the moral? What a difference a half-dozen years can make! Quick not only won a Stanley Cup, he’s LA’s goalie-forever. Meanwhile, Bernier sees a wall with handwriting on it: GET ME OUTA HERE!
Young — he’ll be 24 next season — healthy and ready to be a Number One, Bernier would be an ideal acquisition for a goalie-desperate team and if you’ve been in Toronto lately, you know what I mean.
Sooner or later either Brian Burke or some other g.m. will come calling and Bernier will wind up where the Kings thought he would a half-dozen years ago — as big-time starter. Just goes to show you what Quick hands can do to a Bad Luck Bernier.
• RE-BRANDING SEMIN: The latest buzzword in the marketing-p.r. world is “branding.” There actually are “branding” specialists out there on Madison Avenue who do nothing but work at creating images — or brands — on everything from people to companies to hockey clubs. For example, the Philadelphia Flyers were branded “The Broad Street Bullies” decades before branding came along.
If there’s one fee-agent who could use a new “brand” it would be Alex Semin but the re-brand won’t be simple. I’m talking about a seven-year NHL veteran who still treats the media as if all reporters are descendants of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Plus, the Russian’s work habits are considered as far from blue-collar as — say — orange.
And while that may not be the real, behind-the-jersey Semin, it sure is the way he’s viewed by much of the hockey community. My buddy, Mark Gandler of New Jersey is his agent. The Maven says that it’s about time savvy Mark re-branded his client as an affable, tenacious, team-oriented sharpshooter.
If only such a feat were possible!
• 10 THINGS I LIKE ON A SUMMER DAY:
Tom (Terrific) Renney landing on his feet as Mike Babcock’s aide-de-camp on the Red Wings bench
Scott Stevens replacing Larry Robinson as Devils defensive coach. A Hall of Famer for a Hall of Famer
Teemu Selanne signing for another year. The NHL always needs class guys with skill and media-savvy
Willie Mitchell; he makes me smile twelve months of the year just because he’s Willie
Keith Yandle; because of his handle!
Brian Gionta; Ryan Callahan; Stephen Gionta; because they’re all from Rochester. (Yeah, Greece, New York, is just a Rochester suburb.)
Just thinking about how good John Tavares will be in 2012-2013
Eric and Jordan Stall on the Hurricanes because two Stalls do make a playoff team
Colby Armstrong; because I still believe in him
Jamie Benn; because my older son’s name is Ben!
• 10 THINGS I DON’T LIKE ON A SUMMER EVENING:
The possibility of a work stoppage
My buddy Brian Burke’s inability to find a Jonathan Quick clone for his Maple Leafs
Loui Eriksson; because I can never spell his first name on the first try
That Nick Lidstrom no longer is around to be graceful on the ice and gracious off the pond
That Tim Thomas has walked out on the NHL; even temporarily
That Marc-Andre Fleury has flipped from a Cup-winner to back-up for Tomas Vokoun
That Roberto Luongo is better at big-time poker than big-time puck-stopping
Zach Parise’s exit from Newark despite a very take-able Devils offer and after only a year of captaincy
Just the thought of officiating in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final
The Oilers because of their dime-store-looking uniforms. Leaky oil bothers The Maven.
You can say whatever you want about Red Bulls general manager Erik Soler, but you have to give him this: The man is not afraid of making a big trade.
In a move that came as surprise to most observers, Soler sealed a deal that sent winger Dane Richards to Vancouver in exchange for French striker Sebastien Le Toux. A former MLS All-Star in 2010 with the Philadelphia Union, Le Toux will give the Red Bulls a proven goal-scorer and another attacker that can help support Kenny Cooper and Thierry Henry up front.
“We think that bringing Sebastien here was the right move,” Soler told reporters after the Red Bulls’ 2-2 draw vs. the Seattle Sounders Sunday.
“We’ve seen what he’s done with Philly over the last two seasons. He hasn’t done that well in Vancouver, [but] we believe that was because he was being played out of position.”
It’s interesting that Soler mentioned Le Toux was being played out of position — he was playing as a right-sided midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation for Vancouver — because Le Toux ended up switching from being played up front to right wing in his first game with the Red Bulls against Seattle. Ironically, this led to the Red Bulls’ first goal, as Le Toux followed up on a rebound to equalize in the 24th minute.
“I started up top, but [coach Hans Backe] asked me to move to the right, which was better for Thierry,” Le Toux said after the match.
Although it might seem rather odd to have a striker play out wide, it isn’t uncommon. For example, despite being purchased as a center forward, former Liverpool player Dirk Kuyt spent the majority of his career at Anfield being deployed as an auxiliary right winger. Kuyt was never the most technically gifted striker, but his constant energy and pressing of the opposition made him a very useful right-sided midfielder.
Le Toux is a similar type of player in terms of work rate and is possibly even more skillful. But the biggest attribute Le Toux and Kuyt share is game intelligence, being in the right place at the right time to seize on an opportunity. Le Toux’s first goal is the perfect example of that, getting in position to follow up the rebound to equalize the match.
If Backe wants to have Cooper, Henry and Le Toux in the lineup at the same time in the Red Bulls’ 4-4-2 formation, it means that Le Toux will have to get used to life on the right. There’s no way you’re going to take away Henry from his favored position and his chemistry with Cooper is something that shouldn’t be messed with. It will be up to the head coach to make it work and integrate Le Toux into the lineup seamlessly.
So Long, Dane
While the move came as a complete surprise, Soler told reporters that the trade was made because Richards had aspirations to play his trade overseas.
“We knew [Richards] was probably going to leave us in the summer,” Soler said. “His agent [made it] very clear that he was going to go to Europe. We had to look at it at a professional and business matter.”
Richards was an extremely popular player in the locker room — Soler made it a point to be complimentary in his praise to the Jamaican international — but was having a subpar campaign this season, just one goal and two assists in 17 matches.
As good of a guy Richards is, it must be said that there were many instances where he ended up being a one-dimensional player. His breakneck speed was his best attribute, but his lack of end product could be frustrating to watch. With Richards at the end of his contract, it was best for Soler and Backe to cash in and get a motivated player like Le Toux looking to prove himself.
The development of Brandon Barklage at right back has allowed Jan Gunnar Solli to be an option as a right-sided midfielder and made Richards expendable.
The Heat Will Be On
To those fans going to Wednesday’s matinee against the Chicago Fire, a small suggestion: Invest in bottles of water. Lots and lots of water.
According to weather.com, the expected high in Harrison will be 98 degrees. For spectators, it could be uncomfortable. For the players, it could be unbearable.
The heat was blaring on Sunday and it’s only going to be worse on Wednesday, which is something the Red Bulls’ captain isn’t exactly looking forward to.
“As you can imagine, with the heat, [Sunday] wasn’t an easy one,” Henry said. “I don’t know how the game will be against Chicago at 1:00, let’s hope we can do the business in the first half.”
With the quick turnaround, conserving energy in such brutal conditions will be paramount. Possession of the ball, an important aspect of any game, becomes even more urgent. More time on the ball means less time chasing it around and expending energy trying to get it back.
Expect an extremely slow tempo with a few lineup changes. If you’re one of those folks who can’t take the heat, you can always watch the match from the comforts of an air-conditioned room on MSG+ at 12:30 p.m.
LAS VEGAS — How fitting to be here, in the City of Sin, this oasis of unapologetic pretentiousness, of extravagant novelty, of alluring adventure and the pursuit of the endless experience, to consider the value of Linsanity.
While we rode that euphoric wave through February and March, the New York thing to do was predict its demise. We are a society of equal parts builders and destroyers. Jeremy Lin was a chalk masterpiece on the sidewalk just there to be washed away by the next rain. But Lin admirably proved time and again that he had staying power.
That staying power is being tested once more.
There was never a question about Lin’s future with the Knicks. The intention always was to re-sign him,regardless of the Bird Rights issue. The Basketball Gods had already gifted the franchise with this unheralded prodigy out of the dregs of the waiver wire and another minor miracle emerged in June when an arbitrator awarded Lin his Early Bird Rights, which should have cemented his future in New York.
Still, as a restricted free agent, it was in Lin’s rights to test the market and find the best value he could get. The Knicks did not engage in contract negotiations on July 1 because they were focused on shoring up other needs on the roster. Lin was considered a given. No matter what someone offered him, the plan all along was to match.
When reports emerged about a four-year offer sheet from the Houston Rockets, the reaction was measured. Lin didn’t have to sign it, of course. He could have simply declined and the Knicks could have used it as the framework of a deal. But the responsibility of his representation is to guarantee the highest price possible and not deal in winks and handshakes. Still, the Knicks, based on the reported figures — a third year at $9.3 million and a fourth year that wasn’t fully guaranteed — had no hesitation about matching.
Granted, Lin shouldn’t have signed anything if he had no intention, or interest, in playing for the Rockets. So let’s make it clear: Lin wants to play for Houston, a franchise that still maintains a strong connection to the Asian market from its ties to Yao Ming. What we can only assume is he would be equally happy to remain a Knick.
What you’d rather confirm is that he’d prefer to be a Knick.
That, however, can be fairly questioned by the move to set this false sense of security within the Knicks organization after the original offer sheet numbers were leaked to the media and then turn around and sign a much more challenging deal that reportedly has a fully guaranteed $14.8 million payout in Year 3. When you consider the payroll for this Knicks team that is attempting to build a championship contender, Lin’s third year could cost the Knicks as much as $40 million when you factor in potential luxury tax payments.
The Knicks have until Tuesday night to match. Several reports have suggested the team has abruptly changed its stance on Lin and will not match the deal. Lin’s camp is already putting out word through media outlets that he would like to stay in New York, which is sounding somewhat disingenuous in the wake of this offer sheet strategy.
And while the clock ticks, a despondent fan base is torn in two by a debate that has set off another version of Linsanity. Those in favor of matching the contract have an argument that ranges between the importance of preserving a young talent on what is a much older roster to the idea that Lin’s marketing and commercial appeal will recoup most of the hefty cost that incurs by Year 3.
Those opposed argue that Lin, with just 25 starts in his career, is not worth such an exorbitant amount of money and has more to prove. One of the most passionate debates has one side saying the Knicks have historically overspent for marginal players (see: Jerome James) so money suddenly shouldn’t be an issue in regards to keeping such a popular player as Lin, while the other side says the days of being fiscally irresponsible need to end.
Just the fact that there is this much passion being generated over this debate proves just how massive Linsanity is for the Knicks. One fan emailed me upset about the potential of losing Lin because, “My wife says she’ll never watch another Knicks game if they don’t sign Jeremy Lin.”
I would hope she would watch just to see me on the pre and postgame shows. Or, you know, Clyde.
During our broadcast here of the Knicks’ Summer League game against the Suns on Sunday,Walt Frazier and I both agreed that the team should match the contract. “Worry about later, later,” Frazier said, with the idea that if Lin proves to not be the value you hoped before Year 3, he can be traded as an expiring contract for one or two players. In fact, if the Knicks match, they can trade Lin after Jan. 15 with his consent, which means before this year’s deadline, he could be moved. They can even ship him to the Rockets — so Houston can enjoy that balloon in Year 3 — next summer.
The idea is, just as an asset alone, Lin is too valuable to let walk without any compensation. In the NBA, if you don’t match an offer sheet for a restricted free agent, you do not receive any compensatory draft picks as in other sports. You just lose the player. Even if Lin isn’t part of the plan going forward, especially with Raymond Felton back to run the point (more on this later), Lin should be retained just so the franchise can get some type of return.
Though several scouts have told me they still don’t see Lin becoming more than a very good backup point guard in this league, I’m a strong believer in his potential because of his ability to get to the rim, finish, hit clutch shots, galvanize teammates and, most of all, his impressive will.
The only thing I question is if that will to remain a Knick is still as strong as it was on Feb. 4, when he entered a game against the Nets hours from being placed on waivers.
CONTRACT ALREADY AN ISSUE?
Carmelo Anthony, before USA Basketball practice in Washington, D.C., on Sunday morning, had just finished saying he would “love” to see Jeremy Lin back with the Knicks and added that “I think he has to do what’s best for him right now,” which prompted a reporter, mindful of Lin’s status as a restricted free agent, to say, “It’s up to you guys to match.”
Melo then laughed and said, “It’s not up to me!”
He then added, “It’s up to the organization to say that they want to match that ridiculous contract that’s out there.”
Many others have said it, but the fact that it came from the star player on the team created a major controversy before breakfast was served in Las Vegas.
There have been suggestions that Melo was resentful of the attention Lin received last season and also that Lin’s interest in remaining a Knick has waned because he doesn’t want to play with Melo. The two went out to dinner in June, along with Tyson Chandler, in an attempt to develop a better understanding of each other, discuss the future and air out any lingering issues. Apparently it didn’t work.
Still, Melo’s strong words about Lin’s impending big payday were troublesome and created a media firestorm that motivated Melo to fire back later in the day.
“I’m tired of people trying to blame me for the fact that the Knicks might not match,” he said to Yahoo! Sports. “I want everybody to get paid if they have the opportunity.”
If you know Melo, you know he is big on having players earn their stripes when they come into the NBA. He orders rookies to carry equipment and, occasionally, his bag. He believes status is something you earn over time, as you prove yourself in the league over the course of a season or two. So Lin’s ascension into stardom and as a main face of the franchise is, without question, something Melo has tried to counter with some humble pie. That’s been going on in the NBA for decades.
But J.R. Smith pointed out another underlying issue that has existed in all of pro sports that Lin could face next season: He, with just 64 games of NBA experience, will be making more than other far more established and accomplished players in the league.
“I think some guys take it personal, being they’ve been doing it longer and haven’t received reward for it yet,” Smith told SI.com. “I think it’s a tough subject to touch on for a lot of guys.”
Smith, for one, returned to the Knicks at $2.8 million, which is slightly more than half of what Lin will make in the first year of his deal.
RETURN OF RAYMOND
Among the host of Knicks who suddenly found themselves in Denver after the Carmelo trade in Feb. 2011, Felton was the most shaken by it. Danilo Gallinari heard the rumors for months, as did Wilson Chandler. But Felton never expected his run in New York would have ended that quickly. He admitted to confidants that it soured his attitude and negatively affected his game, which quickly disintegrated after an impressive half-season with the Knicks.
It came to a head in Portland, his fourth team in three years, when Nate McMillan was furious over Felton’s weight. It was an issue with the Knicks, as well, as I recall Donnie Walsh being upset when Felton showed up before training camp in 2010-11 overweight. Felton assured Walsh and the Knicks that his practice is to come in heavy and use training camp to get to the weight he needs. The reasoning, according to Felton, is he likes to feel strong and the rigors of a regular season cause him to lose too much weight and it makes him feel weaker.
That theory will certainly be put to the test this season, as we’ve already told you how Knicks coach Mike Woodson has warned his players to show up for training camp at weight and in shape. Those who know Felton well believe Woodson may be just the right coach for Felton, who is a fiery competitor. But McMillan is the hard-driving, motivational type, too, and Felton did not respond well. At one point last season, Felton expressed his frustration with McMillan: “Never in my days playing basketball have I felt like a coach wasn’t confident in my ability.”
Felton was putting up career-best numbers (17.1 points per game, 9.0 assists per game) with the Knicks before the trade but what must be noted is that he was playing as the primary ball handler in Mike D’Antoni’s pick-and-roll system. Felton and Amar’e Stoudemire developed good chemistry — though it took time — and the belief is the two should be able to reconnect again in Woodson’s offense.
AGE AIN’T NOTHING BUT A NUMBER?
When Toney Douglas was sent to the Rockets in the sign-and-trade for Marcus Camby, it created a fact that is certainly a sign of the times. The most tenured player on the team, by consistent years, is now Stoudemire.
Stoudemire will always be remembered as the pioneer free agent in 2010, which set the first stone of the foundation of this new era. Of course the roster does have several players who have played for the Knicks before (Camby, Felton and Kurt Thomas), but for current tenure, Stoudemire is now the franchise’s mainstay.
Iman Shumpert remains the team’s youngest player, at 22, but after him there isn’t a single player 25 or under. Two seasons ago, the Knicks were the seventh youngest team in the NBA with an average age of 24.6 years. That was also the fifth youngest team in franchise history.
Last season, the Knicks average age was 26.5, which is still relatively young. But with the additions of Thomas (40), Jason Kidd (39), Camby (38) and the reported signing of Argentinian point guard Pablo Prigioni (35), the Knicks will have an average age of 31.4 years at the start of the regular season. Six of the 11 players on the anticipated roster will be 30 or older.
“I haven’t seen a young team win an NBA title in the last 10 to 15 years,” Woodson said last week. “It’s the veteran guys who are winning NBA titles.”
Woodson is correct in that the more veteran teams have won in recent years, no team has won a championship with an average age over 30 in 15 years. The last over-30 team to win an NBA title was the 1997 Chicago Bulls, who had an average age of 30.07. And they had Michael Jordan.
[NOTE: Average age isn’t really relative because you can have older players on the roster who aren’t factoring into your rotation (i.e.: Juwan Howard on the Heat), but jack up your average age. This would be the case for the Knicks with Kurt Thomas, who isn’t expected to play a regular role. A formula was established by Hoopism.com two seasons ago to determine “Effective Age,” which takes age and factors in minutes played. We won’t be able to determine the Effective Age of this current Knicks group until at least one month into the season, but with a few more roster spots to be filled, the average age could dip below 30. Unless Grant Hill signs, of course.]
The Knicks Summer League contingent hasn’t done much to distract anyone from the off-the-court news the team has made since the NBA Summer League opened on Friday. The team is 0-2 after losses to the Grizzlies and Suns. Two veterans that are expected to factor into training camp are James White and Chris Copeland and both have been mediocre at best. Copeland is leading the team in scoring, along with Wesley Witherspoon, at 12.5 points per game. Copeland, the European veteran, is shooting at a 44 percent clip in 24.5 minutes per game.
White, who already has a guaranteed contract for training camp, clearly isn’t playing full speed as we haven’t seen many flashes of his trademark athleticism and vertical leaping ability, not to mention the scoring he showed playing in Italy last season. He’s averaging 4.5 points on 25 percent shooting in 22 minutes per game in two games so far. His plan was to appear in only three games, with the intention to use the Summer League as a means to get acclimated with Woodson and his system to prepare him for camp in October.
The Knicks will be back on MSG Network for the team’s third game, Tuesday, at 4:00 p.m. (ET).