The Knicks Fix: ‘A New Focus’ Begins with Melo’s Example
Carmelo Anthony’s ‘after’ photos lack the drama of those testimonials you see promoted by Jenny Craig or P90X. This wasn’t like Eddy Curry’s big reveal a few seasons ago after he resorted to a liquid diet and a lot of cardio upon being ordered to get under 300 pounds.
In fact, at Monday’s annual Media Day for the Knicks, the only notable change in Carmelo Anthony is that he’s 30 years old. The last time he was in uniform, he was 29.
Melo was, indeed, leaner, but his wallet certainly swelled thanks to him agreeing on a new five-year deal over the summer to stay in New York, something he consistently said was his priority.
Before making the commitment, he played the field a little, which free agency allowed him to do. In the end, as he promised all along, he couldn’t leave New York. Even if there were other ready-made situations for him, such as with the Chicago Bulls.
“I wouldn’t have felt right … getting up and leaving like that,” he said.
Cynics will always point to the near-max money the Knicks offered, which was, by NBA rules, millions more in total than any other team could offer. But if you know Melo, you know there is validity in his claim that loyalty weighed on him during the free agency process in July. And on Monday he revealed it candidly when he admitted he had “unfinished business” to tend to for a franchise that put together an NBA-record 13-player trade to get him in February 2011.
A move that Melo admittedly described as “forced my way here” by refusing to agree to contract extensions with any other team. That included the Nets, who were set to move to the borough of his birth.
So as the franchise made more dramatic moves to keep him — hiring Phil Jackson as president and bringing in Derek Fisher, one of the most respected players of Melo’s era, to coach — the superstar showed no entitlement. Instead, he took ownership.
He took two weeks off after the season to rest his body and then he got to work with his trainer, Idan Ravin, and attacked one of the main criticisms of his game: His weight and conditioning. Over the past two seasons, Melo has never been out of shape, but has he ever been in peak form at the same levels of the game’s other elite players, such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant? No.
So he made an effort, as he hit the milestone age of 30 in May, to dedicate himself to fitness in order to preserve his career.
“My weight loss,” he said, “I was just doing my job.”
Melo, who has routinely dealt with injuries to his ankles and shoulders, said he hasn’t felt this good in a long time.
The challenge for Melo wasn’t getting leaner. The challenge is to maintain it and not start gaining weight during the season, which he has done in the past.
“I don’t view it as he was in such bad shape he needed to change himself,” Fisher said on Friday. “I just view it as guys age and they’re trying to find ways to maximize the great opportunity to play in the NBA for as long as you can. That was part of his decision-making.
“How that impacts him on the court, we’ll see, but whenever you’re healthy and you lighten the load on your body, it can help you.”
That leads, of course, to the question as to whether being lighter might lead to him losing some of the power game he has that has made him one of the NBA’s elite scorers and most difficult matchups. Melo spent the last two seasons playing primarily as a power forward. In the Triangle Offense, there isn’t a designated “power forward” spot, so it will be a different look. Will this be an issue?
“My mentality and my physical makeup is there, none of that has changed.,” Melo said. “The only thing that has changed is maybe stripping some body fat . . . but I don’t think my makeup is going to change.”
Fisher doesn’t seem too concerned.
“Carmelo’s a physical player, so I see him as being able to do whatever he needs to do on the court, similar as he has in the past,” he said. “But only time will tell.”
The same could be said about this coming season for the Knicks. They have the talent to be a playoff team, but there are issues of the past that still remain questions about the returning group. Melo spoke with great optimism about the “new level of focus” among the players and how pretty much the entire group showed up for pre-camp workouts at the MSG gym as much as three week early.
“The pain and what we endured last year, we don’t want to go back down that lane no more,” Melo said, “we don’t want to feel that pain again.”
- Amar’e Stoudemire, to no surprise, is in amazing shape. He said the fact that he finished last season healthy, statistically productive and with no issues with his knees was “a positive step” that he hopes will continue this season. Stoudemire did say that he and Fisher will work out a minutes plan to preserve him through the regular season. Remember, like several other players on the team, this is a contract year for Stoudemire, so there is a lot at stake for him on a personal level.
- Jose Calderon, who will replace Raymond Felton as the starting point guard, called his arrival in New York “a perfect fit” and added that in his 10th season, “I think it’s the right moment” to join the Knicks. A few times he used the phrase “play the right way,” which is a mantra Phil Jackson often employs.
- Observation: Several players hit the weight room this summer. Andrea Bargnani, for one, has notable definition on his arms (He also said, “The [surgically-repaired] elbow is fine.” for what it’s worth). Others with tickets to the gun show include Tim Hardaway Jr., Jason Smith and rookie Cleanthony Early.
- Observation 2: Iman Shumpert’s hair is back. The high-top fade from two seasons ago has happily sprouted again from his head, which is a good sign that he is mentally in a good place. Last season Shumpert had a moodiness about him that might have had something to do with incessant trade rumors (along with a season-long struggle to shoot the ball). Shumpert said he spent the summer working out at the IMG Basketball Academy in Florida where he was able to shake out of his doldrums with this epiphany: “I’m 24 and I play in New York. I don’t have anything to be down about and mad about.”Also worth noting is that Shumpert said one of his goals is to “raise my level of professionalism,” which shows he has matured. It also shows he is aware of what is being said about him around the NBA. Shumpert is playing for his next contract, however, as reports say the Knicks will not offer him an extension off his rookie contract, which means he will be a restricted free agent next summer.
- Observation 3: Rookie Cleanthony Early will wear uniform No. 17, which a few seasons ago was a very popular jersey. Melo called Early “the steal of the draft.”
- J.R. Smith is always all smiles, which is what makes him J.R. Smith. He’s a long way from where he was last training camp, when he was recovering from offseason knee surgery and faced a four-game suspension to start the season as a result of a failed drug test. Smith isn’t sure what his role will be — as a starter or in the Sixth Man spot — but with his troubles seemingly behind him this camp, he said, “It’ll be a more productive start to the season for me.”
- The Knicks, with 18 players on the roster, will open training camp Tuesday at West Point. They will practice there this week and return to the MSG Training Center on Sunday. The first preseason game is Oct. 8 against the Celtics at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. You can see that game, and all Knicks preseason games, broadcast live on MSG Network.
The Knicks Fix: We Have A Really Bright Future Ahead
For some strange reason, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of creating a nickname for this new Knicks hierarchy. I attempted to blend Phil Jackson and together to form “Phish,” which is also the name of a psychadelic rock band that Jackson has, on occasion, found appealing.
But all that does is create confusion. And one thing that’s abundantly evident in this new era is the painstaking effort to eliminate confusion, which is something the shelves were fully stocked with for most of last year.
Jackson and Fisher took the dais on Friday at the MSG Training Center, along with general manager Steve Mills, to meet the media just days before training camp was — finally — set to open in West Point. On the adjacent court, behind a large curtain, bouncing basketballs could be heard. The sound of players getting in their work.
The sound of anticipation for a season.
“This is the most we’ve seen,” Mills remarked of the player turnout for informal workouts at the facility over the month of September in comparison to past years. In fact, last season I recall hearing that very few players got together for pre-camp workouts at the training center.
Mills noted “13-to-14 guys have been up here working out” on a daily basis.
That fits right into the mentality — the culture change — that Jackson has been determined to establish within the organization. From his seat, through the front office, into the locker room and right down to the ball boys.
“We don’t think training camp is the start of our next season,” he said. “We think July 1 is the start of the next season.”
In other words, don’t use camp to get into shape. Come to camp to get ready to compete.
Jackson and Fisher squelched hyperbole for the most part, but there were still a few trademark motivational speeches within their session with reporters.
For instance, Jackson reiterated Fisher’s claim from the summer, saying “We believe we’re going to be a playoff team.” He also forecasted a need for “45-to-46 wins” to make the playoffs in the revamped Eastern Conference.
Fisher vowed to bring back an old franchise trademark that has disappeared over the last 15 years.
“We’re going to prioritize defense,” he said. “A lot of focus will be on what we do offensively and how guys are going to fit into it or buy into it, whether or not our players like it or don’t like it, but successful teams play defense.
“There’s no way around it. The numbers, stats and history tells you, the better teams are the teams that play defense. We have to figure out a way to break into the elite defensive teams in some way.”
Elite is a standard Jackson has mostly only known as a head coach. Now as an executive, he’s not yet selling promises, but he does see a good investment in potential.
“We have a really bright future ahead,” Jackson said. “This is the year we establish ourselves as a team of a system . . . We’re laying down the foundation of a good future.”
It begins Tuesday morning at West Point.
Jackson was one of the featured stars (along with Carmelo Anthony) in the popular Jordan Brand “tip the cap” commercial commemorating Derek Jeter’s final season, but he admitted he doesn’t know Jeter personally. Still, he said he admired the Yankee captain and respected “his record, his tenure here with the Yankees as a great leader in the baseball world.” As for his walk-off RBI in the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday night in his final game at Yankee Stadium, Jackson added, “What a wonderful thing to do in front of a crowd that so desperately wanted to see him succeed.”
For the record, Jackson didn’t see the historic moment live. He was watching the Giants on Thursday Night Football.
The Knicks will hold training camp at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. from Tuesday to Friday. It is the first time the Knicks will travel for camp since the team spent a week in Saratoga before the 2010-11 season. USA Basketball used the academy as a practice site in August before it left for the World Cup in Spain.
The Knicks will only be at West Point for four days because of logistical issues involving the Army’s home football game against Ball State on Saturday. Still, Jackson would like to believe the short visit to the academy will still have an impact on the players.
“We’ll go there with the hopes of giving players an idea of the discipline and the character that makes up the best of our country that come to this academy and get educated,” Jackson said.
- No surprise here: Amar’e Stoudemire arrived in great shape. Also not a surprise that Fisher has already considered ways to preserve Stoudemire’s legs to keep the 30-year-old healthy for the season.
- Fisher said he does not have a starting lineup in mind. In fact, he said, “The only person I know for sure is starting is No. 7.” That would be Melo, of course.
- Andrea Bargnani is healthy, working out and ready for camp. Fisher has talked to him not about his role in the offense, but how he will be a factor on defense.
- Interesting choice of words by Fisher when discussing Bargnani’s experience last season before the injury. Fisher said the Italian big man was traded to a team that was “disjointed” and “had a lot of question marks surrounding the team and inconsistencies.”
- Jackson said he has been in New York “full-time” since returning from the summer league in July and doesn’t plan to head to Los Angeles until Thanksgiving, to spend the holiday with his family.
- The players will meet with reporters on the team’s official Media Day, which is Monday at the MSG Training Center. You will be able to find video clips of the player interviews from Media Day, as well as Jackson, Fisher and Mills, at MSG.com.
Henrik Lundqvist’s Top Shutouts Timeline
Melo’s Top Moments Timeline
21st Century Rangers Top Moments Timeline
RANK HENRIK LUNDQVIST’S TOP SHUTOUTS
<p>On an-all new episode of <i>MSG Countdown</i> Monday at 9 PM, Godfrey will unveil the Top 20 Knicks Moments of the 21st Century.</p>
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LOOK BACK AT HENRIK LUNDQVIST’S TOP SHUTOUT
|Oct. 17, 2005||Henrik Lundqvist earns first career shutout vs. FLA — GAME STATS||W, 4-0|
|Jan. 7, 2006||Lundqvist makes 38 saves vs. FLA, becoming the first Rangers rookie to record two shutouts in a single season since Gilles Villemure (1970) — GAME STATS||W, 4-0|
|April 17, 2007||Henrik earns his first playoff shutout in Eastern Conference quarterfinals vs. ATL — GAME STATS||W, 7-0|
|Oct. 25, 2007||Lundqvist’s 10th career shutout came at The Garden, snapping a four-game losing streak for the Rangers in 2-0 win vs. NJD — GAME STATS||W, 2-0|
|April 3, 2008||Rangers clinch a playoff berth with Lundqvist making 25 saves and notching his first road shutout victory of his career vs. NYI — GAME STATS||W, 3-0|
|May 1, 2008||Hank stops 29 shots he faced, including a penalty shot save against Evgeni Malkin to force a Game 5 in playoff series vs. PIT — GAME STATS||W, 3-0|
|March 30, 2009||Lundqvist stops 38 shots vs. NJD to record 20th career shutout — GAME STATS||W, 3-0|
|April 18, 2009||Hank makes 35 saves and gives Rangers 2-0 playoff series lead vs. WAS — GAME STATS||W, 1-0|
|Nov. 1, 2009||King Henrik records his 150th career regular-season win with a 29 save shutout vs. BOS, becoming the fastest goalie to 150 wins in franchise history (279 games) — GAME STATS||W, 1-0|
|Jan. 12, 2010||Lundqvist faces 45 shots in shutout loss vs. NJD — GAME STATS||L, 1-0 SO|
|Oct. 30, 2010||Henrik records his 25th career shutout in win vs. TOR — GAME STATS||W, 2-0|
|Nov. 26, 2010||Lundqvist posts his 30th career shutout and makes 40 saves vs. FLA —GAME STATS||W, 3-0|
|Jan. 21, 2012 – Feb. 5, 2012||Henrik posts a career-high shutout streak vs. BOS on 1/21/12 to the 2nd period vs. PHI on 2/5/12 — GAME STATS||W, 5-2|
|Feb. 14, 2012||Lundqvist makes 42 saves (second most he’s faced in a shutout) in victory over defending Stanley Cup champs BOS — GAME STATS||W, 3-0|
|Feb. 27, 2012||Shutout victory vs. NJD earns Hank seventh straight 30-win season —GAME STATS||W, 2-0|
|April 16, 2012||Lundqvist makes a playoff career-high 39 saves in Eastern Conference quarterfinals vs. OTT — GAME STATS||W, 1-0|
|May 12 – May 13, 2013||Hank posts his first back-to-back playoff shutout victories in Games 6 and 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference quarterfinals, making 62 saves over two games vs. WAS — GAME STATS||W, 5-0|
|March 9, 2014||King Henrik ties Eddie Giacomin’s record of 49 shutouts and earns his 300th career win vs. DET — GAME STATS||W, 3-0|
|March 22, 2014||Lundqvist earns franchise record 50th shutout vs. NJD — GAME STATS||W, 2-0|
|May 29, 2014||Lundqvist leads Rangers to Stanley Cup Finals with shutout victory in Game 6 of Eastern Conference Finals vs. MTL — GAME STATS||W, 1-0|
LOOK BACK AT THE FEATURED GAMES IN 21ST CENTURY RANGERS COUNTDOWN
|Nov. 18, 2000||Brian Leetch sets Rangers all-time assist record (616) vs. CGY (11/18/00) — GAME STATS||W, 5-4 OT|
|Jan. 18, 2001||Mike Richter sets all-time wins record (267) passing Eddie Giacomin vs TOR (1/18/01) — GAME STATS||W, 2-1 OT|
|Nov. 4, 2003||Mark Messier ties then passes Gordie Howe for 2nd all-time NHL list for pts (1851) vs DAL (11/4/03) — GAME STATS||W, 3-0|
|March 31, 2004||Mark Messier’s final game vs BUF (3/31/04) — GAME STATS||L, 4-3|
|April 4, 2006||Rangers return to the playoffs for the first time since 1996-97 with Petr Sykora SO goal vs PHI (4/4/06) — GAME STATS||W, 3-2 SO|
|April 8, 2006||Jagr breaks scoring record for most goals (53) passing Adam Graves vs BOS (4/8/06) — GAME STATS||W, 4-3 OT|
|April 29, 2007||Rozsival’s Game 3 double OT Winner vs. Buffalo at MSG, 2007 Conference Semis (04/29/07) — GAME STATS||W 2-1 OT|
|April 18, 2008||NYR first playoff series win against NJD since 1997 (4/18/08) — GAME STATS||W, 5-3|
|Jan. 31, 2011||Lundqvist All-Star Game save (1/30/11) — GAME STATS||L, 11-10|
|April 23, 2012||Chris Kreider scores first NHL goal in playoff series game #5 vs OTT (4/23/12) — GAME STATS||W, 3-2|
|April 26, 2012||Rangers cap comeback series win against OTT in playoffs after being down 3-2 (4/26/12) — GAME STATS||W, 2-1|
|May 2, 2012||Gaborik’s triple OT goal in 2012 playoffs game #3 vs WAS (5/2/12) —GAME STATS||W, 2-1 OT|
|May 7, 2012||Brad Richards goal with 6.6 left and Marc Staal’s OT goal in Eastern Conf. semifinals game #5 vs WAS (5/7/12) — GAME STATS||W, 3-2 OT|
|April 25, 2013||Callahan’s OT goal sends Rangers to playoffs vs CAR (4/25/13) —GAME STATS||W, 4-3 OT|
|May 12 – May 13, 2013||Lundqvist shuts out Caps in back-to-back playoff wins vs CAPS (5/12-13/13) — GAME STATS||W, 1-0; W, 5-0|
|March 18, 2014||Henrik Lundqvist breaks record for most wins by Rangers Goalie (302) vs OTT (3/18/14) — GAME STATS||W, 8-4|
|May 13, 2014||Improbable series comeback and Game 7 victory vs PIT (5/13/14) —GAME STATS||W, 2-1|
|May 25, 2014||Martin St. Louis OT goal in Game 4 vs MTL (5/25/14) — GAME STATS||W, 3-2 OT|
|May 29, 2014||Rangers advance to Stanley Cup Finals for first time in 20 years vs MTL (5/29/14) — GAME STATS||W, 1-0|
|June 11, 2014||Rangers beat Kings in Game 4 of Stanley Cup Finals (6/11/14) —GAME STATS||W, 2-1|
21st Century Knicks Timeline
RANK 21ST CENTURY RANGERS TOP MOMENTS
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