Clap Clap ClapClapClap: Getting Pumped for the ’08-’09 Knicks
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 20, 2008
Where Every Win Over Thirty Is a Blessing Happens
By just about any estimation, the Philadelphia 76ers are going to be one of the most compelling teams to follow in the NBA next season. After putting up one of the best post all-star break records in the league during what just about everyone, seemingly including the team themesleves, had deemed to be a rebuilding year, the Sixers quickly emerged as one of the most exciting young teams around. Then, they really got to work in the off-season, shoring up the lineup with key role players and backups (Theo Ratliff, Kareem Rush, Donyell Marshall), locking down team cornerstones Andre Iguodala and Louis Williams to multi-year contracts, and bringing in a promising young big with draft pick Mareese Speights, and most notably (and controversially), adding the a-list post presence the team had so badly lacked with the landing of free agent Elton Brand. Even if it doesn’t result in the title run fans are hoping for–and it probably won’t–it’s going to be a fun, fun year for Sixers fans.
Yet it’s the return of a team that was, in the estimation of some, “The Worst Team in the History of Professional Sports,” that has me really fascinated. The New York Knicks had an ’07-’08 season for the history books, one of such horrific dysfunction, embarrassing clumsiness and just generally bad vibes that it’s hard to remember that record-wise, there were actually four other teams that had as bad or worse a regular-season. But if you weren’t emotionally invested in the team, as I certainly wasn’t, the games toward the end of the season–the ones after any pretensions the team had of ascending from b-ball purgatory had long since been dashed–took on a kind of perversely thrilling madcap quality, a “lunatics taking over the asylum” sort of charm. On any given night, you’d never know what bizarre, inexplicable sight you’d be confronted with, whether it be the supremely graceless Zach Randolph attempting a three-pointer, the 3’7″, 85 lb. Nate Robinson skying for a dunk and then pounding his chest like KG, or the wheezing Eddy Curry having a stroke right while attempting to box out. For fans of the sport, especially those without a conscience, it was some must-watch shit.
So, what to do with a team that can’t defend, can’t pass, and in some cases, can barely even jog? Why, bring in Mike D’Antoni, architect of the high-flying, freewheeling Phoenix Suns, of course! With the Suns, D’Antoni had four seasons of 50+ win, playoff-bound basketball, and captured the hearts of a nation with the team’s visceral, intelligent, and positively liberal form of fast-breaking hoops. But after the third playoff exit in four years at the hands of the lockdown, grind-out San Antonio Spurs, D’Antoni was scapegoated for the team’s failure, saying that his loose, offensive-minded style would never win a championship. Understandably, the announcement of D’Antoni’s arrival in New York was met with much scowling and confusion, especially with a somewhat less financially lucrative but far more stylistically logical offer of the Bulls’ head coaching position still on the table.
But the more I think about it, the more glad I am that D’Antoni went in the direction he did. There was no way the Knicks were going to be the Celtics or the Pistons this year–trying to turn them into that fundamentally sound, defensively oriented Eastern Conference-style team would’ve been as laughable
as the Texas Rangers trying to retool in ’09 with a focus on defense and pitching. So failing that, what do the Knicks possibly have to lose by handing the keys to D’Antoni and saying “Floor it”? Worst case scenario, the ‘Bockers are an anarchic mess, which would still be at least one step up from last season because it would at least seem like they were doing it intentionally this year. Best case scenario, you could get some of the wildest, most positively frenetic hoops you’re likely to see this decade–basketball to make the ’06 Suns look like the bruising Knick teams of the 90s by comparison.
For despite all their failings, the Knicks do have one thing on their side (and that’s good, because it might be the only thing)–unpredictability. Things in New York have been in such a state of flux the last few years that pretty much everyone on the team is still an unknown quantity. For all we know, Wilson Chandler could be a more deadly sharp-shooter than Raja Bell. David Lee could win a rebounding title. Nate Robinson could be as formidable a fourth-quarter presence as Kobe Bryant. Danilo Gallinari could be as fundamentally sound a player as his idol, Tayshaun Prince. Chris Duhon could be the second coming of that guy who led the Piston championship teams of two decades ago. Or, they could all be talentless scrubs that’d have difficulty fighting for the 12th man position on an actual contender. You just don’t know.
Really, though, is there anything the Knicks could do this season that would be considered surprising? OK, yeah, maybe one–win. But while I’d be hard pressed to argue that it wouldn’t take a small miracle for them to be playoff-bound in a tightening Eastern conference, watching the team play in the pre-season has been nothing but encouraging. All the games I’ve seen thusfar have been high-scoring, high-octane affairs, replete with endless fast breaks, improbable dunks (yes, including a couple from The Mouse That Roared himself) and threes raining from the skies like Lil’ Wayne top 40 hits. And as the Knick announcers are always quick to point out, the K-Men seem to be legitimately enjoying playing again under D’Antoni’s borderline-irresponsible system, like a group of middle school bullies that suddely take interest in science class when they learn that they can dissect frogs and make things explode.
So either we get a team that makes a New York Rangers game look lethargic, or we get another unmitigated disaster. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.