Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Why New Yorkers Should Still Be (Kind Of) Excited About The Knicks

Man of the hourI could have changed the history of the city of New York. Back when the Mayor was busting his pockets trying to land the NBA's prime free agent-back when anything was possible and any team could land LeBron James-I got recruited to help. A friend of a friend asked me to select soundtrack for part of the campaign, presumably because I write about basketball and the perils of Ikea's Expedit, exclusively.

But journalistic ethics got the best of me, and I politely declined. So if you're still looking for a scapegoat, I'm your man.

In the end, though, I'm happy with how things turned out for the Knicks, and you should be, too. That's kind of my specialty: convincing fans that their uneven, flighty team is in fact a thing of beauty. And, with a dark age about to fall where next to no team, other than Miami, has a shot at a title, this kind of off-beat charisma and a sense of danger is about the most you can hope for. Forget the competitive pressures of playing in New York; in large part, New York City athletes just need to justify their celebrity status.

Many will miss David Lee, even though studies have shown that the man never was, and is unlikely to ever become, Jewish. Amar'e Stoudemire has at least made a valiant effort over the last few days, vowing to travel to Israel and issuing a guilt-laden statement about leaving Phoenix. He also instinctively gets that the bigger the personality, the easier a Knicks team can divert attention from its play-and build up its own kind of legend. As in, Danilo Gallinari is now free to go from franchise player to sneering, three-point drilling I-talian growing up in public.

And then there's Anthony Randolph.

Randolph is the quintessential NBA cult figure: lost, found, and pitied back into oblivion several times over after only two seasons in the league. As a player, his skills are limitless. Coach Mike D'Antoni talks about the twenty-two year-old like Weapon X; if Amar'e is like a volcanic eruption around the basket, and Gallo a tall, hot-and-cool international emissary, Randolph is several thousands theories of basketball colliding in the same place at the same time. He's a 6'11" gawky slingshot of a player born on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall, drafted out of LSU in 2008 after one inconclusive year, and projected as a raw, bouncy beanpole. Instead, within weeks he revealed that he could pass, handle, and terrify all manner of opponents with his shot-blocking and speed-demon response time.

Randolph has been picked up and discarded by, almost simultaneously, both the notoriously gut-driven Bill Simmons and the statistics electorate at Basketball Prospectus. On the court, he was busy being yanked around by washed-up innovator Don Nelson, dealing with injury, and generally lacking the guidance to turn raw promise into the 21st century version of Lamar Odom or young Kevin Garnett. Odom predicted the kid would surpass him. You also have to imagine KG nodded with approval when one night, Randolph became so worked up, so distressed, he went to the bench just to cool down his core temperature. There were tears, fumes, grimaces of anguish, and the sense that if the future ever arrived, it would destroy us all.

Now Randolph has gone from Nellie to fellow avant-gardist D'Antoni-who, incidentally, is desperately seeking to prove he's still relevant. Maybe Mike D, who once predicted a future where everyone was 6"9' and could pass or shoot, sees Randolph as his chance for redemption.

The Knicks should crack .500 and have a brief taste of the postseason. Raymond Felton, the most beloved Tar Heel of the last decade, hasn't thrived as a pro. But he has to be better than Dookie Chris Duhon. Nature demands it. And, as for all the "who plays the off-guard?" blather, let me introduce you to Kelenna Azubuike, another seeking refuge from Nellie's chaotic whimsy. The Knicks should have traded Wilson Chandler when they had the chance, just like Channing Frye before him. Hope dies hard in this town!

With world domination off the table for the time being, though, this is a chance to watch a team laden with intrigue light up (and occasionally tear down) the Garden. That's got to be worth something, right? If you don't see, the exuberant Ronny Turiaf will light the way. And he will lead you straight to Randolph.

Anthony Randolph, it's all on you. Your revival-if you ever really arrived in the first place-is the key to the city's sanity. Or at least its distraction. Forget about Randolph's potential on the court; to whom does such a man get linked romantically?

Bethlehem Shoals, a regular contributor to NBA FanHouse, is a founding member of, whose Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History will be published by Bloomsbury, USA in November.

21 Comments / Post A Comment

Chris (#5,644)

I already bought a Turiaf jersey.

Chris (#5,644)

But seriously.

We should have kept Lee. He's a cheaper, smarter more mature player than Amare. He hustles and averaged 20 and 10 with fucking Duhon giving him the rock. We should have kept Lee, and waited until next season to go after CP3 and Melo or anyone else. Giving all that money to a player who has had knee surgery remind you of anyone? Oh yeah, Allan fucking Houston. Guess we didn't learn anything from that wonderful deal.

David Cho (#3)

Amare is insanely overrated. I'm pretty sure we're going to see a huge dropoff in his productivity this year (see: the post-Nash Shawn Marion). He's also insanely atrocious on def and has a pretty low bball IQ.

Also, underrated concern: The Phoenix medical staff did wonders with him, is no one concerned that his reconstructed knees might go bad when he's away from them?

johnmurray (#4,569)

You guys are crazy. Amare has great hoops IQ. He changed his entire game after his surgery, developed a mid range jumper, more finesse. And turned out he could still beast to boot. His game is perfectly suited to your team, and he'll actually make Melo or CP3 WANT to go to new york next year. And it's hard to knock a guy's defense when he plays for a team that notoriously runs on the philosophy that the best defense is a good offense. And he still blocks a shot a game. When he's averaging 22/10 and going off for 40 points in mid-January, you'll be singing a different tune.

KarenUhOh (#19)

I would have taken Stoudamire in a heartbeat.

Chris (#5,644)

IF his presence brings CP3 and Melo, of course he's well worth it, but that's a HUGE if. And while he might put up good numbers, the fact remains that he is an immature player, one that will whine and bitch when he discovers that the Knicks aren't anywhere near as good as the Suns teams he was playing for. We need locker room guys, which Lee was, not an overrated dude with one good knee (and one good eye).

Move I do like: Felton. He's solid and I expect good things from him.

Chris (#5,644)

Yes 100%. I mean, they made Shaq look young. That staff must be money.

Chris (#5,644)

That last reply was meant for @Cho. Sorry.

David Cho (#3)

@JohnMurray The fact that Amare can't play defense speaks to his low basketball IQ. He's a physical freak of nature who has a real offensive knack, and while this is less true today than it was three years ago, he still isn't a smart basketball player. The Steve Nash effect is also SO, SO, SO high.

@Chris If it brings Melo or Chris Paul then there's some sort of different value, but I think what Knicks fans currently expect from Amare is way, way, way off. As far as med staff goes, don't forget Grant Hill, who wouldn't leave because he acknowledged their abilities.

Another thing on Amare, it's sort of a bad catch 22 for the Knicks because the last thign they need is someone who wants to play in New York because he wants a big city (see: Amare), but unfortunately until they get their managerial issues straightened out/undo everything Isaiah did that won't necessarily be easy.

katiebakes (#32)

Far from undoing everything Isiah did they MIGHT BE REHIRING HIM, at least if you believe Frank Isola.

(swan dives into the Hudson)

At any rate, I am thoroughly excited to have a player who "always looks like he's going to cry," as described by Jordan Carr below, and I say that with absolute sincerity.

johnmurray (#4,569)

Are we all even talking about the same player? Where does all this suspicion that Amare will 'whine and bitch' because he doesn't like his team come from? I mean Nash is famous for getting down on the team when they lose. But it's to make them be better. Is this cause some sports bloggers take quotes like "I want to be the face of our franchise" out of context? I think the dude just wants to win.

The facts: since his surgery his numbers haven't dropped at all. And his knees haven't bothered him. And his eye was fine. All of these knocks on him are speculative. The fact is he's proven year after year that he can still play.

And you know what? Chris Bosh is a terrible defender too. So is Boozer. Point is, Amare is paid to do what he does every year, which is be one of the premier offensive forwards in the league. For chrissakes, I'm not even a Knicks fan, but considering what was out there for you after LeBron didn't deign to reach his golden scepter down to you, you guys should be happy you got Amare before someone else did. Lee is overpriced.

Again, let's revive this thread in January.

KarenUhOh (#19)

The Awl has quietly become the go-to Source for NBA Knowledge.

As for the Knicks? Crack .500? Maybe till Nov. 1.

Hamilton (#122)

Yea right. I wish.

iantenna (#5,160)

meanwhile, in oakland, we welcome david lee with open arms and wait patiently for the day when nellie is just a guy you run into at smitty's on occasion, not the disinterested leader of your favorite franchise.

iantenna (#5,160)

the perils of the expedit? as far as i know there are no perils other than the fact that, if i try to justify the purchase of another one to my wife, i might come home to find my records and clothing out on the street, tom waits in down by law style.

Jordan Carr (#5,337)

"If you don't like Ronny Turiaf, you don't like basketball. [pause] Or people."

-Warriors announcer Jim Barnett

And Randolph is a freak athlete with no jump shot and an awkward handle. Maybe he'll be great, but he always looks like he's going to cry, which is worrisome. He's a lot of fun to watch, though they'll have to jettison John Bender lest he haunt Randolph like the Ghost of Freaky Athletic Prodigies Past.

And I think the list of reasons to be excited about the Warriors is something like this:

1-999. New owners
1,000. Jeremy Lin

iantenna (#5,160)

1,001. the death of thunder


I could kiss you for such a wonderful piece. It should be interesting to see both Randolph and Stoudamire running in the D'Antoni system. They both seem like the kind of players that thrive in an uptempo, offensively driven system.

If there was an award for biggest bench contribution, subcategory psychological support, it would be Turiaf every year.

Builo (#6,201)

Yes! The Knicks are crawling back to relevance! As an LA fan, I've missed Turiaf spazzing out on the bench after every play, his energy is infectious. Randolph is definitely the key, and I think/hope Mike D brings out his full potential. If I still wore jerseys Turiaf & Randolph would be in the rotation. When does the season start again?

conklin (#364)

I wish the Knicks had signed LeBron James.

Or Inception.

Or Twilight Eclipse.

worst_1_yet (#681)

Please. This team sucks. Will not make it past the first round of the playoffs, but will likely be "celebrated" for getting there.

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