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

by Bethlehem Shoals

Man of the hour

I 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 FreeDarko.com, whose Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History will be published by Bloomsbury, USA in November.