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News » New York Knicks Getting Inside 2009-10-18

New York Knicks Getting Inside 2009-10-18

New York Knicks Getting Inside 2009-10-18Let's call this the Year Before the Year. Perhaps the Knicks' marketing department could have gotten clever by using the well-worn motto "On a Mission" as this season's slogan, because it has multiple applications. The obvious, of course, would be the reference to the team's mission to maintain as much salary cap space as possible for a determined foray into free agency next summer, when several big-name players are expected to be on the market.

So as much as the Knicks insist this season is about winning -- or at least trying to improve upon last season's 32-win result -- the reality made evident during the notably inactive past offseason is that it's about winning as long as it doesn't compromise the 2010 plan. That's the strategy Donnie Walsh laid out in April 2008, when he took over the floundering franchise, which hasn't had the cap space to make a major play in free agency since 1996.

What they'll do is hope the combination of determined expiring-contract veterans -- such as Al Harrington, Chris Duhon, David Lee and Nate Robinson -- and Mike D'Antoni's dynamic system can be the perfect storm to surprise the Eastern Conference. They'll also hope at least one of the team's young talents -- be it Italian swingman Danilo Gallinari or explosive guard/forward Wilson Chandler -- can have a breakthrough season and emerge as a future star.

D'Antoni put some early pressure on Gallinari, the sixth overall pick in the 2008 draft who because of back issues appeared in just 28 games last season, when he declared Gallinari to be "the best shooter I've ever seen." D'Antoni also pointed out that the team was 14-14 when Gallinari played and that he shot a scorching 44.4 percent clip from three-point range.

But while there were flashes of precocious talent seen in that brief stint last season, Gallinari still has plenty of growing to do before he can be the focal point of an offense.

The hope will also involve continued patience from a disgruntled New York fan base that has essentially waited almost an entire decade for the franchise to return to NBA elite status. Oh, and also show there is enough of a foundation here for one of those marquee free agents (OK, let's just say LeBron James) to consider making the Garden their personal stage.

Nate Robinson is a fan favorite, but he was brought back on a one-year deal, as was another popular player, David Lee, mainly because while both had career-best seasons statistically last season, neither can say they have been part of any kind of winning during their four seasons with the Knicks. Both embraced the challenge, which included $1 million bonuses if the team makes the playoffs.

"Just making the playoffs would be a bonus for me," Robinson said. "I've been here four years strong and no playoffs. That (stinks)."

With players like the explosive 5-9 Robinson in the D'Antoni system, there is little doubt the Knicks will score. The team, which was often ravaged by injuries and trades, averaged 105.2 points per game last season, which was fourth-best in the NBA and quite an accomplishment when you consider the Knicks shot 44.5 percent from the field, which was the third-worst clip in the league.

This system is all about extra possessions and shot attempts, but it makes one wonder just how much more they could score if they shot a more representative percentage. The league average last season was 45.9 percent, which is the difference of nearly 200 points and almost two points per game by average.

Then again, the bigger concern was that the Knicks, who play at the very place where the "Dee-Fense!" chant originated, gave up 107.8 points per game and allowed opponents to shoot 48 percent from the field. They also recorded just 204 blocked shots, which was by far the worst total in the league. So the offseason addition of 7-2 center Darko Milicic should help in that area and D'Antoni made it clear on the very first day of training camp that defense would be preached just as regularly as offense this time around. He admitted last season he spent too much time trying to teach and re-teach the offensive system. D'Antoni surmises that if the Knicks can improve enough to be at least a top-15 defensive team in the league, with their ability to score they should be able to contend for a playoff spot.

The biggest trouble for the Knicks is the East, which a few seasons ago may have been an environment amenable to a rebuilding season, but has now become unforgiving. But at this point the worst that can happen is another season in the lottery (did we forget to mention the Utah Jazz own that pick?) and then finally the long-awaited Summer of LeBron, that is, the Summer of 2010, will arrive.

COACHING STAFF: Head Coach -- Mike D'Antoni, 8th year overall, 2nd with Knicks (298-222). Assistants -- Phil Weber, Dan D'Antoni, Herb Williams, Kenny Atkinson.

LAST SEASON, REMEMBERED: 32-50 (5th in Atlantic). Did not qualify for playoffs.

THIS SEASON, PREDICTED: 36-46 (4th in Atlantic). Will not qualify for playoffs.

POSSIBLE CHANGES, PREDICTED: With a pre-planned rebuilding effort set for the 2010 free agency season, there won't be any moves made that adds salary to the 2010-11 payroll. The team will try to move Eddy Curry and Jared Jeffries for expiring contracts.

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: October 18, 2009


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