The preface to any and all of my answers on this topic is: the overarching problem for the Knicks is that they have one of the worst owners in sports. It all funnels down from here. He brings in GMs, coaches, players, who start to move in a direction, then upends everything they’ve built, on a whim (e.g., the Carmelo Anthony trade). The youth movement plus Amare transformed into Carmelo plus signing every player over 35 in the league. Dolan is a truly pitiful sports team owner. And they are likely going nowhere for the foreseeable future….unless they trade Carmelo, which they should do…b/c he has plateaued and shows no signs of further development. Granted, with an uninjured team this year, they would not be as bad, but they really wouldn’t be that much better.
Side note: It’s an interesting question–What would Carmelo really bring a big trade return at this point? I’m not sure a sell-low Carmelo deal would really help all that much, though it would do away with the hype of unrealistic expectations. With Chandler healthy all season, I thought the Knicks would finish with something in the area of 45 wins.
Q. First off, do you remember what your expectations were for this year’s Knicks back in late October?
A. My expectations were low. My brother convinced me otherwise, but it looks like I was more on point, injuries or not. Carmelo and Felton have plateaued as players, Schumpert unfortunately has not developed like I thought he would, JR will always be erratic, Amare is clearly done, and Metta World Peace is a joke at this point.
Q. Explain the enigma that is J.R. Smith from two perspectives: a) Your professional psychological opinion and b) Your gut opinion as a Knicks fan:
A. I’m not going to venture into JR Smith’s psychological makeup, b/c in reality, I know nothing about him. Aside from what seems the obvious facts that he lacks impulse control at times and goes in and out of mentally focused playing. I really do not like him as a player, despite a fairly strong year last year. He is a TERRIBLE passer (or perhaps it’s just he doesn’t pass), with literally no court vision. Steve Novak is one of the best pure shooters in the league and he could barely get off a shot last year b/c JR generally controlled the ball when Novak was in.
Q. As a native of New Jersey and life-long Knicks fan, and a long-time Bay Area resident and established Warriors fan, do you find yourself with less of a defined fanaticism these days? Do you bother to pay for NBA League Pass to watch the Knicks, or do you watch whenever they’re on national television? I ask because I am now a member of the two-team club. As a Celtics-first, Warriors-second fan, I rationalized my non-NBA League Pass purchase in several ways: 1. There is more to life than the NBA season. 2. The Warriors will be really fun to watch and I can see their games with my current cable package. 3. I was hoping the Celtics won about 25 games and got a top five pick in the upcoming draft.
A. I don’t pay for league pass b/c I don’t want an excuse to have sports take up additional time in my life. Plus, I found a way to watch NBA games live online if there’s a game I really want to see. Right now, I am glad I am a Warriors fan b/c I have something exciting to root for in the NBA. The good thing about moving from East coast to West is that my newly developed dual-fanatacisms do not conflict unless the two meet in the Finals. And let’s be frank: the Knicks in the Finals? C’mon, man!
Q. Tyson Chandler is one of the best interior defenders in the NBA. J.R. Smith was one of the key offensive cogs in last year’s success. Losing Chandler to a knee injury after only four games was clearly devastating to the team defense. Losing Smith to a drug suspension for the first five games left a gap in the offensive schemes. Is it fair to say this year’s team has yet to play a game together?
A. It is fair to say that and they would most certainly be better with a full squad, but I’m not a believer in any case. Aside from the starters, they have no real bench. Copeland and Novak both had significant value (esp. if paired with a pass first point guard, and they’re both gone…though Bargnani is more skilled than Novak obviously and has actually played decently).
Side note: Divisions. The atrocity that is this year’s Atlantic Division has many (Zach Lowe among them) calling for an end to the out-dated concept of divisions. As it stands, teams play about half of the non-division teams within their conference the same number of games (4) as the teams within their divisions. So, keeping the conferences (otherwise, travel would be a nightmare) seems like the ideal option. With the two expected divisional heavyweights, the Knicks (3-13) and Nets (5-12), falling apart due to injuries and chemistry concerns, this year’s Atlantic winner may win fewer than 45 games.
Q. Should the NBA continue to separate teams into divisions? How many games will the Atlantic Division champion win this year?
A. I don’t have a strong opinion on this. I don’t mind divisions, but it does seem silly not to play the teams in your own division more. If they’re not going to play more, then divisions don’t really make sense. Prediction for division winner: 39 games (and that might be generous). Can you imagine a 4 seed with 39 wins? Silliness.
Q. Is it unfair to blame coach Mike Woodson for the bad-luck and insane expectations fueled by a delusion owner? If you have to assign blame, how much should go to bad luck, how much should go to Dolan for filling the roster without a decent back-up big man, and how much should go to Woodson? Include Carmelo Anthony here if you feel the desire to.
A. Like I said, it all starts with Dolan. From there, Carmelo and Woodson are both at fault, the former b/c he doesn’t make anyone else remotely better (he arguably makes them worse), the latter, b/c he seems to have no offensive ingenuity and has fully bought in to isolation play. (As a juxtaposition, read the Grantland article on the Miami Heat’s evolving offensive fluidness and LeBron’s part in it. They are building something not unlike the Jordan Bulls, in that they have the key main pieces and can fill in the rest with specialists of various ilks.) Last year, they could mask Woodson’s lack of ingenuity somewhat b/c Jason Kidd, when playing well, was like a point guard at the 2 position, which was unique and cool to watch. He would stand at the three-point line on the wing and orchestrate things.
Side note: while I appreciate the fluidity in Miami’s offense and LeBron’s increasing efficiency, I’m not convinced that Spoelstra, Popovich, or any other coach could make a dynamic offense out of the Knicks parts. The Chandler pick-and-roll and the crazy good early season shooting of many of last year’s Knicks made that offense much better than this year’s version. Great point, on Jason Kidd as maestro though.
Q. Former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy is my favorite television commentator who does NBA games. For me, his curmudgeonly demeanor and his lack of hyperbole are refreshing, compared with so many easily excitable commentators. Any thoughts on Van Gundy as former coach and Van Gundy as commentator?
A. Love him as commentator and as actor in the bus commercials. As a coach, he is like Woodson and Mike Brown. Strong defensive coach, well below average offensive coach.
Q. How much do you love Iman Shumpert?
A. Loved him at first, but he hasn’t developed as I’d hoped. Partially b/c he was set back by injury last year, partially b/c he plays with the black hole that is Carmelo Anthony, and partially b/c I don’t know why.
Q. When they’re on the court, does it seem like Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert are the only players who exist on the defensive end?
A. They’re the only ones with any really skill at it. Carmelo does try, he’s just not that good at it.
Q. When did you begin cheering for the Knicks?
A. From as long as I can remember.
Q. Favorite Knicks moment of your childhood?
A. Bernard King’s 1984 playoff run vs. the Pistons and Celtics. Incredible! I have never seen an offensive player quite like him. Deadly quick turn-around jumper. Incidentally, a lot of that quickness was b/c he pivoted on his heel instead of his toes. Fun fact.
Also, I was an adult, but the run in 1998 with Houston and Sprewell, and Larry Johnson’s four-point play.
Q. Worst Knicks moment of your childhood?
Henry Most is not only a Knicks aficionado, but he also plays an effective game of tennis, and is an excellent number-cruncher in his daily life. He’s also a nice guy.