Once upon a time, when Team USA’s men’s basketball squad was actually faltering in Olympic play, there was a collection of NBAers dubbed the “Redeem Team.”
It wasn’t as much a fancy nickname for the 2008 team as much as it was a way to mock the 2004 squad that came away from the Athens Games with a humiliating bronze medal – a team, coincidentally, that also featured Carmelo Anthony.
The Knicks' star may have that familiar feeling again this summer, as his current batch of new teammates that were thrown together by team president Phil Jackson, also have a lot of redeeming to do.
New York officially introduced its new signees over the weekend, which included two former stars coming off debilitating injuries - center Joakim Noah (shoulder) and point guard Brandon Jennings (Achilles) - and a journeyman shooting guard in Courtney Lee, who is on his third team in two years, and seventh overall.
Jennings, who once desired to be drafted by the Knicks in 2009, said he’s approaching his new team and new role with fervor to prove the doubters wrong and show he can run a team – while showing his love of the game.
A love he claimed he never lost.
“The perception of me is that I don’t like basketball, and I hate hearing that. So hopefully I can change everybody’s perception,” he said. “I think this is the perfect opportunity right now for me to revamp my whole career and show people who I really am. … I just want to prove that I’m back to who I am and that I can still play.”
Jennings added he wants to be considered in the Sixth Man of the Year conversation, and it’s an attainable goal if he remains healthy. He was once one of the league’s most explosive guards and a borderline All-Star in his earlier years. Now, the eight-year vet is itching to show he’s still that guy, the one prior to his January 2015 Achilles injury who was averaging almost 16 points and six assists per game.
Only 26-years-old, Jennings, who signed a one-year, $5-million deal, has missed 75 games the past two seasons. He could be a steal for a team that also employs the injury-prone Derrick Rose.
The former Bulls point guard will be reunited with Noah, who is also coming off a couple of injury-plagued seasons. Rose has missed 228 games in the past five seasons because of multiple injuries, while Noah has sat out 86 games in the past four seasons -- including 53 last season due to his shoulder.
Like Jennings, Noah also has that chip on his shoulder and wants to redeem himself.
“Redemption is a powerful emotion,” the fiery Noah said. “It’s a powerful thing.”
The new trio believes they could make Jackson look like a genius. And should the low-risk, high reward decisions pan out, and the Knicks catch lightning in a bottle for one season, New York could be a sneaky threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Eastern Conference supremacy.
“Once we get over the rough edges [of learning to play with each other], we should be a top five team [in the conference],” Jennings said. “There’s a lot of talent, a lot of veteran guys on this team, [and] a lot of guys who are hungry. We’re all hungry. At this point, I think our main goal is just to make this work … and give the city what they’ve been waiting for.”
If the newcomers magically help give the long-suffering Knicks fans what they’ve been waiting for, redemption will finally be theirs.
- While Jennings tried to downplay the irony he’s joining the team that once snubbed him on draft day, Noah wasn’t afraid to sound as if he’s been waiting for this union for quite some time: “This has been a dream of mine since I’m 5 years old. I was a fan of a lot of people who wore this jersey: Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Chris Childs, Latrell Sprewell, Marcus Camby, Larry Johnson. I was in the Garden for all these guys. I was in the Garden when LJ [Johnson] hit the shot. I was in the Garden when Michael Jordan came back and gave us 55 [points].”
- Lee believes something special is on the horizon for the Knicks: “I think we can be very scary as far as competing in the East. That’s a strong core group right there. I felt joining this team would only increase my chances of competing in the Eastern Conference and trying to win a ring.”
- Along with the aforementioned trio, the Knicks also officially signed Lithuanian forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas. New York now has 12 players with guaranteed contracts on its roster.