The Knicks formally introduced their newest trade acquisition on Thursday, maligned center Andrea Bargnani.
The 7-foot jump-shooting pivot has been the bane of Raptors fans’ existence since being the No. 1 overall pick in 2006, due to the fact he rarely lived up to his lofty draft status, was prone to injuries and only led the Raptors to the postseason twice.
But according to Knicks team president Glen Grunwald, that’s all in the past.
“We’re very hopeful that he’s now healthy and will have a very bright future for us. Injuries can take its toll and wear on you, but he’s excited for a fresh start and getting back to being the player we hope he can be,” said Grunwald. “Steve [Novak] and Marcus [Camby] were both very good payers, but sometimes you have to trade away a player or players you like to get another player you like. ... Andrea brings a unique skill set and will hopefully cause matchup problems for the defense.”
Bargnani endured a rough final two seasons in Toronto, laced with injuries and a seemingly unshakeable label that he wasn’t tough enough to handle the rigors of the paint. A natural shooter, Bargnani came into the league known as a floor-spacing big man who hung around the perimeter, while also severely lacking on the defensive end or in the rebounding department despite his size and wingspan.
Bargnani heard the verbal slings and arrows hurled at him about his lacking toughness. A career 4.8 rebounds per game average was perfect fodder for the naysayers, so he’s anxious to show the NBA and many doubting fans he can be a better rebounder and play like his size dictates.
“I know I have to get better,” Bargnani said when asked about his deficiencies, adding the elbow injury really hampered his game. “Last year was tough for me because I had so many injuries and couldn’t play continually. The injuries hurt my rebounding, so I’m looking forward to being healthy and helping this team.”
This team is coming off a 54-win campaign and the deepest playoff run the franchise has had in almost 15 years, so expectations are up in New York.
Bargnani said he’s used to having high expectations from fans — although he admitted he’s sure it’s even more intense here. But looking back on his Toronto days, he said he harbors no ill feelings toward a basketball fanbase that is rather fervent, despite it naturally being a hockey town. While the center tried to look ahead to a Knicks team which will try to build on last season’s success, he showed contrition in that he wasn’t able to help the Raptors build a consistent winning program.
“It’s never easy. There was a lot of frustration up there. As the leader of the team, you have a lot of pressure, but the fans have a right to express their feelings. No regrets, though, I wish them the best,” he said. “I had a good experience in Toronto, but I also had a couple of bad ones. ... I’m just very excited to be here and excited for a [fresh] start here and help this team win.”
Perhaps the biggest thing Bargnani is excited about — other than distancing himself from the boo-birds in Toronto — is that he gets to play with Carmelo Anthony. The reigning league-scoring champ will undoubtedly be the best teammate Bargnani has ever had, which will immediately take the pressure off the maligned center.
“Carmelo is a superstar. It’ll be a great experience to play with him,” said Bargnani, who added he’s not concerned about his scoring role. “I’m not really worried about being the first or second option. I’m interested in winning games ... I’m starving to win.”
Knicks notes ...
» Grunwald added that bringing Bargnani aboard was “independent” to what’s going on with Amar’e Stoudemire’s recovery. The former franchise cornerstone is still working his knee back into shape and will likely see a minutes’ restriction. But Grunwald said adding Bargnani wasn’t with Stoudemire in mind.
“Amar’e is a great player and we’re excited to have him back,” Bargnani said. “This will allow [head coach] Mike [Woodson] to go big or small. Amar’e has improved his post game, so the offensive abilities of those two players together is outstanding and will cause great difficulties for defenses.”
» Bargnani said he’s switching to No. 77 because No. 7 is obviously taken.
“I was going to change numbers anyway since ‘Melo wears No. 7.”
» The Italian national star said he got great advice about playing in New York from former Knicks forward and fellow Italian Danilo Gallinari.
“We’re very close friends,” Bargnani said. “This team is very different from the one he played on, so this is a different situation than the one that Danilo played for here, but he did help.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.