Hope springs eternal for every team in every sport during media day, and the Knicks are no different.
Armed with a revamped roster, another year in Phil Jackson’s vaunted Triangle offense, and a healthy Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks are anxious to turn the page on an infinitely frustrating season in which they lost more games than ever before in franchise history, and Anthony missed the entire second half following surgery on his left knee.
While many on the outside aren’t holding onto hope that the Knicks can actually be relevant this season, after last year’s 17-win campaign, there’s essentially one way to go – and that’s up.
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Anthony noted that he feels great. And whether the masses believe him or not, he’s ready to lead this franchise back to the postseason, even if this is the youngest squad he’s ever been a part of, and critics panned the Knicks’ summer moves.
“I’m ready to go. Everything’s tested out so far. No limits that I know of in running, jumping, cutting. Physically and mentally I feel great,” said Anthony, adding that the low-key moves the Knicks made were the right fit.“I knew that wasn’t going to be the team [that would return this year]. Last year was an experiment. This year is new.I liked the moves that we made. It wasn’t the stars that everyone wanted to get. But the pieces that we got, I'm really intrigued at what we did and where we can go with this team.”
New York didn’t add top-shelf talent to the roster, but they feel as if the pieces will fit this time – much better than last season, at least. It was a defensive-minded summer for team president Phil Jackson, as he added names like Aaron Afflalo, Robin Lopez, Derrick Williams, Kevin Seraphin, and Kyle O’Quinn. All but Afflalo are bigs and known to scrap under the boards. And as important, every player brought aboard is known to be an unselfish role player who has no problem acquiescing to a star player.
Afflalo, who played with Anthony back in Denver, noted that these pieces around Anthony fit him nicely, adding it’s good to have that one Alpha dog on a team who can alleviate pressure and take the brunt of outside criticism.
“I loved him as a teammate. He just makes the game so much easier for his teammates,” said Afflalo. “He’sbeen highly influential on me and my career.”
Lopez, who is looking forward to battling within the division against his twin and Brooklyn Nets center Brook, reasoned that while Anthony is a known for his “incredible” offensive wizardry, the center hopes his love of defense can be passed around to all of his teammates.
“Defense is just passion a lot of times,” Lopez said. “My focus is on defense. I think it’s contagious. If you can spread it around, that’s wonderful.”
A passion for defense may not catch on for Anthony, but one thing his teammates have noticed is that he is more than willing to offer some pointers on being better one-on-one scorers. Whether it’s tidbits to the bigs on scoring in the post, or doling out tutorials on his specialty, wing scoring, Anthony has been more than gracious of his time.
The eight-time all-star forward even sprung for a trip to Puerto Rico in August, where nine of his teammates joined him for fun and workouts. It was a bonding experience that Anthony customarily does for his teammates each summer, but more importantly this offseason, it was a way for Anthony to feel out his new teammates, learn their tendencies, and see if they can mesh in the Triangle.
Kristaps Porzingis, the heavily-booed first-round pick, echoed Afflalo’s sentiments that Anthony has shown great leadership. The 7-foot-1 forward noted that Anthony put him through the ringer during pickup games and one-on-one scrimmages, teaching footwork and the nuances of scoring from anywhere on the floor.
It’s been great trying to learn as much from him. We’ve played a lot of one-on-one and he was showing me moves,” Kristaps said, adding a common game was a make-it, take-it contest up to five where the player was only allowed take two dribbles. “He beat me more than I beat him … It was good to learn to play many positions. I got to play some three [small forward] in the pickups.”
Having a guy as long and versatile as Porzingis could be weapon that the league may not be prepared to face. The Latvian has been compared in skill-set and length to greats like Dirk Nowitzki (for his shooting ability) and Paul Gasol (for his length, versatility, and slight frame upon entering the NBA).
Porzingis is wise beyond his 20 years -- and already knows his limitations -- which is why he noted that he’s been working hard on strength training for those rare times the 220-pounder has to play center.
“Obviously I need to get stronger,” Porzingis said, adding that Gasol wasskinny coming to the NBA, too. “But playing against [275-pound center Kevin] Seraphin every day helps ... I’ll do my best. Whatever Coach [Derek Fisher] wants.”
Knicks fans just want a competitive squad again, after two-straight porous seasons.
-Anthony had not-so-subtle hints about his offensive role this season: “I’m pretty sure I’ll be at the four [power forward] this season.”
-The affable Anthony also reasoned that New York can be a gift and a curse: “I’ve cometo grips” about New York being “the best place to win, but also the worst place to lose.”
-Point guard Jose Calderon said the mix of guys on this team can handle the pressure of playing in New York: “We brought guys who wanted to be here. Veterans who know how to play...Everyone feels good.”
-Lance Thomas, a young journeyman, was more than happy to note that the contract he signed over the summer is his firstguaranteed deal of his career.
-Perhaps a reason for the Knicks’ faith in Thomas is his basketball IQ: “The offense isn’t super complicated. It’s based off reads. As long as reads are correct, it’s not difficult.”
-Rookie point guard Jerian Grant agreed with Thomas: “I’m a lot more comfortable [than in the summer]. For me I picked it up quickly and can now teach other guys.”
-Vujacic said the biggest reason why he ended up in Europe was mostly due to the 2011 lockout. He noted he was “impatient” on playing the waiting game, so he decided to play overseas.
-The shooting guard also noted that the Triangle has been a pretty good offense to run: “It’s the most winningest offense in NBA history. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
-Vujacic on Porzingis’s selection: “Wow, that’s the steal of the draft.” Added he already knew all about the Latvian from their time playing in Europe.
-Seraphin also vouched for the rookie: “When I got here, I thought he was going to be skinnier ... He can really play ball. The fans will be impressed.”
-The Knicks were forced to eschew their normal media day digs of their spacious gym for an outside tent, as Isiah Thomas’s Liberty were practicing and preparing for their playoff series.