Donnie Walsh turned out to be all talk this summer, even if it wasn’t completely of his own doing. Let’s see if his team is the same way.
Despite whiffing on the ultimate summer catch in LeBron James and a rebound trade for Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks head into the 2010-11 season all smiles and with great optimism. At least that’s the way they’re playing it.
The Knicks opened training camp over the weekend and coach Mike D’Antoni and Walsh said they finally see light at the end of what was a dark two-year-long tunnel.
“We’ve filled in some of the blanks we had,” Walsh said regarding the 10 new faces. “We can play big or small and we have the players who better fit what Mike does [like] Amare [Stoudemire], who’s as good a player we’ve had here in a long time.”
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A longtime second banana in Phoenix to Steve Nash, Stoudemire is now a
franchise player and the man responsible for getting the Knicks back into the
playoffs for the first time since 2004. D’Antoni coached Stoudemire in Phoenix when the young
superstar was deemed to be a bit petulant but according to the Knicks brass,
Stoudemire has matured into a great leader and someone worthy of cornerstone
“I’ve been really impressed with how hard he works and
that’s leadership because if he works that hard, the other guys see that and
follow,” Walsh said of Stoudemire.
Stoudemire will need to be the leader of a team long on
potential but short on experience because this current batch averages 25 years
of age. Despite its collective youth, there are guys with playoff experience
like Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Roger Mason, Jr., and Ronny Turiaf. Even Bill
Walker, who was a member of the 2007-08 champion Boston Celtics, wasn’t on the
active roster but has been a part of a winning atmosphere.
Although not as seasoned as other teams in the competitive
Eastern Conference, New York
has a myriad of interchangeable parts at nearly every position. Stoudemire can
play center or power forward; Felton, Toney Douglas, and rookie Andy Rautins
can run the point but are also sturdy enough to defend shooting guards; Wilson
Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Mason, Jr., rookie Landry Fields, Walker, and
Kelenna Azubuike can all play either shooting guard or small forward; and Anthony
Randolph, who came over in the David Lee trade and has been compared to Lamar
Odom for his do-everything skills, can play anywhere from shooting guard to
point-forward, according to D’Antoni.
Other than Stoudemire and Felton, the 6-foot-11 Randolph brings the biggest smile to D’Antoni
for all the possibilities he has in store for the former Golden State
“He’s skinny like me but he can do a little bit of
everything,” D’Antoni said with a broad smile. “And I think the doctors said
he’s still growing. He’s 6’11 but still getting bigger. And he’s strong. He
came into the League at 175 pounds but now he’s up to 225. He’s a rare talent
that can get the rebound and start the break and he’ll be a nightmare when we
put him and Amar’e together at the same time.”
may even be able to play shooting guard at times, at least defensively,
according to D’Antoni. That’s mostly out of necessity, as New York tries to fill the void of an
injured Azubuike. Rehabbing from a damaged patella tendon, Azubuike will not be
ready for training camp is questionable for the opener, Oct. 27.
“There’s not real holes because we have players who can play
the two,” Walsh said of losing Azubuike, adding that Patrick Ewing, Jr.,
Chandler, and Fields can fill in. “He won’t be in training camp to start but
we’re shooting for the regular season if no setbacks happen. But with the group
of players we have now, these are the guys we want to go forward with. I feel
good about the future.”
As for the immediate future, D’Antoni and Walsh are
confident this is a playoff team. Neither wanted to discuss the rumors of
adding Carmelo Anthony and said they just want to see what this team does
before thinking about roster moves.
“We’re very excited about what we have and not even thinking
about that right now,” D’Antoni said about trade talks. “If these guys can show
they can win then a lot of that talk goes away. If come December and we haven’t
lost yet then everyone says, ‘Oh, look, they can play.’”
Walsh added that there’s no urgency to add another superstar
“We don’t know if that player isn’t on the roster right now,
so we’ll have to see,” he said. “We have young players who will get better. I
think we’ll be a good team but we have to put in the work.”
One guy conspicuous by his absence all summer was Eddy
Curry. The maligned and oft-injured big man decided not to work out with the
rest of the team at the facilities this summer but Walsh is confident his
veteran big will come to camp in shape.
“Players don’t have to come in during the summer. So, what I
try to do over the years is not to make any kind of judgment on that or get mad
at them,” Walsh said. “But when they come, they have to be in shape, so we’ll
see with him. I’ll be optimistic and see how it plays out because there’s no
magic way to do it.”
Walsh said past strategies to motivate Curry backfired, so
he’s just allowing it all to unfold and it’s up to Curry.
“I haven’t talked to him or seen him. But I get words – through
third parties – that Eddy is working,” he said. “No matter what we do, it all
comes down to what they [the players] do and how they want their careers to go.
I told him, ‘I’m not going to bug you about it [conditioning] like last
If Curry actually shocks the masses and comes in ready to
play, D’Antoni will have a nice problem on his hands. Known for his short
rotations of no more than eight players, D’Antoni said he’ll have no problem
extending his rotation if guys show they deserve it.
“If that ninth guy is as good as the eighth guy then I’ll
play nine guys. And if that ninth guy is nowhere near as good as the eighth
guy, then I’ll stick with eight,” D’Antoni said. “Even if that 11th
guy is as good as the eighth guy, then I’ll play all 11.
getting enough time to get into a rhythm then I’ll scale back. But there should
be enough room for guys. We want to keep the pressure up on teams and come at
them in waves. That should be one of our strengths…whether we’re good or not
we’ll see but at least we’ll be exciting.”