The New York Knicks are wandering in NBA incognito, and the key to winning again may lie 2600 miles away in a desert scorching for more reasons than just the heat. It’s time for Isiah Thomas to get creative. I know you’ve heard this many times since Thomas took over the reigns of the embattled New York Knicks franchise in the middle of the 2003-2004 season, but this time there is no tomorrow. Thomas has been given one year to show significant improvement in his new role as head coach (replacing NBA coaching vagabond Larry Brown) or clueless owner James Dolan will show him the door, effectively ending any future the Hall-of-Famer has in pro basketball.
Thomas has stated that he is satisfied with the Knicks roster, and even if he wasn’t they don’t have the money or desirable players to make any significant changes. Thomas admirably turned the old, expensive roster he inherited from former Knicks GM Scott Layden into a younger, athletic roster, but salary-wise there aren’t many differences. The Knicks are still 100 million dollars over the salary cap and are financially compromised for years to come, thus if any changes are going to be made they will have to start with a complete overhaul of the team’s style of play.
What style of play you ask will appease a roster stuffed with overpaid, ballhawking crybabies who no other GM will touch with a 39 and a half foot pole? Why the exciting brand of up-tempo, three-point shooting, no defense basketball that the Phoenix Suns rode to consecutive Western Conference Finals appearances and back-to-back MVP’s for PG Steve Nash. I know introducing a style of play in which tough defense is discouraged to a team that allowed 111.3 ppg sounds like commentary from an insane asylum inmate, but Thomas has tried playing “the right way”, and all it got him was a 23-59 record, an expensive coach to pay-off, and an entire nation of fans and media breathing down his neck waiting for results that may never come.
For personnel required for this style look no further than a point guard who can distribute the basketball and drive to the hoop, and a bunch of guys who can gravitate towards the three-point line and hit open shots. Seems simple but the point guard is paramount and that’s where the narcissistic Stephon Marbury comes into play. For all his shortcomings as a floor general Marbury still has career 8.1 assists per game average, better than those of Mark Jackson, Steve Nash, Gary Payton, and even Hall-of-Famers Bob Cousy and Tiny Archibald, to go along with a 20.2 points per game average which proves he is a top-flight scorer and distributor.
Thomas can reign Marbury in from his “Starbury” delusions because he knows the pressures of being a highly paid point guard on a team expected to win and can convince him to give up a couple of shots per game because in a wide open, up-tempo offense they will be gotten back with interest. As for the merits of this offense it turned former Knick Tim Thomas, who parlayed a outstanding postseason with Phoenix into a 4 year 24 million dollar contract with the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this week after being released by the Chicago Bulls near the end of the season which nearly put his career into a vegetative state.
Other stories of Phoenix up-tempo salvation include Joe Johnson and current Knick Quentin Richardson in 2005 and Raja Bell, Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa, Eddie House in 2006. Knick guards Jalen Rose, Nate Robinson, Jamal Crawford, and Steve Francis are all able to play multiple postions, handle the ball competently, possess the quickness to take the ball inside, and shoot well from long range, as evidenced by their combined career three-point average of 36 percent. These traits make them ideal for the Phoenix system because they have experience at the PG spot and can get down the court on the fast break.
Also poaching one of Phoenix’s talented assistants such as Alvin Gentry or Dan D’Antoni (the coaches’ brother) who happened to be well schooled in the European style of basketball that Phoenix employs to help install the offense in Knickland wouldn’t hurt either, but at this point that’s more fantasy than reality.
A talented, mobile big man with a good midrange game can really make this offense go and 2005 Lottery pick Channing Frye is just the player to try and fill the role Amare Stoudemire plays within the Suns offense. Channing Frye does not possess the the sheer explosiveness of Amare Stoudemire, but he’s the Knicks most talented frontcourt player and has the potential to put up monster numbers in an up-tempo offense. David Lee, Malik Rose, Eddy Curry, and 2006 first-round draft picks Renaldo Balkman and Mardy Collins will provide grit, toughness, and energy for a bench that looks more promising than people realize.
Isiah Thomas has promised that with him as coach the Knicks will play at a faster tempo so the 2006-2007 season should be interesting even if the Knicks decide not to run the Phoenix offense. New NBA rules have freed up play on the perimeter which will be beneficial to the Knicks as well as playing in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division which only produced one winning team (the New Jersey Nets) in 2006. New Yorkers are quite possibly the most demanding, fickle, and insatiable fans on the planet and will accept nothing less than a winning team. For Isiah Thomas’s sake, he had better deliver it to them or risk never being able to show his face in New York again.