| ||Tuesday, October 26|
Last year: 27-23, fourth place in Atlantic (lost in NBA Finals to Spurs)
Coach: Jeff Van Gundy
Arena: Madison Square Garden (19,763)
Last NBA title: 1973
Record the last 5 years/NBA rank: 229-149 (8th)
By Kevin Kernan
It's official. The Knicks are no longer Patrick Ewing's team. This is a team that is on a Spree ride, guided by Latrell Sprewell, who resurrected his career and his image last season while taking the Knicks all the way to the NBA Finals.
That trip came up short, but Sprewell is intent on taking the Knicks to the championship this year by his own circuitous route. He made that clear when he decided to go on his own trip, kissing off training camp in Charleston, S.C., so he could take a leisurely drive cross-country following the pressures of his civil trial in California.
Sprewell completely blew off coach Jeff Van Gundy and new general manager Scott Layden by avoiding camp. He also reaffirmed his link to Knicks fans by saying those are the people he cares about most in Knickland. New York fined Sprewell a reported $130,000 for his actions, then shortly let it be known that he will be a starter this year and that the team definitely wants to sign him to a long-term deal. Meanwhile, according to sources throughout the league, the Knicks continued to shop Sprewell.
There are some in the organization who believe Sprewell's great talents are not worth the aggravation. But just as Van Gundy kissed up to Ewing all those years, he has begun to do the same with Sprewell, admitting there is a double standard for the superstar.
The bottom line is that Van Gundy is attempting to keep Sprewell happy any way he can because he knows the Knicks will live or die with him. The team's Cablevision owners also love Sprewell's game. They want a draw that fans will instantly recognize. With that in mind, they look at Sprewell more as an entertainer than a sports star -- love him or hate him, you will turn on the TV to watch him play. The Knicks had their highest ratings ever with Sprewell at the center of controversy last season.
"There is something captivating about Spree," says one high-ranking Cablevision executive. "You always want to see what he will do next, on and off the court. Will he listen to the coach? Will he go his own way? And he has a presence on TV with his look that is so unique. He's really great theater in every way."
Not to mention a pretty good player, too.
As usual, the Knicks' biggest opponent will be themselves. This is a team that has a hard time getting up for games. Complacency is their code word. During their terrible exhibition season, Van Gundy addressed those problems, saying that the proper mindset is the key to the Knicks' season.
"If you come back off a year like we had last year, you're either urgent or complacent," Van Gundy said during training camp. "And we're definitely complacent."
Between now and the postseason, they will find urgency.
Chris Childs is an excellent defender and a spotty shooter. During the regular season he was the Knicks' most consistent player. Still, the Spurs abused both Ward and Childs throughout the Finals, and it was a wide-open Avery Johnson who hit the big shot in the final game. Until these two reach a new level, New York won't win a championship.
Houston is the sweetest shooter in the game, while Sprewell finds a way to score no matter who gets in his way. Both should greatly benefit by the NBA's new rules. Sprewell is the most dangerous player on the break in the league. He truly is unstoppable. The only chink in Houston's armor is that he sometimes stands back when both Ewing and Sprewell are on the floor. When Houston becomes a tad more assertive, he will finally be the player the Knicks hoped for when he was lured away from Detroit as a free agent.
The Knicks have plenty of depth at this spot. Besides Johnson, who is one of the best backup small forwards in the league, they have added two scorers in Mirsad Turkcan and John Wallace, who returns following his exodus to Toronto. But Wallace must step it up on the defensive end to get his minutes.
There is also Kurt Thomas, a more conventional power forward, who was taken off Dallas' scrap heap by former general manager Ernie Grunfeld. Thomas has to improve his conditioning from a year ago. Throw in backup small forwards Turkcan and Wallace and add an occasional Chris Dudley to the mix, and that is your montage at power forward.
Dudley is also coming off arthroscopic knee surgery, so the Knicks added Andrew Lang as insurance. Camby will see minutes here, too. When and if Ewing returns from his Achilles woes, he may be a bit more humble and more team oriented. If he concentrates on rebounding and hitting the open shot when it's available, the Knicks will flourish. If he reverts back to his selfish ways, there will be all-out war between Ewing and Sprewell.
Visit their web site at http://www.basketballnews.com