NBA Preview 99
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 Tuesday, October 26
New York Knicks
Clubhouse/schedule | Stats: Preseason / 1999 | Roster
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)

Pos Player Key Stat Skinny
PG Charlie Ward 5.4 APG Should be a backup, but Childs no better
SG Allan Houston 16.3 PPG Would average 22 points on a West team
SF Latrell Sprewell 16.4 PPG Carried team to the finals last year
PF Marcus Camby 5.5 RPG Maybe LJ starts, but Camby's the future
C Andrew Lang 3.8 PPG Holds down fort until Ewing, Dudley return
SF Larry Johnson .459 FG % He's no Grandmama, but could help
SF John Wallace 3.6 RPG Scorer needs more boards to play the 4
PG Chris Childs 6.8 PPG Nets still get a kick out of this signing

One big question is whether or not Latrell Sprewell will be there. But the bigger question is the health of Patrick Ewing. That has to be the top concern. The Knicks played well in the NBA Finals without him and were able to come together over a short period of time. But over the long NBA marathon, they need Ewing back in uniform. With him back, the Knicks could still flounder throughout the year, but they know what it takes to win. They are a team to be reckoned with, especially down the stretch going into the playoffs. They are still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference because they went to the finals last year.
Get to know them
Key newcomer: John Wallace
Will be missed: None
The Star: Latrell Sprewell
Underrated: Kurt Thomas
Rising: Wallace
Falling: Larry Johnson
If things go well: Another playoff run
If things don't: Where's Grunfeld?

By Kevin Kernan
Basketball News

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.

Player to watch

Patrick Ewing

Anyone who thinks the Knicks went to the Finals because Patrick Ewing was hurt is nuts. Ewing remains the glue on this team, and the Knicks will do much better if he returns, as expected, in January and is still fresh for the playoffs. Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston also have to play together for a full season, but Ewing's presence and contribution should smooth everything over.

Point guard
The good news is that each season Charlie Ward has worked hard to get better. The bad news is that all that work has made him mediocre, at best. Ward's best move is sneaking up on an opponent from behind after that opponent has just stolen the ball from him. But Ward is the toughest Knick. He will give up his body for his team and did that last year, playing through significant knee and shoulder woes.

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.

Shooting guard
As bad as Ward and Childs are, Allan Houston and Sprewell are twice as good. Van Gundy must not be so stubborn this season and must use the two in the backcourt at the same time, like Earl Monroe and Walt Frazier.

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.

Small forward
Sprewell will most likely start at this position, considering Larry Johnson, who is in perpetual breakdown mode, is now having foot problems. Sprewell will get hurt at forward in the rebounding department, but he strikes fear in the heart of defenders because no small forward in the league can keep up with him. Yes, he will give up much to some 3s, like Kevin Garnett, but Van Gundy has the flexibility in his lineup with Marcus Camby to make up for Sprewell's defensive shortcomings.

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.

Power forward
For a decade the Knicks had the muscular power forward in Charles Oakley that epitomized the position. With the changing face of the game, they now have many changing faces at power forward. It's not really fair to call this position power forward anymore-it's more sleek than power. Camby is unique, and Van Gundy had better start looking at what Camby can do instead of what he can't do. Camby carried the Knicks past Indiana, a team he did not play much against in the regular season because he was in Van Gundy's doghouse. Camby's shot-blocking abilities will protect teammates when they are beaten off the dribble, and that is priceless.

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.

Since there are only a handful of decent centers in the league, Ewing remains a most important ingredient. The basketball gods reached down last season and touched Ewing in the Achilles, slowing him down just enough to make him a more effective team player. Because of the injury, Ewing wasn't hogging the ball down the stretch for once, and the Knicks made it to the Finals. Ewing missed most of the Eastern Conference finals with the injury and still may not be able to return until January at the earliest.

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.

Van Gundy is terrific at three things: preparing his team for a game, manipulating the media with his "poor, poor, pitiful me" approach and getting his team's best player to believe in him. Ewing was putty in his hands. Sprewell will be much more difficult to control, but Van Gundy now has the security of a long-term contract. Considering the weak competition in the East, Van Gundy shouldn't have a problem keeping the Knicks near the top of the conference standings.

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