Knicks Fix

  • Sunday, July 29, 2012

    Knicks Roster Taking Shape

    Amar'e Stoudemire finds it amazing that he is now the most tenured current Knick on the roster. What might be even more amazing is that Carmelo Anthony is right behind him with the second-longest consecutive service as a Knickerbocker.

    And as the dust now settles after the latest roster overhaul, the team that will start the 2012-13 season is now in place. The last four years have seen perpetual change and this year the team returns just six players, with Amar'e and Melo as the centerpieces, but there are several other familiar faces, too, as Raymond FeltonMarcus Camby and Kurt Thomas are back for a second stint in New York.

    The signing of Ronnie Brewer, which was announced last week, all but completed a roster that is now at 14 players, with 13 on guaranteed contracts. The 14th, forward Chris Copeland, is on a one-year non-guaranteed deal. The 15th (and final) spot may go to one more veteran to improve the depth of the frontcourt, with names such as Lou Amundson, Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen, Josh Howard, Yi Jianlian and Shawne Williams (among many others) still looking for a home. The team may go in another direction, however, and use that 15th spot for D-League call-ups, with the likes of Wesley Witherspoon, D.J. Kennedy and Artie Parakhouski catching the eyes of scouts during the NBA Summer League. Those players could wind up with the Knicks' D-League affiliate in Erie and come up when or if needed.

    Having an open roster spot allows for some flexibility. For those wondering, the NBA allows a maximum of 15 players on the roster and the active roster per game has been raised to 13. D-League players can only be called-up when there is a roster spot available.

    As things stand right now, the potential starting lineup would be Felton and Brewer in the backcourt, with Melo, Amar'e and Tyson Chandler in the frontcourt. The first four off the bench in a nine-man rotation would likely be Jason KiddJ.R. SmithSteve Novak and Camby. This is also not including injured Iman Shumpert, who is not likely to return from injury until January, while Argentine point guard Pablo Prigioni also figures to get backcourt burn.

    What Mike Woodson has to work with here is a versatile group of 10 (including Shumpert) that is unquestionably tougher than last year's group. The additions of Felton and Brewer alone prove that, along with the experience that Kidd and Camby bring. This is a team built in a defensive-minded mold and it will be interesting to see how quickly that kind of personality can be developed and how quickly that kind of reputation can be earned. Remember, for most of the last four years, the Knicks have been regularly labeled -- and unfairly last season -- as a bad defensive team.

    "A lot of people want to play defense," Brewer said in an interview with WFAN last week, "but some people just don't have the ability to do it."

    Brewer, for one, gives Woodson options late in games when the team needs to get stops to protect a lead. For instance, if Stoudemire is struggling, Brewer can slide down play the wing and Woodson can move Anthony to the power forward spot, where we've seen him thrive before (especially in the international game) and where he is actually a better defender and rebounder. Brewer's presence also allows Woodson to keep Carmelo from having to exclusively guard the likes of LeBron James and Paul Pierce. If you've paid close attention, those players rarely spend the entire game checking Melo, but because of the lack of man power, Melo has almost always had to check them.

    James White, who signed a one-year deal and played in three summer league games just to get himself acclimated with Woodson's system, also hopes to figure into the wing rotation. White will be an interesting player to watch in training camp as part of the second unit while Shumpert is out. There is some thought that Smith could be the starter at the shooting guard spot over Brewer, but Smith's offense may be better suited off the bench, especially with the chemisty he and Steve Novak developed as key reserves last season. Smith also made it clear he would be happy to play wherever Kidd is playing, which is an indication he would remain open to staying in a reserve role.

    In the backcourt, Kidd can still play some point but also has transformed his game later in his career to slide over to the off-guard position as a three-point threat and playmaker, which would make room for Prigioni, who is a self-described pass-first point guard.

    "That's how I think as a point guard," Prigioni told the New York Post. "I don't want to score 30 points. I want to play for my teammates."

    More on Prigioni later, but this depth and experience in the backcourt also allows Shumpert to take the necessary time to make a full comeback from his knee injury and avoid the pressure of rushing his return because of a hole in the lineup. Backcourt depth (mainly because of health) was a major Achilles Heel for the Knicks last season.

    Shumpert, 22, for now, remains the youngest player on the roster but at least Woodson can't call him 'Rook' anymore. It will be interesting to see if Woody takes to using the term of endearment for Prigioni, who, at 35, will be the NBA's oldest rookie. But he won't be one of the Knicks' oldest players. In fact, there will be three players -- Kidd, Camby and Kurt Thomas -- older than Prigioni.

    Overall the Knicks will be one of the NBA's oldest teams. The 14-man roster will open training camp with an average age of 30.4 years of age. The projected starting five, however, has an average age of 28.2 and the projected 10-man rotation, including Shumpert, will be 29.5 years.

    NOT ABOUT THE MONEY

    If the Heat and Celtics have proved anything over the last few seasons, its that attracting key players at a discount are extremely important to the success of superteams. Brewer is one player who turned down more lucrative offers to take a one-year flier to play for the Knicks at the veterans minimum. Brewer, 27, is a well-respected defensive player who brings similar intangibles that the departed Landry Fields brought (and is similarly a mediocre perimeter shooter) and there's no question there will be a logjam for minutes once Shumpert returns. But this was a good gamble for Brewer, who became a free agent when the Bulls declined to pick up a $4.37 million team option on his contract, could get himself a good payday next summer if he has a strong season in New York.

    "It didn't come down to money," Brewer said in the WFAN interview. "It's where you want to go and where you feel comfortable."

    Prigioni will be one of the lowest paid players on the team at the rookie minimum of $473,000. Prigioni, who has been a highly-paid star in Europe for most of his career, came to the Knicks after a few years of flirting with the idea of testing his skills at the NBA level.

    "It's more important to me the people of New York showed me they wanted me to go and play and really feel I can help the team," Prigioni said in a New York Post story.

    Prigioni said the Knicks have been recruiting him for the last four years and the opportunity came this year when he became a free agent. Manu Ginobili, who has been Prigioni's backcourt mate for years with the Argentine national team, said he encouraged the move.

    "I've talked to him a lot about not letting opportunities get away," Ginobili told reporters in London. "Then you're 45, retired and may think, 'What if?'"

    SEASON'S GREETINGS

    The NBA didn't listen to our suggestion that the 2012-13 season should open with the Knicks and Nets, but the league did decide to begin the New York basketball season that way. After the league opens on Oct. 30 with the traditional championship ring ceremony -- and Ray Allen in a Heat uniform, wow -- with Celtics-Heat, the Knicks begin two nights later in the Nets' new arena in Brooklyn. It should be a wild and fun night and possibly the start of a long-awaited true rivalry between the neighboring franchises.

    It does seem the NBA wants to get the sparks flying early, as the Knicks and Nets will meet three times within the first six weeks of the season. They will also be a featured matchup on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

    Though it will be the usual 41 home games and 41 road games and certainly a welcome return to normalcy after last season's lockout-shortened 66-game madness, this is going to be a challenging schedule for a team looking to end a 40-year championship drought. The season opens in Brooklyn and the very next night the Madison Square Garden opener will have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the defending champion Heat on the marquee. Nothing like hitting the ground running.

    In fact, the first 10 games of the season are a grind, with a home-and-home, back-to-back against the Philadelphia 76ers and road games at San Antonio and Memphis in the stretch. November brings nine of 15 games on the road.

    As usual, the Knicks will be a regular feature on every holiday throughout the winter, but for the first time in years they will not host a Christmas Day game. Instead, the Knicks will be in Los Angeles to play the Lakers as the showcase game on ABC. They will host the Trail Blazers on New Year's Day (in the evening) and after hosting the Nets for MLK Day, the Knicks will be back in Los Angeles to play the Clippers on St. Patrick's Day and then host the Celtics on Easter Sunday.

    The Knicks are also expected to be featured in an NBA Europe game on Jan. 17, when Melo, Tyson and Prigioni will return to London to play a regular season game against the Detroit Pistons. The league has yet to officially announce this, but several reports have indicated this to be the plan.

    The Knicks will also be among the most nationally-televised teams and all of us as MSG Network will be there every step of the way, as well. After the opener in Brooklyn is on TNT, we open the season with the Heat game on Nov. 2. Yes, that is also the return of Friday Night Knicks, the Emmy Award-winning production that features Robert Randolph and the Family Band's theme music. The Knicks have 15 Friday Night Knicks dates this season and for those concerned about the team's recent struggles on Friday night and connecting them to the award-winning theme, Randolph tweeted to the fellas at the great fan blog, Posting & Toasting, "OK, I'll write a new song!"

    Gonna go out on a limb here and say those losses had nothing to do with the song. But if RR wants to build on his Emmy success, we're all for it.

    Jeremy Lin was one player who was immune to the Friday Night struggles, as his signature game -- 38 points against the Lakers -- came on a Friday Night Knicks broadcast. And Lin will be back on Friday Night Knicks on Nov. 23, when he and the Rockets host the Knicks in Houston. Lin then makes his one and only appearance at the Garden on Dec. 17 (a Monday, for the record), when he comes in with the Rockets.

    OLYMPIC UPDATE

    The London Games opened over the weekend and USA Basketball began pool play on Sunday with a 98-71 win over France. Melo had nine points and nine rebounds in 17 minutes and struggled with his shooting at 3 for 10 from the field. His field goal attempts were the second-highest on the team behind Kevin Durant, who led the U.S. with 22 points on 6 of 13 shooting. Chandler had eight points, nine rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot in a very effective and efficient 11 minutes against former Knick Ronny Turiaf. Melo and Tyson joined Durant as the leading rebounders for the U.S.

    Chandler, the only true center on the team, has struggled with foul trouble, but this time it was Melo who had three early fouls. The NBA stars are still adjusting to international officiating.

    "There were some calls where we looked up and were like, 'What are we doing wrong?'," Anthony told reporters in London.

    France took advantage of early fouls by the U.S. to keep it close through the first quarter, but by the second half the game turned into a rout.

    "They got us to foul them a lot," Anthony said. "In the second half, once we figure it out, really settled down on the defensive end, our defense really took off."

    Good to hear Melo not only talk about defense as a primary focus, but manage to play so effectively in a team concept despite a poor shooting night. How this carries over into the season will be something to watch once October arrives.

    For now, the next game for Melo, Tyson and the Americans is Tuesday against Tunisia.

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