New York Knicks 2004-05 Season Preview
=== New York Knicks 2004-05 Season Preview ===
By Chris Ruddick, Contributing NBA Writer
2003-04 FINISH: 39-43
OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Jamal Crawford (G) - Trade with Chicago; Jerome Williams (F) - Trade with Chicago.
OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Dikembe Mutombo (C) - Traded to Chicago; Cezary Trybanski (C) - Traded to Chicago ; Othella Harrington (F) - Traded to Chicago; Frank Williams (G) - Traded to Chicago.
2004 DRAFT PICKS: 2. (43) Trevor Ariza (F, UCLA).
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Stephon Marbury, SG Jamal Crawford, SF Tim Thomas, PF Kurt Thomas, C Nazr Mohammed
COACH: Lenny Wilkens
(Sports Network) - There is plenty of optimism surrounding the 2004-05 New York Knicks, as they enter the campaign as the favorites to win a relatively weak Atlantic Division.
If Isiah Thomas has done anything since unseating Scott Layden as president of basketball operations in January, it is that he as at least made them interesting once again. Only four players remain on the 15-man roster he inherited. In addition he fired head coach Don Chaney in favor of Lenny Wilkens.
His most important move, though, was the acquisition of point guard Stephon Marbury, a New York playground legend out of Brooklyn. Marbury was acquired from Phoenix, along with shooting guard Anfernee Hardaway and center Cezary Trybanski in exchange for forwards Antonio McDyess and Maciej Lampe, guards Charlie Ward and Howard Eisley, the draft rights to former second- round pick Milos Vujanic, an unconditional first- round draft choice, a conditional future first-round draft pick and an undisclosed amount of cash.
Marbury's arrival helped the Knicks recover from a 10-19 start to finish the year 39-43 - good enough for the seventh-seed in the Eastern Conference. However, their first trip back to the postseason after a two-year absence was brief, as the Knicks were swept in the opening round by the New Jersey Nets.
Never one to stand pat, Thomas again tinkered with the roster in the summer, as he traded for Chicago guard Jamal Crawford, who is another scoring option and provides insurance for Allan Houston's aching knees. Also acquired in the Crawford deal was forward Jerome Williams, who will help the Knicks undersized front court.
"Our goal is to win the NBA Championship, and we think the additions of Jamal and Jerome will be important pieces of that puzzle," Knicks president of basketball operations Isiah Thomas said. "Both players have the winning mentality to succeed as Knick players."
Marbury, though, is the key ingredient and the new face of the franchise. However, the only problem is that he has yet to prove he can carry a team far into the postseason. No matter who Thomas surrounds Marbury with, his most important job might be to pass on the leadership skills that made him a Hall of Fame guard.
Thomas is always looking for another deal and if things don't get started the way he likes, Wilkens might be on the unemployment line.
There are not too many backcourts in the East, or the entire league for that matter, that boast as deep a unit as the Knicks.
Marbury is the leader and last year ranked 15th in the league in scoring (20. 2) and second in assists (8.2). In addition to his unbelievable court vision and passing ability, Marbury can take a game over by himself from a scoring standpoint.
However, sometimes he tends to do too much and loses faith in his teammates late in games, which usually leads to some ill-advised shots.
One of the main reasons Marbury tried to shoulder the load was the injuries to Houston, who missed most of the last month of the regular season and all of the postseason with chronic knee pain. When he is in the lineup though, Houston is one of the best shooters in the league and will likely soar with Marbury as a running mate.
Last year, in 50 games the 6-foot-6 Houston scored 18.5 points-per-game. Houston, though, has continued to be plagued by knee pain and will likely come off the bench in favor of Crawford once the season starts.
Crawford, acquired in early August from Chicago for forward Othella Harrington, guard Frank Williams and centers Dikembe Mutombo and Trybanski, has improved his scoring, rebounding and assist averages in each season.
The four-year NBA veteran led the Bulls in scoring last season at 17.3 ppg, while handing out 5.1 apg.
"Jamal has the ability to play both guard positions, and adds an additional scoring punch," Thomas said.
Moochie Norris and Hardaway will also see some time in the backcourt. While Norris was a non-factor last season, Hardaway was a solid player off the bench for the Knicks after the trade and should fill the same role this year. Shandon Anderson, provided he is on the team, will also be used.
One move that Thomas took some heat for last season was the deal that sent Keith Van Horn to Milwaukee for Tim Thomas. Isiah wanted to make the team more athletic, but Van Horn was thriving with Marbury at the time of the deal.
Tim Thomas has been labeled as an underachiever for the better part of his career, but definitely fits Isiah's uptempo style. In 24 games with the Knicks, Thomas averaged 15.8 ppg and 4.8 rpg. However he injured his back in the first game of the playoffs and the team was never able to recover from an offensive standpoint.
The power forward spot could be an interesting area for the Knicks this year. Incumbent Kurt Thomas remains the team's most consistent player day-in/day- out, but his starting position is being challenged by second year man Michael Sweetney - the team's top selection a year ago.
Thomas, who is probably better suited to come off the bench, led the team in rebounding last year (8.3) despite playing most of the season with a crooked right pinkie that required offseason surgery. His scoring dipped to 11.1 ppg, but does every little thing that does not show up in the box score. He also has to endure numerous trade rumors.
Sweetney, though, has been the star of camp and maybe his time has arrived. Playing just 42 games last season, the 6-foot-8 Georgetown product provided a spark off the bench. He is a relentless offensive rebounder and has a knack for getting shots around the basket.
He came into camp in terrific shape and improved on his mid-range jumper and now seems poised to unseat Thomas as the team's starter. It is not a matter of if he will start, but it is only a matter of when.
In the middle will be another one of Isiah Thomas' mid-season acquisitions, Nazr Mohammed, who was acquired from Atlanta as part of the three-team.Van Horn blockbuster. Mohammed quickly replaced the ageless Mutombo as the team's center and shot a team-best 56.3-percent from the floor. He also delivered 9.1 ppg and pulled down 7.7 rpg.
At 6-foot-10, 250-pounds Mohammed is still mobile around the basket, but is also easily overpowered on defense. He is not a major shot blocker and at times seems confused on the defensive end of the court.
The addition of Williams should help the team around the basket. He is a ferocious rebounder and a tremendous asset on defense. Williams also played with Wilkens in Toronto.
Vin Baker was picked up off the scrap heap late last year and became an inside post presence the Knicks lacked. Hopefully his substance abuse problems are behind him, because he will play valuable minutes at the backup center position.
New York's only draft pick Trevor Ariza is considered a long-term product, but was impressive in the team's summer league and has showed enough in camp that he could be used in a limited role.
The Knicks are not about to join the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, but they will be there come playoff time, no doubt about it. Provided that Houston is healthy, this team should win at least 45 games. Marbury has said all his life that all he ever wanted was to play for the Knicks, now is his chance to shine. Crawford will help and Sweetney could become a force in the frontcourt. However, if things get off to a shaky start everyone on the roster, with the possible exception of Marbury, will be available.NYK