By Frank McLean
Not long ago the Knicks were in Toronto for the first of their two visits this season to the Air Canada Centre and Pro Bball Report had a chance to sit down with former Knicks player Walt “Clyde” Frasier who for the last 25 years has been either the team’s radio or television color commentator and talk about the moves Knicks president Phil Jackson has made and the team’s start to the season.
Jackson remade the Knicks roster in the summer with one specific goal in mind and that’s make the playoffs come hell or high water.
The first big move Jackson made was raiding the Chicago Bulls of two of their stars from the last few seasons, trading for guard Derrick Rose and signing as a free agent center Joakim Noah to take the offensive load off forward Carmelo Anthony and improve the overall team defense.
“It was a great coup by Phil Jackson to bring these guys in,” Frazier said. “No one saw it coming. Rose will really help us, last year we were last in hoops transition. He gives us that type of quickness.
“In Noah he’s like Tyson Chandler who we had a few years ago. He was a former defensive player of the year and he plays that game.”
Frazier also loved another free agent signing guard Courtney Lee.
“He can play without the ball and gives you lots of energy because you have to be able to defend yourself”.
Even with the changes Frazier says 13-year veteran Carmelo Anthony is still ‘the man’ on Broadway.
“Melo is still one of the most lethal guys in the league in isolation,” Frazier said. “He has provided more leadership this year and he has taken more responsibility trying to galvanize the team.”
The man who is expected to become ‘the man’ sooner or later and likely sooner with the Knicks is second year center Kristaps Porzingis.
Porzingis started off slow this season, but he is getting 30-minutes a night laying time and averaging close to 19-points a game. Frazier says he is on the “threshold of greatness.”
“He’s very precious,” Frazier said. “He came in a 20-year old, speaks fluent English. Says all the right things and wants to be good. His family is here, his older brother and his mother and he loves his mother’s cooking. He is going to be a force and going to be a superstar.”
“He’s not showtime,” Frazier added. “He is team oriented and a very conservative kid. When you talk to him he is aware of being on the biggest stage. It requires a lot of tenacity to play in the NBA.”
Since the loss in Toronto, Porzingis has averaged over 24 points per game, shot over 50 percent from the field, grabbed 8.8 rebounds, a steal and a block and has looked like a force on the court already. No waiting required.
One thing that Frazier is disappointed about is the play of the Knicks bench. Last year it was a strength and this year it’s a weakness.
Of course the biggest change Jackson made was behind the bench, where he fired Derek Fisher midway through last season. He then made assistant Kurt Rambis head man for the rest of the season, but decided to bring in former Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek to take over the club and hand Rambis the title of Associate Head Coach.
Frazier called Hornacek laid back, something that doesn’t usually work in the mega fishbowl that is New York City.
“He’s laidback,” Frazier said. “Now that can be a problem in New York. He is unflappable and he does not get excited, does not yell at the players. The guys respect him and they will perform for him because they respect him.”
The Knicks have gone three seasons without making the playoffs and going four years in a row will get a lot of people fired Frazier said. And it’s not just the owner of Madison Square Garden Jams Dolan who is getting impatient, so are the fans.
“The natives are getting restless,” Frazier said about the Knicks fans who have not had a championship team to cheer for since 1973.
When the Knicks left Toronto with a loss they were 3-6. Since then they are 5-1 improving to 8-7, beating the Mavs, Pistons, Hawks, Blazers and Hornets, so the ‘natives’ should be pretty happy.
However, there is still a lot of basketball left to be played. Many of the changes to this year’s roster are veterans who have been injured at one time or another and it will be interesting to see if these guys can stay healthy. But the real hope could be with Porzingis.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.
Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson