by Frank McLean
If you remember draft night at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn back in June the arena was full of New York Knicks fans waiting to see what Phil Jackson was going to pull out of his hat for their first round draft pick. Instead of taking one of the many top stars from the NCAA they announced their choice was a slender 7 foot 3 inch center from Latvia named Kristaps Porzingis.
The reaction was a hail of boos raining down on the arena floor. My favorite image of the ESPN broadcast was that of a kid maybe 10 years old with his father booing and giving the thumbs down. Well Porzingis has not only made the Knicks, he will be their starting center on opening night.
Joining Porzingis in the starting lineup will be free agent signings Robin Lopez and Aaron Afflalo, along with former Toronto Raptor Jose Calderon and the oft injured Carmelo Anthony.
The gamble with Porzingis is that while he is 7 foot 3 his slender build gives questions as to whether he can stand the nightly beatings a center takes in the NBA. He will be playing with grown men and he has never played an 82 game schedule with numerous back to back games or 4 games in 5 nights. Usually a young player can be expected to hit a wall sometime after Christmas.
However, head coach Derek Fisher thinks this group of five can give the Knicks some much needed scoring.
“The size, the strength, length up front, they can score. They are a veteran group except for Porzingis”.
Of course any success the Knicks are going to have this year depends on Carmelo Anthony and it was believed that Anthony was livid that Jackson went with Porzingis. The Knicks PR department sending out tweets trying to squash any rumor of dissent from the Anthony camp. However, that’s not the real worry, the worry is if the 31-year-old Anthony can hold up after suffering a torn patella in his left knee last year.
Anthony needs to be healthy and be the Knicks leading scorer on a nightly basis to give them any chance on improving on last year’s 17-65 record. The Knicks are also hoping they can get more scoring from ex Raptors guard Jose Calderon.
Calderon is one of the more unselfish players that you will find. He would rather set up a teammate than shoot ball himself, but Calderon has a career success rate of 41.2 per cent from behind the 3 point arc. So, Fisher wants the Spaniard to be more selfish and hit more of those shots, especially if Anthony’s knee can’t hack the schedule and his minutes have to be limited. They will need scoring from everyone on the floor.
Yes a 17-65 record. That did not go over well with the Knicks faithful. Basketball is the number one game in New York City, the same way hockey and the Maple Leafs are in Toronto. The Knicks fan base is just as fed up with their lack of success as are the hockey fans north of the border.
The Knicks championship drought is not as long as the Maple Leafs, but its close, 1973 was the last time a Knicks championship banner was raised in Madison Square Garden. And during the preseason the fans lack of patience started to show as the Knicks failed to sellout any of their home preseason games. That ended a string of 201 straight sellouts at the Garden.
So now the pressure is on team president Phil Jackson. If this Knicks team does not improve or make the playoffs there is a good chance Jackson, Fisher and their legendary triangle offense will be kicked out of Gotham by Garden owner James Dolan.
The Knicks faith is being put on a very young kid from Latvia to help turn things around, but he is going to need help. Time will tell if that is going to happen.
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.