Will Curry-James Tandem Save N.Y. Knicks' Season?
By John J. Buro
It just might be the move that makes all the difference. The New York Knicks, 21-28, and 4½ games from the top of the Atlantic Division, have positioned themselves for a post All-Star break run.
Without adding or subtracting any players from New York's roster, and without increasing their already-bloated $140 million payroll, Isiah Thomas' creativity may actually salvage the Knicks' season and could, possibly, reward him with a contract extension.
By pairing Eddy Curry, an emerging star, with Jerome James, an oft-injured back-up center, Thomas has deduced that the team's interior defense will greatly improve.
"Now, there are two big bodies in the paint," Thomas warned. "Between them, they take up a lot of space. Remember, guys don't necessarily have to be high leapers to be effective."
Actually, James' presence does a lot more than change defensive schemes. Curry is not a prolific rebounder for a man of his size; although he averages seven per game, the 6'11", 285 center should be in double digits. Thomas' maneuver acknowledges this much. James' insertion, while designed to mask slight Curry's deficiency, gives New York greater size in their frontcourt. Oddly enough - given that James is not a scorer- the move also allows the Knicks to attack the offensive glass, as well.
"And, I've got Eddy's back on defense," James offered. "Maybe, that will help to keep him out of foul trouble."
Fortunately, James - who has already missed 10 games with plantar fascitis [sore right heel] didn't break down after playing better than fifteen minutes in New York's 94-86 road victory against the Orlando Magic on February 3. His health, which has been a major issue over the past two seasons, will determine just how much flexibility Thomas is allowed.
"The foot is okay," James beamed prior to a game against the Los Angeles Clippers. "I received some treatment and, hopefully, I can play more."
To create much-needed room for a man of 7'1", 300, Thomas yanked Channing Frye from the starting five. And, though the sophomore forward was not particularly pleased with the demotion, there is a method to Thomas' madness.
"Channing will give us another post presence," the coach said. "That is something we couldn't establish before, because there were too many injuries. Now, we'll have Eddy's presence on the first unit, and Channing's on the second - depending on how we match up."
No longer will the coach need to rely on Jamal Crawford as the primary scorer off the bench. As Crawford has proven on countless occasions, there will be ample opportunity to net 15-20 points an evening.
On Team Thomas, playing significant minutes is rarely predicated by who is on the floor for the opening tip-off. Of course, there is a lingering ulterior motive to consider. Frye, who has slumped a bit during his sophomore season, could be showcased to prove his value as a reserve.
To that extent, Thomas was asked if there were any players who could be deemed untouchable.
"They're all untouchable," he bristled. "What do you want me to say?"
Then, a slight backpedal.
"I'll look to see what's out there," Thomas commented. "But, I'm not looking to make any changes. We've talked about the playoffs from Day One. We're young enough, and good enough to be there."
With James in the mix, they just may be fearsome enough, too.