2007-04-20 / Sports

Goodbye, Farewell, Amen To New York Knicks Campaign

By John J. Buro

By John J. Buro

The cynics will argue that the New York Knicks, with a sub-.500 mark, should not have mattered in April, 2006. They have said -both on and off the record- that the organization has lowered its standards. New York, we are reminded, is no longer the once-proud franchise that beat the Los Angeles Lakers for the championship in both 1970 and 1973; in fact, they haven't been for years.

The skeptics tell us, too, that the Knicks are nothing more than a shell of a team that had, for a decade, battled the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers or Miami Heat each spring in quest of the Eastern Conference title. To take their notion one step forward, consider that it has three seasons since New York's last playoff appearance, and six since their last postseason victory.

At this writing, the Knicks have won 32 of 81 games. As they play out the string, one more defeat will assure back-to-back 50-loss seasons; they have already clinched their third consecutive 49-loss campaign. It has been more than twenty years, when Hubie Brown and Bob Hill were on the bench, since New York was this futile.

Yet, for the Knicks to ever improve from the hell which last season's 23-59 record had put them, baby steps were required. By February 20, and Game No. 54, New York had already achieved its 24th win; while the 100-94 win against the Orlando Magic enabled them to surpass their 2005-06 total, it was more significant that they were still in the playoff chase.

"If we're still playing meaningful games in April," said Isiah Thomas on more than one occasion this season, "that will be a good thing."

Even after all the injuries - collectively, the triumvirate of Jamal Crawford, David Lee, and Quentin Richardson missed a whopping 60 games from February 25-, the Knicks still had the opportunity to play such games.

However, after a rousing 92-74 victory against the Toronto Raptors on March 18 had pushed their record to 30-36, New York endured three losing streaks of at least four games or more in the final month. Still, they were mathematically alive until the second half of their April 13 contest against the New Jersey Nets, when a 40-21 third quarter blitz officially ended any, and all, hope.

In the aftermath, a lot can be said for the Knicks' resolve. Thus far, they have been involved in 51 games [22-29] that were decided by ten points or fewer. Most likely, a run here or there proved to be the difference.

So, had New York done the right things -grab a rebound, make a free throw- when it counted most, it is quite possible that a playoff slot would have awaited them. Had they not lost 29 of 46 games against sub-.500 teams, their chances would, certainly, have been greater. But, could've, should've, and would've do not have much relevance here, if only because each of the other 29 teams are analyzed, a case can be made for the majority of them. That is what parity has created. There are a handful of elite teams, and as many miserable teams, and the inevitable logjam in the middle. "I believe that, as a team, we have turned the corner," Stephon Marbury related to The New York Post earlier this week. "Going forward, there is growth on this team." This is completely accurate. Except that, there are several variables to examine.

To assess this team, based solely on the players who comprised the final roster, it is important to begin with their health. Marbury and Steve Francis, who were the hot conversation entering the season, are both plagued by tendonitis; in addition, Marbury has turf toe. Each man is 30 years old, and beat-up. Crawford [stress fracture in the right ankle], Lee [sore right leg, which evolved from a sprained right ankle] and Richardson [back surgery] will need the summer to fully recuperate. The Eddy Curry deal, now two years old, has given the Bulls a golden opportunity - via the draft- to build for the future. In turn, Curry -who has already established career highs in scoring average [19.2] and minutes played [2,767]- has become the Knicks' future. After the Sunday afternoon triumph against the Raptors, Thomas let it be known how much he wants Curry in the post.

"I'm not a drug addict, but he's my No. 1 drug," he revealed to a startled group of reporters. The money aspect [buyouts/free agents] cannot be immediately foreseen, and must be eliminated from this equation. But, not before an eyebrow or two is raised - as each of the last two seasons [Jerome James in 2006, Jared Jefferies in 2007] has produced a somewhat-regrettable signing.

Thomas, the President of Basketball Operations, has apparently vindicated himself through the draft. The last five First Round picks he has selected [Channing Frye and Lee in 2006, and Renaldo Balkman and Mardy Collins in 2007] have performed well. But, whether Thomas uses any of them as bargaining chips to secure a big name free agent remains to be seen.

Though the stretch run concluded on a sour note, it did offer enough positive proof [namely, winning back the fans after starting 4-10 at Madison Square Garden] that New York is to be taken seriously next fall.

And, almost as certain, the cynics will be there, with venom in their pen.

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