Benjy Asher ’10: The waiting: Knicks gave up too soon

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

By the summer of 2010, I will have graduated from Brown University. Naturally, that time seems a long way off to me. So last week, I was understandably surprised to hear that the New York Knicks, who were off to a decent start with a 6-5 record, had traded their two leading scorers, Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford, in order to make room under the salary cap in preparation for the 2010 offseason.

The end of the 2009-10 season will mark a highly anticipated moment in the basketball world, when a group of superstars, including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, will become unrestricted free agents. Obviously, the thought of LeBron or D-Wade in a Knicks uniform is enough to make New Yorkers salivate, but the idea of sacrificing two seasons seems a bit excessive.

For starters, it’s not even close to a guarantee that the Knicks will land one of the top-caliber free agents in 2010. James, a native son of Ohio, may very well opt to stay in Cleveland, and even if he doesn’t, the whole crop of big-name free agents will have plenty of other suitors. Knicks fans should remember the recent agony of being teased with promises of Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant.

Also, the Knicks are a team on the rise. After seven consecutive seasons without posting a winning regular-season record or winning a playoff game, new Head Coach Mike D’Antoni appears to have breathed new life into the team. He began by benching Stephon Marbury for detrimental behavior and Eddy Curry for reporting to training camp out of shape. The first 11 games of D’Antoni’s tenure saw Randolph playing some of the best basketball of his career, with averages of 20.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game, up from 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds last season. Crawford also looked great through the first 11 games, averaging 19.6 points while setting career highs in field goal and three-point percentage. And with a supporting cast of team players like point guard Chris Duhon and power forward David Lee, and up-and-coming talents like Wilson Chandler and Nate Robinson in the backcourt, the Knicks were looking like a force to be reckoned with.

But then, Team President Donnie Walsh decided to unload his team’s two best players, in the interest of “long-term flexibility” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constituion. Walsh assured fans that the newly acquired Knicks – Tim Thomas, Cuttino Mobley and Al Harrington – would help the team “work towards their goal of remaining competitive this season” according to ESPN. And so far, the new Knicks have shown flashes of excellence, including a 36-point outburst from Harrington in last Saturday’s win over Golden State, Harrington’s former team.

So why should Knicks fans be upset? Rather than giving his new-and-improved team a chance to show what it was capable of, Walsh opted to defer any real aspirations for another two years. After New York has been through years of listening to Isiah Thomas use words like “improvement” and “development” to justify failure, Walsh has just condemned those same fans to another two years of rebuilding while the Knicks wait for their messiah, be it James, Wade, Bosh or another superstar. “Remaining competitive” is such a loosely interpretable phrase that it has the potential to exempt Walsh, D’Antoni and the Knicks from any accountability over these next two seasons, regardless of the outcome.

That point was driven home last Tuesday, with LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers in town. Knicks fans cheered their potential future Knick, but those cheers soon turned into boos as they witnessed a heartless, lackluster performance from the present Knicks in an 18-point win for the Cavs.

One of Shaquille O’Neal’s most intelligent moments came right before the beginning of the 2004-05 season.

Shaq, newly acquired by the Miami Heat, proclaimed, “This is Dwyane Wade’s team.” Coming from O’Neal, at that point already an 11-time all-star, three-time NBA champion and three-time Finals MVP, it seemed a bit ridiculous to put the team in the hands of Wade, who was fresh off his rookie season. But that proclamation from Shaq instilled a mindset in the Heat that the team had acquired Shaq, rather than Shaq acquiring the team, and two seasons later, the Heat were champions.

So even if the Knicks are able to sign a player the stature of LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, it’s going to be hard to build team chemistry.

When the supporting cast has just been through two years of waiting for their savior to arrive, it will be difficult to give those role players a sense of importance and responsibility for the success of their team.

The Knicks can go ahead and roll out the red carpet for LeBron James, but fans shouldn’t be surprised if there’s still no victory parade in the near future.

Benjy Asher ’10 thinks Sarah Palin has a better chance at the WNBA than the presidency.

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