New York Knicks
Trying to replace Latrell Sprewell won't be a walk in the Garden
By Chris Ballard
Team Page | Conference ranking: 12 | Overall ranking: 24
Keith Van Horn knew the boos were coming. He just didn't know they'd come so soon. It took all of one shot -- a three-pointer that clanged off the front of the rim -- during his Oct. 11 Knicks debut at Madison Square Garden. Like an epidemic, the boos spread as the game went on and continued at the next preseason game. This is what happens when you falter while trying to replace Latrell Sprewell, the Garden favorite traded by New York for Van Horn in a six-player deal in July.
Knicks coach Don Chaney has pleaded for fans to "be fair" with Van Horn, explaining that the change in personnel won't make much of a difference defensively. "Keith's size can bother guys just as much as Latrell's quickness did," he says. As dubious as that comment is -- Sprewell is an excellent defender, Van Horn a liability -- a case can be made that the 6'10" Van Horn brings to the Knicks exactly what they lacked last season: length. He also lost 15 pounds over the summer and, at 240, can play small forward this year. "I'm lighter, quicker and more agile," says Van Horn, who spent five seasons in New Jersey and last season in Philadelphia. "I'll be able to run the break better and use my size to post up against mismatches."
Thus far, Van Horn's optimism has been an annual rite of fall. His tantalizing talent wins over coaches, each of whom thinks maybe he may be the one who can get Van Horn to play hard every night. When he does falter, the heckling comes quickly and mercilessly. And if Philadelphia was a rough environment for failure, New York is the epicenter of epithets. Still, Van Horn says he's ready for it. "As the season rolls on, I think the fans will see how hard I work, and they'll appreciate that."
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Knicks
"Signing Dikembe Mutombo will help, but because he can give them only about 20 minutes a game, all they can expect is a half dozen points and rebounds plus a blocked shot or two. At least Mutombo will ease the burden on their hardest-working player, Kurt Thomas, who won't be overmatched at center for those 20 minutes.... They'll miss Latrell Sprewell's intensity, but he was no longer making a big difference. The Knicks were fourth-worst last year in field goal percentage allowed, and they were near the bottom in steals and blocks.... Keith Van Horn will suffer if fans compare him to Sprewell, for whom he was essentially traded. If you start missing shots and the fans are booing, you have to block that out and keep shooting. Van Horn has a reputation for disappearing when things aren't going well.... You can pressure Charlie Ward because he's not going to get by you on his bad right knee. It might take longer to initiate the half-court offense when he's running the team.... I didn't understand their first-round pick, Mike Sweetney out of Georgetown. He's undersized and, like Clarence Weatherspoon, figures to have trouble against the big power forwards. On the other hand, Maciej Lampe of Poland was a great second-round pick. He's too young and thin to contribute right away, but he has a huge upside.... The big variable is going to be power forward Antonio McDyess, whose return from surgery to repair a fractured kneecap -- his third operation in two years -- has not been determined. After breaking that kneecap on a routine dunk last year, he's bound to have concerns about reinjuring himself. But if he's back to where he was two years ago and everybody else plays well, they're a .500 team fighting for the last playoff spot. Otherwise they will do well to match the 37 games they won last year."
Issue date: October 27, 2003