New York's season better than anyone expected
Posted: Saturday June 26, 1999 07:11 PM
NEW YORK (AP) -- They went from being Team Turmoil to a Team of Destiny to a team that finished second in the NBA Finals.
Now that it's over, the New York Knicks' season can be considered a success, even if it didn't end with the ultimate prize.
"Every time there was an obstacle in front of us, we knocked it down," forward Kurt Thomas said. "We made it to this point, we had a chance to win the championship, it didn't happen.
"We have a great team here, we just have to regroup, have a great offseason and come back next year and try again."
Now that it seems certain that Jeff Van Gundy will return as coach, the biggest offseason question for the Knicks will be what they will do about their point guard situation.
The playmaker spot has been a problem for three years, with Chris Childs too erratic and Charlie Ward too prone to making bad decisions offensively. New York picks 15th in Wednesday's draft, and one of the top five available point guards should still be available.
The offseason also will allow enough time for Patrick Ewing's torn Achilles' tendon to heal, along with various other injuries -- Larry Johnson's sprained knee, Chris Dudley's hyperextended elbow, Childs' sprained knee -- that hurt the Knicks in the final round against San Antonio.
Although nobody gave the Knicks much of a chance in the finals, the players believed in themselves and expected to win.
"Our team has been fighting all year, the ups and downs, and it was right there for us to win the championship," Ward said. "So we have to look at it as an experience and look forward to next year and understand what we need to do in order to be a championship team."
It was a topsy-turvy season of change and distraction for the Knicks.
Oakley was traded for Marcus Camby, a move that remained widely unpopular in New York until Camby began asserting himself in the playoffs against Atlanta and Indiana.
Starks was part of the deal that brought Sprewell to New York, and it turned into one of the better trades the Knicks have ever made.
Injecting the club with a dose of raw skill and superstar presence, Sprewell was accepted right away by the fans in New York despite his checkered past that included an attack on his former coach, P.J. Carlesimo.
"They've been very supportive of the organization and of myself, personally. And that's one of the reasons why I want to be here next year," Sprewell said.
The season of ups and downs hit a low point in mid-April when the team was 21-21 and in serious danger of missing the playoffs.
General manager Ernie Grunfeld, who pulled off the Camby and Sprewell trades, was demoted. Van Gundy was put on notice that his job wasn't safe, either, and team president Dave Checketts held a clandestine meeting with former Bulls coach Phil Jackson to gauge his interest in coaching the team.
The season began to look different a few days later when the Knicks, playing without Ewing, came back from a 20-point deficit in the second half to defeat the Heat at Miami Arena.
It was the turning point of the season.
The Knicks met up with that very same Miami team in the first round of the playoffs and won a thrilling Game 5 on a last-second shot by Allan Houston that bounced off the front of the rim and fell through.
Things looked bleak when Ewing went down after the second game, but the Knicks took Games 3, 5 and 6 to stun the Pacers and make it to the championship round.
"The Knicks were relentless, and it's scary to think what would have happened if they had a healthy Johnson and Ewing," the Spurs' Mario Elie said. "It probably would have been a different series."As it turned out, it was a season New York won't soon forget, and one the Knicks walk away from proud of themselves.
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