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WHEN KNICKS president Donnie Walsh assumed control of the organization last spring, sweeping changes were on the way. He let free agents Fred Jones and Randolph Morris walk. He traded Renaldo Balkman to Denver for two players who were immediately cut. Then ... that was it? "You can't force a trade," says Walsh. "Sometimes the right deals just aren't there."
Thus, the onus of improving the old team falls on the new coach. "I've bought Mike D'Antoni," says Walsh. "I'm convinced about him." Can the run-and-gun system that transformed the Suns breathe life into New York? "We're going to be doing the same things here we did in Phoenix," says D'Antoni. "We're going to push the ball and try to get easy baskets."
D'Antoni may want to run, but he's short on guys who can successfully gun. Twelve of the 15 players from a 23-win team that averaged 96.9 points are still on the roster. And the prominent new faces—free-agent guard Chris Duhon and 6'10" rookie Danilo Gallinari, the No. 6 pick, out of Italy—don't exactly have fans setting aside money for playoff tickets.
Ironically, the Knick who may be the best fit in the new system is the one whom Walsh would most like to unload. Point guard Stephon Marbury played 34 games for D'Antoni's Suns in 2003--04, averaging 20.8 points and 8.3 assists, but his me-first attitude and $21.9 million salary are a hindrance to a franchise trying to rebuild. "I'm not tied to anybody," says D'Antoni. "I'm here to get these guys playing better."
With this stale roster of ill-fitting parts, better is a long way off.
A rival scout on the KNICKS: Bringing in Chris Duhon was a must. They had to have a steady, experienced point guard that they could depend on.... There's no toughness in Jamal Crawford. If he's your best scorer and the guy leading the offense, you're in trouble. Plus, he can't guard anybody.... If Eddy Curry's under the rim—and I mean under it—then you can't stop him. But so often they'll throw him the ball, he'll open up his body, and he'll get stripped. And because he loves to turn the left shoulder, the defense just sits and waits for him to commit the charge.... Jared Jeffries could be a contributor on a good team. He's 6'11", and they were talking about starting him at center before he broke his left leg, but if they needed to, they could have him defend the point guard and he would not get embarrassed.... They'll probably have to sacrifice David Lee, who'll be a free agent, for the long-term growth of the organization. He averaged close to 10 and 10 last year for a team that won 23 games, so how important was he?
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2007--08 statistics