There is currently reason for the New York Knicks’ (eternally suffering) faithful to be excited. They recently acquired Zach Randolph, a man who NBA Wise Man Malik Rose believes should be the best power forward in the East. And yes, in doing so, they even unloaded Steve Francis and his lotto jackpot-sized contract (except at $14 mil-a-year, Randolph’s contract isn’t exactly what it costs to buy a ticket or two). And although these are moves that should certainly help the team, what has gone on inside UNLV’s Cox Pavilion, Ground Zero for the Vegas Summer League, is more important than adding talent to an already sufficiently talented roster or modifying the payroll for a team that won’t hear the phrase “under the cap” for the next decade, no matter how hard it tries.
Summer league basketball has nothing to do with the regular season though, right? Well it is not only the fact that the Knicks won their first two games with ease. Forgive the spirituality, but there has been lot of positive energy surrounding the Knicks organization. David Lee, Quentin Richardson, Malik Rose, new addition Fred Jones, and Mardy Collins, who is not participating in the summer league games because he is still recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, are all in Vegas watching the games. In an interview with Gus Johnson and the self-proclaimed “best Knick ever” Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Quentin Richardson revealed something about Eddy Curry, who is renowned for being lazy and unmotivated, that is perhaps symbolic of the entire Knicks team. While many players do not so much as touch a basketball until July or August, Curry, who only missed one game last season, was back in the gym by June. It seems that Isiah has shown Eddy the light. The light is emanating from the flame cleverly placed beneath Curry’s (large) behind. Simply put, he needed a little bit of fire and desire (copyright Walt Frazier, 2007).
Also getting an early start on his summer training was Renaldo Balkman, who has spent most of his summer at IMG Academy in Florida — Balkman’s home away from home. His shot was the focal point of the practices, while he also made sure to work on his body, conditioning, and other skills. Balkman told the New York Times that, thanks to his training, “For the most part, I’m knocking down shots that I’m supposed to.” From watching the summer league games, his handle also looked like it has tightened up, and he already seems to be in fantastic physical shape.
Balkman was not the only Knick youngster to impress in summer league play. Second round pick Demetris Nichols out of Syracuse, whom the Knicks acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers the day after the draft, has lived up to his reputation as a sharp-shooter. Malik Rose raved that Nichols does not miss a shot. Wilson Chandler has also been impressive so far, showing off the versatility and athleticism that piqued Isiah Thomas’s interest and convinced him to gamble on Chandler with the Knicks‘ 2007 first round pick. Randolph Morris, the 2007 draft-ineligible player out of Kentucky whom the Knicks signed late last season after the Wildcats’ early tourney exit, has exhibited his ability to score and rebound. He is more mobile than many realize, and he has a very soft touch and above average finishing ability in the paint — unlike Balkman and Chandler who so far have not shown that they are adept at finishing in the lane unless they are dunking the ball. Overall, the Knicks’ summer league team’s starting lineup has been among the most impressive assemblage of players in Vegas.
The fact that there were five Knick players sitting in the stands watching summer league ball while other teams boasted no more than one non-participating player (unofficially) speaks volumes about how much the overall attitudes of the players have improved over the past few years. The players are not only in Vegas to watch ball, however. There are numerous Knick coaches in Vegas running training sessions for the players. With improved skills and camaraderie, the Knicks should be able to sneak their way into a low seed (high number) in the 2008 NBA playoffs.