Defenseless

The Knicks Front Line Looks Like a Doughnut: There’s a Big Hole in the Middle

"You wouldn't be worried about this lineup if you could get it to play hard every night, but that's unrealistic," says Knicks radio analyst John Andariese. "The defense has had some good moments, but for this team to be a championship contender, they have to add quality bulk to the front line."

Good luck finding it. The Knicks failed in off-season attempts to land power forwards Brian Grant and Danny Fortson, and a package of Houston and Camby couldn't pry center Dikembe Mutombo from Atlanta, which wanted Sprewell instead. Free agent forward Joe Smith is currently being pursued, but the first overall pick in the '95 Draft is no savior (9.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in '99-'00). The truth is, if the Knicks won't deal Sprewell, they may not have a real shot at an impact player until Sacramento forward Chris Webber files for free agency next summer.

And what if this current lineup is the best the Knicks can offer? Says Phoenix Suns point guard Jason Kidd, "They'll still be tough. Not just the best centers are in the West, but the best power forwards too: Webber, Rasheed [Wallace], Karl Malone, Kevin Garnett. If you're going to go small and be weaker in the middle, at least the East is the place to be."

Adds ESPN analyst Fred Carter, "A Van Gundy team will always be a battler, the little dog that gets stepped on but keeps jumping up and biting you."

Early on, there has conveniently been a clueless Atlanta, an outgunned Washington, or an ice-cold-shooting Charlotte willing to offer its bare leg whenever that little dog needed a boost of confidence. But the opposition is going to get tougher eventually, and the Knicks will be tested. Let's face it, it only took until the third quarter of the first game before the Garden crowd lost its patience and filled the air with chants of "Pa-trick Ew-ing." So you know things will get ugly if the problems in the paint keep resurfacing and the Knicks, heaven forbid, ever wind up in a prolonged losing streak.

Just imagine a chant of "Dud-ley, Dud-ley" emanating from the cheap seats. Oh, the humanity.

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