If you're a Knicks fan, and you're having trouble remembering the last time you were able to enjoy yourself watching your team play, I can't blame you.
Somewhere between trading Patrick Ewing, drafting Fredrick Weis, and hiring and not firing Isiah Thomas, our beloved basketball franchise has become an infected albatross that became more difficult to sit through than an Ashlee Simpson concert.
It's been nearly a decade since the Knicks were among the NBA's annual playoff contenders. Yet thanks in large part to the new regime of President Donnie Walsh and head coach Mike D'Antoni, baby steps have been taken in restoring this one elite franchise back to prominence.
While nobody will confuse the current bunch with the defending champion Celtics, the current collection of Knicks has shown the effort and the heart that the team has been without since Jeff Van Gundy resigned as head coach in 2001.
To any Knicks’ fans who say they would rather see their team miss the playoffs and pin their hopes on a lottery pick, don't bother because their first round pick in next summer's draft was traded away by Thomas as part of one his many trades that just keep on giving.
Putting things in perspective, the Knicks have won 20 games through 45 games played. Last season, they won 23 games. Period.
There is plenty credit to be taken for the Knicks recent run of success, but it starts at the top.
Donnie Walsh was brought in to rescue the sinking Knicks’ ship. Team Titanic, as they were often referred to in the New York tabloids, finally had its captain (Thomas) thrown overboard, and replaced by the innovative and player friendly D'Antoni.
The pair of Walsh and D'Antoni both stated numerous times that this disaster wasn't going to be cleaned up overnight, however I think most will agree the progress that's been made has happened far sooner than anybody expected.
Think about the moves the new regime has made and how they've been benefited the club.
Chris Duhon was signed to run the offense. Although the move was highly criticized by many (myself included), Duhon has been the floor general Stephon Marbury never was. He's developed a great chemistry with David Lee and ranks among the league leaders in assists.
Danillo Gallinari was drafted, a move that was also highly scrutinized. Although the Italian Stallion was injured and missed most of the first half of the season, since returning to the Knicks rotation the team has won five of seven, and the kid has shown flashes of being the real deal. Given more minutes and a chance to get more comfortable in this offense, expect his development to continue.
Marbury was benched opening night and eventually banished. Once again, a situation that the handling of which was called into constant question has seemed to benefit the team that has shed itself of one the headache's it just didn't need. While Steph remains on the roster, his eventful Knicks career is, for all intents and purposes, finally over.
Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph were traded. Two deals that were made with the intention of clearing up cap space for the free agent class of 2010...ok...for LeBron James...has had great early returns.
Al Harrington, Tim Thomas, and Cuttino Mobley were brought back, and while Mobley was forced to return due to a heart condition, Harrington has become a go-to scorer while living up to the expectations that followed him to the NBA straight of high school.
Thomas has provided a spark off the bench and a good veteran presence for some of the team's neophytes (as Walt "Clyde" Frazier would say).
Walsh and D'Antoni asked for patience, and that patience has already been rewarded as the team finds itself in the middle of a playoff race, which is something most if not all people connected to the NBA in any capacity would have laughed at.
Other reasons for the team's successes have been them finally being healthy.
D'Antoni now has nine bodies in a rotation that has included stellar play from the bench. Jared Jefferies has shown flashes of his defensive prowess that inexplicably earned him a fat contract from Isiah Thomas a few summers back, while Quentin Richardson, also healthy, has been a very reliable scoring option.
As hard as it may be, credit should go to Zeke, whose drafting may have been the only thing we did right in his five years running this franchise.
David Lee leads the league in double-doubles and has an outside chance of being selected as an All-Star reserve tonight.
Nate Robinson, officially out of his recent shooting slump, scored 20 points in the fourth quarter last night and has been a shot of energy late in games. He is also somebody who has been hitting big shots and making big plays at the end of games.
Wilson Chandler, who yesterday was selected to play in the Rookie-Sophomore challenge, has thrived as both a starter and a reserve. He has shown his freakish athleticism and is constantly improving offensive game to compliment his above average defense.
All three were mid to late first round picks of Thomas.
This team is hardly a lock to make the playoffs, however Madison Square Garden is once again buzzing about their beloved Knicks, who if nothing else, have been showing the kind of effort and heart which captivated fans during the team's last era of greatness.
With Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni, the thought was with enough patience, this team would be worth watching by the time the summer of 2010 wrapped up and LeBron James was wearing orange and blue.
Well, here in the depths of winter, more than a year and a half before that free agent class turns from fantasy to reality, the Knicks and their new regime have given their fans reasons to hope once again.
And just slightly ahead of schedule.