"No, Toney, don't pass me the ball here!"
When last season began, the New York Knicks had Toney Douglas as their starting point guard. That was just one of many foolish mistakes that former head coach Mike D'Antoni made with his roster.
Another was failing to remind any of his players to play defense.
But this is a brand new day at Madison Square Garden. New coach Mike Woodson is at the helm with a fresh philosophy and an overhauled roster.
Woodson's guys, as part of a brilliant strategic ploy, will actually be playing some defense!
But there are other question marks left as the preseason begins, which fans should keep a close eye on.
Here are five foolhardy errors that could befall the Knicks as they pare the roster down to 15 players and make decisions about the regular season rotation.
"Hey, Melo, how come people see me as a bench player?"
Back in July, I gave my five reasons that J.R. Smith should not be the Knicks' starting shooting guard. I continue to stand by each of these.
Though Smith is capable of being a fantastic shooter and has the ability to create off the dribble, he is prone to poor shot selection and prolonged periods of throwing up bricks. He is a capable defender, but too often gambles for the steal and has a habit of committing unwise fouls.
With Iman Shumpert out until January as he recovers from knee surgery, Ronnie Brewer figures to be the starter through midseason. But Brewer will be out for most of training camp as he rehabs his own knee injury, so Smith may very well be the starter for the first handful of games.
This role does not suit Smith, as he has not been a consistent starter since 2004-05, his rookie season. Over the last five seasons, he has started a grand total of only 25 games.
Despite coming off the bench for the majority of his career, Smith recently stated that he would like to start (per ESPN New York's Jared Zwerling):
I would prefer to start. I would rather be a starter. My goal was to come in here and be a starter, and play with those other four guys on the floor. It is frustrating after a while that people see me as a sixth man, sixth man, sixth man, when you believe you're a starter. But at the same time, you have to understand this is a team game and you have to put individual goals aside.
Yes, that must be frustrating for people to see you as a sixth man after spending each of the past seven seasons in that role. Where, oh where could people have gotten that impression? Coach Mike Woodson will have to ensure that Smith remains happy with his sixth-man role once Brewer is fully healthy.
The Knicks will have to manage Marcus Camby's minutes or history will repeat itself.
Training camp has only just started and one of the Knicks' veterans is already injured.
Jared Zwerling of ESPN New York reported on October 6 that Marcus Camby will be out for seven to 10 days with a strained left calf.
Unfortunately, this is already reminiscent of Camby's first stretch with the Knicks from 1998-2002. In those four seasons, Camby missed a total of 99 games due to injury. While he has been less prone to injury in the decade since the Knicks traded him away, the injury early in camp is concerning. His minutes shouldn't eclipse more than about 20 per night.
The Knicks recently inked power forward Rasheed Wallace, who had been retired for the past two seasons. That signing conferred on the team the ignominious distinction of being the oldest roster in NBA history (per Wall Street Journal).
Wallace and Camby are both 38 years old. Jason Kidd is 39 and Kurt Thomas just celebrated his 40th birthday. While all four bring veteran experience and maturity, Mike Woodson will have to carefully manage their minutes to avoid fatigue and injury.
Kidd is still an elite distributor who can play solid defense and contribute in all statistical categories. Camby is a stellar defender and rebounder. But they can only be effective when healthy.
After coming out of retirement, Wallace likely takes a roster spot from a youngster.
ESPN New York's Jared Zwerling has reported that the Knicks are still targeting 32-year-old forward Josh Howard. Howard tore his ACL in February of 2010, ending his season and costing him much of the next season as well.
The Knicks currently have 20 players on their roster. Only 15 players will make it, so the Knicks have four weeks to whittle five names off the list.
Rasheed Wallace signed a non-guaranteed contract, but he is expected to snag a roster spot, so there are six players competing for one job. The battle is currently between rookies Chris Smith, Oscar Bellfield, Chris Copeland, John Shurna, Henry Sims and second-year player Mychel Thompson.
Smith, the brother of shooting guard J.R. Smith, impressed after transferring to Louisville and may have the inside track for a roster spot. He has a partially guaranteed contract but could be sent to the D-League, especially because the Knicks are looking for more depth in the frontcourt, not the backcourt.
Shurna, out of Northwestern, is like a younger Steve Novak—a lanky forward who can knock down three-pointers. Novak himself believes the rookie could make the team. Copeland is 28 and has several seasons in European leagues under his belt, so that could give him the edge.
However, if Howard is signed, all six players would likely be left on the outside looking in.
"Ummm, I cut myself shaving?"
Last season, Amar'e Stoudemire played in 47 regular season games. He missed 19 games with a back injury. The Knicks were 22-25 in the games he played.
In the 22 victories, Stoudemire averaged 30.9 minutes per game, 50.4 percent shooting and 1.8 turnovers. In the 25 defeats, he averaged 34.6 minutes, 46.8 percent from the field and 2.9 turnovers.
Simply put, the more Amar'e played, the more his play suffered and the more the Knicks suffered.
For most of last season, the 29-year-old played more like a 49-year-old, moving stiffly on offense and standing like a statue on defense. Play-by-play announcer Walt Frazier's description of Stoudemire's "matador defense" was an insult to matadors everywhere.
The hope is that Amar'e enters this season with the tenacity he showed in Game 4 of the playoffs. Playing through a self-inflicted hand injury, Stoudemire poured in 20 points and snagged 10 rebounds as the Knicks won their first playoff game in 11 years.
He will find himself running the floor less in Mike Woodson's down-tempo offense, which should preserve his legs and back. He may also find himself substituted for defense if he can't be more active in the paint. Regardless of his quality, the Knicks have three more seasons and $65 million committed to Amar'e, so it's in the team's best interest not to wear him down.
The big question is how much of a difference the offseason tutoring sessions from Hakeem Olajuwon will make on his offensive game. If he can transform himself into a quality threat in the post and offer a credible impression of the "Dream Shake," Stoudemire's minutes could be crucial to diversifying the Knicks' offense.
"This bores me."
Carmelo Anthony showed the world that he is one of the best pure scorers on the planet during the Olympic Games in London. Facing Nigeria, Melo rained down 10 three-pointers and 37 points to set a U.S. Olympic record. And he did so by coming off the bench and playing only 14 minutes.
But now, he is done scoring 40 points a night. He promises.
According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Melo plans to sacrifice his offensive numbers to help the team succeed:
I’m done trying to score 35, 40 points to win the basketball game. I don’t want that role anymore. I can do it. That’s what I do. But in order for this team to be successful, for guys we have right now, we need a more well-rounded team. If I have to sacrifice on the offensive end, I’m willing to do it. It’s easy for me to sit here and say it. But this year it’s going to be locking in and doing it as the leader of this team.
Really? I mean, really? Has the spirit of Bill Russell somehow inhabited Melo's body?
In 2011-12, Anthony was sixth in the NBA in usage rate (per ESPN.com). He finished in the top five in each of the previous five seasons. Is it possible we will see a more team-oriented, victory-minded Melo who punishes defenses by drawing double teams and finding the open man?
Yea, verily, a Carmelo who puts up 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists nightly is more valuable than a Carmelo who puts up 30, five and two.
Last season, Anthony recorded his first triple-double as a Knick, and he looked like a true team leader in doing so. This season, he may finally be ready to cast off his devotion to a one-dimensional isolation game in favor of a multifaceted team attack.
The only problem is that Mike Woodson will have to hold Anthony to his word.