GREENBURGH, N.Y. – A few dozen media members dutifully settled into neat rows on the Knicks’ gym floor Monday afternoon, but one mercurial man with a microphone refused to conform.
His questions were impertinent, his expression thoroughly mischievous.
“What did you have for breakfast?” Metta World Peace, armed with a Knicks.com camera and microphone, asked one startled reporter at the Knicks’ media day gathering.
“You just got a big new job. What’s the job?” Peace queried another reporter.
“If you see me out on the street doing anything, make sure you put the camera down and never report anything bad, OK?” he continued.
When he at last took the podium, World Peace’s answers were as amusing as his questions. Where, he was asked, would he be most comfortable, at power forward or small forward?
“I’m most comfortable in the bed,” he said with a smile.
So yes, it’s fair to assume the Knicks will be lively and unpredictable this season. More whimsical and light-hearted, too, if World Peace rubs off even a little bit on his new teammates.
A healthy sense of humor might be vital in the months to come. For as successful as the Knicks were last season—garnering 54 wins and the franchise’s first playoff series victory in 13 years—their prospects for a sequel seem shaky at best.
Their recent status as Eastern Conference contenders could prove as ephemeral as J.R. Smith’s jump shot. Judging by their muted rhetoric Monday, the Knicks might sense as much.
On a day typically reserved for bold proclamations and unfettered optimism, the Knicks’ players instead provided a steady stream of uncertainty as they took turns on the podium.
Carmelo Anthony, a free-agent-in-waiting, declined to offer any assurances about his future with the franchise, saying, “When that time comes, I’ll deal with that.”
Amar'e Stoudemire confirmed he had undergone a “very minor” procedure on one of his knees (the left one, a team source said, though Stoudemire declined to say so)—his third knee surgery in a year. He has yet to resume basketball activity and might sit out the entire preseason. When he does play, Stoudemire conceded, he will likely be limited to 20-25 minutes per game to preserve his fragile knees.
Smith likewise could miss the next four weeks while recovering from a knee surgery that the shooting guard—by his own admission—intentionally delayed so he could first secure a new contract.
And before he can play a single minute, Smith will have to serve a five-game suspension for violating the NBA’s drug policy for the third time. (Another violation will bring a 10-game suspension.)
“I’m more disappointed because I let my teammates and my coaches down more than anything,” Smith said, addressing the matter for the first time.
Even the Knicks’ marquee acquisitions of the summer arrived with question marks: Can Andrea Bargnani regain his shooting touch? Can World Peace, who turns 34 in November, still be a defensive difference-maker?
Coach Mike Woodson offered little clarity on any topic, demurring on when Smith or Stoudemire might play, or who might fill out his starting lineup after Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton.
The Knicks had their greatest success last season with Anthony at power forward and a two-point guard backcourt. Will they stick with small-ball, or perhaps go big with Bargnani or World Peace?
Woodson wouldn’t say.
This was, by definition, a day for questions—but not a great day for illuminating answers.
Notably, the Knicks were also the only team in the league to introduce a new general manager on media day. That would be Steve Mills, who was hired last Thursday when owner James L. Dolan abruptly removed Glen Grunwald from the post.
For all of the Knicks’ championship talk, that stunning move revealed just how little confidence Dolan had in the team’s current direction, and its prospects for re-signing Anthony next summer.
Mills has strong ties to CAA, which represents Anthony, and to the influential William Wesley, a CAA consultant and confidant to both Dolan and Anthony.
The decision to hire Mills was, in that context, somewhat understandable, even if the timing was poor. Replacing your top basketball executive just days before training camp smacks of impulsiveness and desperation, but those are well-established Dolan traits, along with a severe aversion to speaking with the media.
It fell to Mills to answer reporters’ questions on Monday. Though he could not (or would not) explain the rationale behind his appointment, his opening monologue was revealing nonetheless: After talking about himself and Woodson (whose contract option Mills picked up), Mills immediately, and without prompting, pivoted to Anthony.
“We are fortunate to have player like Carmelo Anthony on our roster,” Mills said. “He’s one of the superstars who don’t come around very often. The things that he has done to make this team successful and to represent this city is something that’s very important. While it is premature in the process, we have made it very clear we have every intention of making Carmelo a Knick for a long time to come.”
That is now Mills’ most critical mission, the one that will consume his agenda for the next 10 months. The Knicks need a viable co-star or two next to Anthony. There is only so far they can go with a debilitated Amar'e Stoudemire and a flaky J.R. Smith, and Anthony knows it.
Every win, every loss and every twist in the coming season could shape Anthony’s decision and the Knicks’ future. To that end, Mills did remove one source of potential drama by picking up Woodson’s 2014-15 option—a small measure of continuity for a franchise that is addicted to turbulence.
Mills is the team's fourth GM or president since 2008, following Isiah Thomas, Donnie Walsh and Grunwald, inheriting a torch lit at both ends.
There is the potential for a happy ending this season, if Anthony stays focused and Stoudemire stays healthy, if Bargnani can score again and Smith can stay out of trouble, if Chandler can reclaim his defensive dominance.
Anthony avoided raising expectations, saying, “I’m not going to put that pressure on our team or myself or our guys and say that it’s championship or bust.”
But it was Stoudemire, assessing his own prospects for the season, who perhaps offered the most fitting theme for this franchise.
“I believe miracles can happen any time of day,” he said.
Howard Beck is Bleacher Report's NBA National Columnist. He has covered the NBA for The New York Times and the Los Angeles Daily News, among other publications, since 1997.
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