The New York Knicks haven't been to the playoffs since 2004 and they haven't been past the first round in a decade.
Eight successive seasons have produced losing records, and the 2009-10 campaign is no different, right?
The Knicks won't win 40 games. They won't play .500 basketball. They won't pay Stephon Marbury $20 million to whine like a baby.
Things are changing in New York.
The Knicks will threaten for the eighth playoff spot in the east and there will be different mentality at The Garden this season from a team which is sick of losing—sick of being worse than the Nets.
Like it or not, the Knicks are rebuilding. They are repairing the damage that Isiah Thomas caused and they are looking to the future.
'Rebuilding' shouldn't be met with all the negative connotations it currently is.
Knicks fans are being called impatient and the franchise is accused of tanking yet another season before it tips off with its inability to bring big names to the Big Apple.
But there is a lot to look forward to in 2010.
Coach Mike D'Antoni will have his team playing an up-tempo run-and-gun style of basketball that is entertaining to watch. Imagine the Showtime Lakers, just a lot worse.
Last year's returning players have already become accustomed to D'Antoni's fast-paced 'seven second' offense and their familiarity will breed more success this season.
While there is uncertainty over specific roles within the team, the Knicks should benefit from more team stability and fewer overall changes.
There won’t be as great a need to trade away talent simply to remain under the salary cap, Marbury’s departure to the Celtics means there is scope to bring in a more defensive-minded guard and there isn’t an urgent need to trade away draft picks.
The Knicks are far from the complete package, but if they could find a way to improve when they haven’t got the ball, they could develop into more than an afterthought on the schedule.
Their defensive efficiency, a measure of points allowed per 100 possessions, is only slightly worse than average, but they need to rely on someone other than David Lee to crash the boards, both on offense and defense where the Knicks are below average as a team.
None of Jared Jeffries, Chris Duhon or Wilson Chandler are poor defensively and I would argue that criticisms of the Knicks’ supposed lack of defense do not take into consideration the pace they play the game.
Even adding one better piece in the puzzle could make a huge difference. Just imagine replacing Duhon with a guard who had a smooth handle on the ball, who averaged 13 or 14 points a game and could play better transition defense.
Coach D'Antoni has struggled all preseason to find a starting lineup that he thinks will be competitive. With so much uncertainty over players' roles, his chop-and-change approach to the fall scrimmages points to mild panic rather than assured certainty.
With a team just six months removed for a 50-loss season, how much certainty can there really ever be?
D'Antoni hasn't decided where best to utilize Danillo Gallinari and fans don't know what they will get out of rookie Jordan Hill.
Hill has added some bulk to a predominantly wirey frame, but we don't really have much of an idea how well he will be able to guard the stronger forwards that he'll come up against every week.
His raw ability and natural explosiveness ensured he would be a decent draft pick, but his inexperience and lack of maturity means he is unlikely to be anything more than a role player for the next few years.
I would bet that Lee, Al Harrington and Duhon are locks for the Knicks' opener in Miami, with Chandler and Jeffries also securing starting roles by the end of next week.
Just don't be fooled into thinking that the Knicks' coaching staff is having a tough time choosing between a locker room of All Stars. Unfortunately, there's just not that kind of depth right now.
• Playoffs: Despite only winning 39 games, the Knicks are going to the playoffs.
It is ludicrous to think they will be any worse than last season, and the 2008-09 Pistons showed you can finish third in a weak division with a losing record and still advance to the postseason.
The Knicks are more rounded offensively than the Toronto Raptors and they have a stronger frontcourt than the New Jersey "Brooklyn, cough" Nets.
Finishing third behind the Celtics and 76ers is not that much of a reach.
By contrast, they play more than two-thirds (69 percent) of their Eastern Conference schedule against teams who failed to post winning records last season.
• Free-scoring: The Knicks' up-tempo approach will lead to a whole lot of points on the board. We all know that defense wins championships, but if the Knicks can keep themselves in games by putting up three-digit scores each night, they will always be in with a chance.
The Knicks will continue to run the break, move the rock and shoot the long ball in 2010 and they will lead the league in scoring, with 107 points per game
Last year the Knicks led the league in field goal attempts and 3-point attempts. Out of last season's 16 playoff teams, only the Lakers averaged more points in the regular season.
• An All-Star Love Affair: David Lee will represent the Eastern Conference at the 2010 All-Star game in Dallas on Valentine's Day.
Lee will continue to improve as a Knick and he will be looking to cash in on a big-money deal when he becomes a free agent at the end of the campaign.
His core statistics (points, rebounds, steals and assists) saw a significant rise when he received regular playing time last season, so expect further career progression from arguably the Knicks' most important player.
Lee will complement Al Harrington's scoring by averaging 18 points a game and he will finish the season with more rebounds than anyone in the NBA except Dwight Howard.
• Back on the rise: The Knicks are improving and they have both the personnel and the system to play entertaining basketball.
Knicks fans are among the best in the land and they respect good basketball.
For the first time in five years, the Knicks will crack the 800,000 attendance mark at The Garden. Proof, at least in the eyes of the public, that the Knicks are on their way back up.
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