As much heat as Isiah takes he has potentially addressed every need the Knicks had going into the offseason.
1. Coach. Check
The Knicks needed, as much as anything else, a coach who could command the respect neccesary to get them to play within a system on offense and try on the defensive end. There is a lot of talent on this roster, but they needed a coach who could get them to play like a team. Larry’s a great fit because, well, he’s a great coach and becasue he has a history of turning teams around, but he’s also a great fit because the Knicks have a number of players with skills in certain areas and huge weaknesses in other areas (don’t all teams) and Larry has a history of getting the most out of his role players and not being afraid of keeping his rotation short even if it means sitting some pretty good players.
2. Defense. check/???
Nate (he could maybe be a Lindsay Hunteresque disruptor off the bench), Frye (labeled as soft, but a hard worker), Lee, and JJ all have some defensive potential and Q is at least adequate defensively, but Larry Brown fills another need becasue he provides a bigger defensive upgrade than any player that the Knicks could have realistically hoped to acquire. Steph, JC, and TT are all strong athletes who should be able to defend if they actually try and if their teamates are trying. Strong team defense can mask individual weaknesses. For example, Brent Barry was never known as a good defender, but SA was still a very good defensive team when he was on the court. Nazr Mohammed also looked a lot better on defense as a Spur than he did as a Knick. The Knicks don’t have a Tim Duncan or a Bruce Bowen, but we should be significantly better than we were last year.
3. Backcourt depth. Check
The Knicks next big problem was that Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford played way too many minutes, especially given their shoot first mentalities and defensive short comings. Even if Q starts at the 3 he can slide over to the 2 occasionally and whether he’s at the 2 or the 3 he’s another scorer on the wing to whom Marbury can dish. Nate might not be able to run the point for sustained periods as a rookie, but he won’t need to and should be able to provide energy off the bench on both sides of the ball. Could Trevor Ariza also benifit from LB’s presence in his second NBA season in a similar manner to Tayshaun Prince, given the Knicks lack of a shut down perimeter defender? I guess it’s more likely if TT isn’t on the team some time this season or next season.
4. Frontcourt talent. check/???
Last year’s frontcourt didn’t lack depth, but it did lack talent. There was no real low post scoring threat and no shot blocking threat to deter penetration. The guys Isiah brought in definitely have potential; we’ll have to wait and see if their talent translates into productivity. If nothing else, Frye can hit a jump shot, block a shot, and has shown that he has the work ethic to improve. Lee is a good athlete and seems, like Frye, to be a hard worker and team player. Jerome James is 7-1 and has some skills so even if it fails it wasn’t a terrible gamble (well maybe it was because of $, but if you ignore that, like the Knicks do, it’s nice to have some options as to which overpayed players you sit). Another positive in the frontcourt is that if Sweets takes over for KT you replace a midrange jump shooter with a low post scorer. While the Zach Randolph comparisons are not out of the question they are a little optimistic. Sweets should at least be able to replace Kurt Thomas.
There seems to be a popular belief in the media that the Knicks don’t even have the talent to make the playoffs, even with LB coaching. I think it’s worth pointing out that these are the same people who, going into last year, thought that the Wolves were a title contender, the Nuggets would get home court, the Suns would sneak into the back end of the playoffs, and the Sonics would watch the playoffs at home on their couches. The same people that thought the Bulls would be winning the lottery, not home court. And the Bulls got the 4 seed with 4 rookies, Othella Harrington, and Antonio Davis in their rotation.
So while the media chooses to highlight the Knicks shortcomings, they could be praising Isiah for improving this team as much on paper as any team. Some call the Bucks the most improved lottery team. Their only real additions are a rookie and a guy who was QII for the Clipps (of course if Ford comes make that’s their biggest addition, but he was already on their team). We got three rookies, the original Q, and one of the best coaches ever, so I think we’re right on par. The Cavs also should be better, especially because they have LeBron, but since when were Donyell Marshall and Larry Hughes sure things? The Nets have also added a lot of depth and should do well in the regular season, but they have major injury concerns and might be too soft in the playoffs. So the Knicks are not the only team with question marks on paper that they’re going to have to answer on the court. That’s why they play the games, right.