The Knicks have never been the same since GM Ernie Grunfeld pulled the trigger in 1998 and shipped Charles Oakley to Toronto for Marcus Camby. Sure, they made it to the NBA Finals the next (strike-shortened) year and then the conference finals the next year. But they were just running on fumes, and now they're on empty.
During Oakley's decade as a Knick, he put the "power" in power forward, and the Knicks were a solid playoff team season after season. Today, they're a team of lost souls with a front line that wouldn't scare a college team. And in exchange for their most dynamic player, Latrell Sprewell, they've just brought in one of the league's softest forwards, Keith Van Horn.
Even before that deal, Oakley, now 39 and a free agent looking to play a 19th season in the league, gave the Voice a blunt appraisal of the team that jilted him. Last year's front line of Kurt Thomas, Othella Harrington, and Clarence Weatherspoon? "They're trash," Oakley said. "They should be taken out with the garbage every night." He ought to really like Van Horn.
"New York is something special. The fans want to win. The guys the Knicks got now are too nice. They don't challenge the other guys. They haven't been taught the proper things. They don't know how to win. People aren't getting their money's worth when they come out and catch a game. That's the reason Van Gundy quit. He saw the guys had stopped working; they weren't getting any better."
"The role players, they're playing hard, but the fans get on them. They act tough, but they're not tough. They get booed and stuff and they can't handle it. It just kills their spirit. . . . The guys on the Knicks now, whenever you see them out, it's like they got to have ten bodyguards around them. They're sheltered?like Patrick was. The city wanted to embrace him, but he wouldn't open the door. He'd walk out the back door."
"I like New York. I always wish them well, but the only way they're going to get better?without a change in the salary cap?is to go out and spend more money and get some tough players. It doesn't matter if you're five million or 10 million dollars over the cap. They got to get back in the playoffs and have a team the fans can root for. They need a will. Because when you're on a bad team, you're going to play bad. Like taking trash out the back and hope the van picks you up." ?Dan Markowitz