FIVE QUESTIONS FACING THE KNICKS
1. Will they still stink?
It won't be as odious as last year, but only because it would be impossible to match that level of rank ineptitude. Everyone has an incentive to try hard and play well. The incentive, of course, is to prove that last year's disaster was all Larry Brown's fault.
2. Can Isiah Thomas revive Stephon Marbury?
If he's physically able, Marbury could have a big year under Isiah. Marbury respects Thomas as a former player (who was better than he is), and as a coach (because he will do everything he can to prove that trading for Marbury was the right move). Steph knows that if Isiah can't coach him, everyone will say no one can.
3. Can Marbury and Steve Francis coexist?
They didn't look good together over a brief period last season, so why would they look good this year? Oh, right, because Brown, the Hall of Fame coach, is gone. Thomas can draw on his experience playing alongside Joe Dumars for all those years, but that tandem was a lot better than these two. Watch out for the big two-guards on defense.
4. Will Jared Jeffries make a difference?
They desperately need a role player, a defender, a rebounder and a diplomat in the locker room. He'll be huge.
5. If they start slow, will they give up on Isiah?
The players know Thomas is a potential lame duck. If they start slowly and it starts to look like he's gone, it will be very difficult for him to get them to listen.
FIVE THINGS TO EXPECT
1. The Knicks will be better.
It's not saying much, because how could they possibly be worse? But look for this team to play harder for Thomas and to compete. Jeffries helps, too.
2. Chants of "Fire Isiah."
Owner James Dolan has already let it be known that Thomas is in danger if the team doesn't improve, so why should the fans show patience?
3. Thomas makes it work
Isiah will survive because the team will look markedly better than it did last year, and Dolan's standard of "significant improvement" is vague.
4. Lovefest with the new coach
The players are all going to gush ad nauseam about how great a coach Isiah is, and you'll hear this a thousand times before Thanksgiving: "We all know our roles now."
5. Off-the-court troubles
Anucha Browne Sanders, a former Garden executive, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Thomas and Madison Square Garden in January and it is hanging over the franchise.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Last year was a big disappointment under Brown. This year we discover who he really is.
He was one of the most improved players in the league last year, and deserves to be on the floor, especially at buzzer time.
Crawford is going to need minutes and it could get crowded.
He started so strong and then faded when teams figured out his shot. Did he expand his game over the summer?
He's fun to watch.
ON THE HOT SEAT
The owner put him there, so we won't quibble. Taking over a team that won only 23 games is hard enough, but Thomas only has three years of experience on the bench. Not only does he have a mandate from the owner hanging over his head, he also has the lawsuit to contend with as well. Thomas' career and reputation are on the line, and everyone knows it.
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