By John Schmeelk
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This is the third year of the Mike D’Antoni – Donnie Walsh regime, but it might as well be the first. The last two years were merely a necessary evil, a sacrifice to set the team on a path for the future. Everything didn’t go perfectly, LeBron James isn’t here, but for the first time D’Antoni and Walsh have a team of their own design that can do the things the coach needs them to do.

Unfortunately for the duo, those two extra years in the lottery and a failure to bring in LeBron or Dwyane Wade is on their resumes. It might be a playoffs or bust season for both of them. Another sub 35 win season, barring terrible injuries, might well cost Walsh and D’Antoni their jobs. And everyone knows who is waiting in the wings: Isiah Thomas.

That’s why this year might be the most important Knicks season since Patrick Ewing retired. The franchise is certainly at a crossroads, and there’s a chance it could be veered off course again if the team doesn’t make the playoffs. But Knicks fans shouldn’t walk into this with fear; they should walk in with great anticipation. For the first time in a long time, a season is about winning and making the playoffs, not clearing cap space or acquiring expiring contracts.

And for once they actually have the roster to do it. Amar’e Stoudemire seems to be embracing being the face of the franchise. Raymond Felton isn’t Steve Nash but he is competent, a hard worker and a good defender. Danilo Gallinari and Anthony Randolph are improving young players that actually have the potential to become All-Stars. Timofey Mozgov might be a player.

Individuals aside, there seems to be a real feeling of professionalism around this team that hasn’t been present since Stephon Marbury became the face of the franchise. Nate Robinson isn’t running around acting like a child. There’s no coach-player drama. There are no off the court scandals. This season is all business, and the business is basketball. It’s a nice change.

By all accounts, the training camp has been very tough, and the players look ready to run Mike D’Antoni’s system. All Knicks fans are going to be surprised by how different D’Antoni’s run and gun style looks when he actually has players physically capable of running it. There are athletes at every position that can run the floor, and do a lot of different things. Wilson Chandler, Randolph and Gallinari can all play at least 3 positions and score from the arc to the rim.

They can also all guard at least three positions. Felton and Toney Douglas are both defenders in the backcourt, with the size and speed to defend point and shooting guards. If the Knicks do have a revival, defense is going to be a huge factor. It will never be like the Van Gundy Knicks from the 90’s, but they need to be competent. D’Antoni no longer has any excuses in that department. He has the athletes to play defense and he needs to put them in the position to do so effectively as a team.

Of course, this is all based on paper and optimism from training camp. Both can be very deceiving. Everyone will be able to finally see this group in action in Italy over the weekend. We’ll see how much is real, and how much is the same type of nonsense that Knicks fans have heard in September and October the last decade. You might as well buy in again Knicks fans because this year this roster has a fighting chance.

Schmeelk’s Shots

– According to reports it looks like Carmelo Anthony never approved the rumored trade to the Nets. Plus, he doesn’t seem anxious to be moved anytime soon. The reason is simple: neither the Knicks nor Bulls can put together a decent offer right now. That might change in a couple months, or he can simply wait until the offseason.

– Eddy Curry’s hamstring injury that will put him out 4-6 weeks and keep him out of Italy is really comedy of the highest order. He should be congratulated. This year he actually made it through one day of practice before getting hurt. I do feel sorry for him, and the people that could have witnessed history across the Atlantic. I would have liked to see him unleash his appetite on Italy, the land of the best food this world has to offer. Can you imagine how much he would have put down on that trip? Eddy would have been back up to 350 in no time. Maybe he would have decided to just stay behind. It’s a shame we’ll never find out.

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