If Nothing Else, There's Hope In A Title-Starved Hoops Town

By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork.com

NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Believe it or not, even the Knicks have a bandwagon.

As they begin what they hope is their first winning season since the early stages of the new century, they have a new fan — a man who has witnessed the recent carnage up close but never felt inclined to say anything about it.

Until now.

Now, let’s not kid ourselves, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about the nuances of the half-court offense or help defense or even how to spin off a pick and roll. That’s something my wife does when she wants no part of me. The only slam dunk I know of is the near certainty Rex Ryan will say something funny every day over at the Jets’ training facility and that Yankees fans will invariably blame somebody for something.

That said, though, I do have enough of a basketball acumen to know New York City needs to re-establish itself as an NBA powerhouse. Because what’s gone on over at the corner of 33rd and 7th over the last decade has been an utter embarrassment, even to a very far out on the fringe basketball fan like myself.

That’s why the Knicks need me. That’s why the city and Madison Square Garden need me. Somebody has to be the first to jump on board when they begin to turn it all around.

And this will be the season they will start to do just that.

From 2001-02 through the end of last season the Knicks went 279-459, or had a winning percentage of .378, with just one playoff appearance, a first round wipeout at the hands of the rival New Jersey Nets back in 2003-04 following a 39-43 regular season.

I’m sorry, but you don’t have to have the basketball IQ of a Stephen A. Smith to know that’s really another way of saying the Knicks have been the Clippers West. For 64 years the Knicks have been thought of as a premier sports franchise. The problem is perception hasn’t always been reality.

Compound the Knicks’ recent failures with the collapse of the once proud program at St. John’s and it’s pretty easy to understand why New York City (or the Garden, depending on who thinks they have their finger on the pulse of the Urban Dictionary at any given moment) is certainly not this “Mecca of Basketball” many want to make it out to be. Not even close.

But somehow, through all the on-court failures, front office disasters and back-page beatdowns, there’s now hope for this fine city. He wears No. 1 and has averaged 21.4 points and nearly 9 rebounds per game during his eight-year career.

Amar’e Stoudemire is not the end-all, be-all of the basketball world, but he is, by all accounts, a stand-up guy who has proven to have serious ability. And if nothing else, he has $100 million worth of reasons to prove he’s worth every last penny.

When LeBron James said thanks, but no thanks to New York, Stoudemire said I’ll take your millions and do my best to make you proud.

Seriously, at the end of the day isn’t that really all you can ask of a guy?

Stoudemire has the potential to make the Garden rafters shake again. He started to show his worth on Wednesday night by putting up 19 points and 10 rebounds in the Knicks’ season-opening 98-93 win in Toronto. He, along with teammate Wilson Chandler, took over the game late, scoring seven points in the final quarter as New York got this season off to the kind of start many were hoping for.

Stoudemire is quite unique for a big man because he runs the floor so well and his athleticism both with and away from the ball is exceptional. He will command double teams every night, but moves well in traffic and away from the basket has a medium range jumper opponents have to respect.

If he establishes himself as that force in the paint that he was for all those years in Phoenix, shows he can find open teammates like Danilo Gallinari on a consistent basis and works some magic with Raymond Felton there’s really no reason why this guy can’t be an All-Star again and the Knicks can’t be right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. The conference is top heavy anyway, what with the LeBron tripod in Miami and the warrior-like Celtics up in Boston being the clear favorites. Right around .500 might just be enough to get the Knicks into the playoffs.

The beauty of the Knicks from days gone by — or in other words from the 1990s — was the fact that they captivated the city regardless if they were serious championship contenders or not. They had an identity. They played frontier justice basketball, cared less about style points and making friends and won on a consistent basis.

More important than all that, they made you watch, even if you didn’t care to watch initially.

Now, of course, this team doesn’t have a Charles Oakley or a John Starks, but it does have that man in the middle. Stoudemire can be the guy that makes everything go. The Knicks haven’t had a player like this in a very long time, and if nothing else seeing him play will be worth the astronomical prices you’ll pay at the Garden.

Because he wants to be here, wants to win here and be the focal point of the franchise’s renaissance.

But don’t expect miracles, at least initially. This team is still light years from being a perennial playoff participant let alone a championship contender. Coach Mike D’Antoni has yet to prove in his two-plus seasons in New York he can get his players to play the type of defense needed to survive in the rugged Eastern Conference. Donnie Walsh, even with the exceptional job he did getting the Knicks out from under salary cap hell, may end up with egg on his face for not bringing David Lee back. Lee also wanted to be here and would have been a sight to see on the offensive end next to Stoudemire.

The Knicks basically have just one star and a bunch of decent to good players. Reinforcements will have to be brought into the mix for this team to take that next step.

But at this point it’s all about baby steps, right? And considering the fact that the football season always ends way too early, not much is expected, really, from all three hockey locals and the Nets are, well, the Nets, the Knicks have a real opportunity here to become the talk of the town again this winter.

So I’m officially on the bandwagon. I’d like to think the difference between myself and all the other jumpers out there is I chose to get in on the ground floor and take the stairs to the penthouse.

As opposed to the thousands out there suddenly showing up around town in LaDainian Tomlinson jerseys.

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