By John Schmeelk
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For the first time in a long time, at the start of training camp the Knicks seem like a normal basketball team. It is glorious.
On media day Monday, there were no questions for players about whether they hate the offense they are running. There were no questions about how the team president was undermining the head coach. The questions about the team star’s no-trade clause were nowhere to be found.
Aside from one question about Kristaps Porzingis skipping his exit interview last year,and a couple “Melo leaving” questions, everything was pretty much about basketball. The Knicks needed this in the worst way. For fans who were understandably upset the Knicks didn’t wait longer to try to trade Carmelo Anthony to get a better return, this was the benefit.
The Knicks rolled out their stable of young players one or two at a time and let them soak in the fact that they are now the only focus of the team and organization. They all sat down at the podium with a smile on their faces, relaxed and genuinely excited to get the basketball season started with a young group of teammates. A lot of that had been absent the past couple of seasons for reasons that had little to do with what was happening on the court. All of that past baggage has been tossed out of the cargo hold. This is a relatively clean slate for the first time in a long time.
The expectations are also lowered. The presence of Anthony and, to a lesser extent, Phil Jackson, left the impression to some that the Knicks should do everything they could to win immediately, even when it was impossible given their roster composition. That’s over. If the Knicks lose games but the younger players develop and do relatively well, there should be few dire back-page headlines.
No one expects the Knicks to win anything this year. No one expects them to be in the playoffs. The only realistic expectations for this roster should be for them to play hard and be entertaining and for the young players to improve. There will be some who will be impatient, but for a fan base that has won one playoff series since Patrick Ewing left in 2000, another year of losing is not going to leave irreparable harm.
Even if the Knicks win fewer than 30 games this year, if they play the up-tempo way that coach Jeff Hornacek favors, they could be entertaining to watch. Porzingis will have the opportunity to find out what it is like to be the No. 1 option for a team in the NBA. Tim Hardaway Jr. will be the top perimeter option for the first time in his career. Young players will be put in position to make big plays (and mistakes) in important games. Everyone will learn.
Management will also get a chance to see exactly what kind of coach Hornacek is. Micromanaged by Jackson, it was always difficult to tell what Hornacek would do with a group of players in New York if given complete freedom. This is a chance for the front office to not only evaluate the players, but also the coaching staff.
There’s a chance that James Dolan doesn’t let this last and doesn’t give the front office and team the room they need to grow. Never count that out. But at least for now, there appears to be reasons for optimism now that the Knicks have a new beginning. It’s fun and exciting. Now they just have to take advantage of it.
• Center Enes Kanter, acquired from the Thunder in the Anthony trade, just seems like an awesome guy. He’ll probably learn the hard way that being as forthcoming and honest as he is will cause some controversy, but hopefully that won’t happen. He answered questions thoughtfully and honestly with a smile. That can go a long way.
• Rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina showed a nice level of confidence without any arrogance in the way he answered questions at media day. The first-round pick knows what he can do, but at the same time, he understands he has a lot of work to do to get a lot better. I have a funny feeling that his experience playing with pros in Europe will have the 19-year-old in the starting lineup at some point this season, even if it isn’t in the season opener. Jarrett Jack and Ramon Sessions should be good mentors.
• Forward Doug McDermott, also acquired in the Anthony trade, must know this is his last chance to show he is a player who can stick in the league. He indicated he knows his defense has to improve. He should fit in as a shooter with the Knicks, but first he will likely have to beat out Michael Beasley for minutes. With his defense and shooting, Lance Thomas should have the early advantage to being the team’s starting small forward.
• Porzingis stated he has as good relationship with Hornacek. Those are just words, but it is good that he is happy to move on and start new with the rest of the team this year.
• Center Joakim Noah looks very determined to have a bounce-back year. He genuinely cares, and I don’t think that was ever a problem. Whether his body holds up and has enough bounce left to make him an effective player is the real question.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk