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Oakley: Knicks can contend for title

Mike D'Antoni's recent claim that the Knicks are a championship contender may have been a surprise to some.

But not Charles Oakley.

The former Knick is onboard.

"I agree with it. You can't sit here and say they don't [have the talent to contend]. I'd be lying if I did," Oakley said in a phone interview with ESPNNewYork.com earlier this week. "I'm not a hater. They've got the pieces, now he's got to coach them."

Oakley picked the Knicks to win "48 to 50" games.

"If Carmelo [Anthony] does what he's supposed to do, and everybody else does the same, then they're going to have a successful year," he said.

Less than two months earlier, Oakley questioned the Knicks' credentials in a scathing critique of D'Antoni.

So why the change of heart?

Two words: Tyson Chandler.

Oakley thinks the addition of Chandler will help the Knicks climb into contention. And the legendary enforcer has firsthand knowledge of what Chandler can bring to a team.

Oakley served as a mentor of sorts to Chandler when both were on the 2001-2002 Chicago Bulls. Chandler was in his first season in the league, straight out of high school. Oakley was in his 16th.

"He was my veteran when I came in as a rookie," Chandler said.

Oakley taught Chandler the importance of preparation and professionalism. He also sprinkled in a few tricks on patrolling the paint.

"It definitely impacted me," Chandler said. "I saw that he wasn't even playing that much, but every day he was in the weight room and on the treadmill. He was ready whenever Coach called on him."

How fitting: the guy who personified the Knicks' gritty defensive teams of the 1990's taught Chandler the ropes.

After all, the organization is hoping Chandler can restore some defensive pride to a team that hasn't had any to speak of in recent years.

"I know what my job is in coming here. I know I came here to defend," Chandler said the day the Knicks signed him. "I'm going to defend the rim and I'm going to rebound. I'm going to get extra shots. I know if we play on both ends, and we play as a team, the sky is definitely the limit."

The sky may be the limit, but the Knicks were in the basement of the NBA's defensive stat comparisons last season.

They ranked 20th in rebounding and 26th in opponent field goal percentage last year. They allowed an average of 105.7 points per game -- the third-highest total in the league. Forty-five of those points were scored in the paint (fifth-highest in the league). They also were out-rebounded by 3.5 boards per game.

Oakley thinks Chandler, the skinny kid from California whom he mentored 10 seasons ago, can help the Knicks turn all of that around.

Oakley called the 7-foot-1 Chandler "a guy who can clog the middle, block shots and bring energy to the game."

That same guy helped turn Oakley, who came oh-so-close to winning a title with the Knicks, into a believer in this current edition of the team.

"I didn't win nothing, so I've got nothing to brag about," Oakley said. "They've got a chance to get something to brag about."

You can follow Ian Begley on Twitter.