|How to fix the Knix -- and quix|
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist
We'll get into tight drama with the NBA playoffs later this week.
Knicks fans are die-hard. But they're human -- or said to be. They flinch at the horror of being emotionally tied to a team chopped to flinders, gagging on its own puke, mortgaged to the hilt, to the tune of an $85.2 locked-in mil payroll, in a $42.5 mil salary-cap world.
In short, the franchise is run like the Bates Motel & Miniature Golf Course, with no sign of hope, according to conventional wisdom. Well, we're here to put the lie to conventional wisdom, and Scott Layden, and the way the Knicks must end up as well.
No harm meant to Scott Layden. He got it from his dad, Mr. Frank Layden, who once ran the Utah Jazz, amid wild weight fluctuations. Once I interviewed him, and he ended up nearly weeping, mostly about a svelte little man trying to get out of the fat man's body he carried around. He wasn't Frank Layden anymore. He was Pagliacci. Couldn't figure out if it was his way of trying to help, giving me an angle, or if he was serious, or what. It was just hard to find a way to get him on the cover of a mag, literally or otherwise.
Scott Layden grew up thinking Shandon Anderson and Howard Eisley were, like, heroes. Maybe they were, once. They played for his dad's legacy in Utah. They played hard. They were like family. Unfortunately, one is often blind to the shortcomings of family.
So Scott Layden, in that strange Utah succession that seems to run the Knicks perpetually into the ground, well-intended though they might be, got the New York club to play with, just as his dad -- and the inexplicable Dave Checketts -- had before him. Don't know why. Must be a reason, maybe some weird pact with Brigham Young, a deal like some defunct ABA teams like St. Louis have for profit-sharing into perpetuity.
But whatever the vintage of the brew, Scott Layden got the hammer and with it he bashed his own thumb, getting All Done and Eis-Been, who had become some other guy's mistakes. Now they are getting paid the equivalent of the GNP of Ecuador (combined $10,281,250 per) to be caddies for Allan Houston and our point guard, to be announced. Get over it. They aren't the first New Yorkers to be overpaid, and won't be the last.
If Anderson or Eisley can be shoehorned into one of the deals we suggest below, fine; if not, time passes whether we move forward with it or not. So we may as well move forward, too. Sooner or later, their ill-advised contracts (Anderson's and Eisley's each have five years to go) will expire of their own weight, as will that of Clarence Weatherspoon (four years left @ $4,538,000 per).
Meantime, we don't have to suffer a bad pro hoop team in NYC. Don't fight the beam-up, Scotty. Read on. See if we tend to make any sense here.
OK, Dog. How do we clean up this mess?
("Ralph" is "Rolf" or "Wolf" in the original Teutonic tongue) Mr. Wolf/Wiley would deal either Spree or Allan in a heartbeat if we could; but we can't, so we have to make the peace until we can move them.
Spree is the All-Court Superstar any NBA team needs to contend. His problem is, he actually cares and has great pride, he's just slightly anti-social in how he expresses it.
But he wants to win, as compared to, say, Ike Austin, or any of guys who take the money year after year, get fat, and walk, don't run, their way out of the league. The prime directive (getting out of poverty, buying an Escalade, paying back any number of "agents" who've given them money) has been satisfied, and so are they. But the few, the proud, the ones who want it, the whole thing, to be the best of the best, the ones who make it art are rare. Once you spot one, you can't get caught up in personalities.
The best move Jack Dolan ever made was taking back that absurd $125,000 fine levied for Spree blowing off a practice, and making it $2,500. The troubling thing was that it was Dolan who did it, going over Layden's head. Spree blew off entire games this year, too, but let's flip the script on him, try to play the player, turn that ominous precedent into a positive about his character, and say so.
People tend to live up to or down to the way they are perceived, so let's tell Spree he's the next level of Clyde, or at least the second coming of Dr. J; let's say to Spree, that's really a fine piece of philosophy Spree's got there, thinking that he'll play the best he's physically able to every single night, 'cause there might be one kid in the stands who is seeing Latrell Sprewell for the first and only time.
Spree will blink hard and say, "That's my philosophy?" Then we say, "Well, sure; that's what you said it was, O Osiris," and we'll smile sincerely; Spree will begin to believe it. "I did say it, didn't I?" he'll say, if you are a good enough motivator in the first place.
Let's say Spree resembles Sam Jackson more than a wide-eyed alien. Let's threaten not to fine him, but to throw him a dinner. If Spree comes to play, we don't worry about the 2 or 3 on the other team who is the First Option Threat. Spree vs. Ray Allen, Spree vs. Paul Pierce, Spree vs. Tracy McGrady, Spree vs. Mash, Spree vs. Kobe. Spree holds up his end in those matchups (for another three to five years, depending on how he holds up). Not many can.
So if we want one more guy the D has to double -- and we do, we do -- then Houston becomes Derek Fisher, only better. In that matchup, I like Allan. Hitting open 3s, Houston may have few peers, except maybe Peja and Dell Curry. That's how to think of Houston -- as a younger Dell. Asking Houston to take his man, let alone a double, off the bounce, crash inside against bone-grinders like Ben Wallace, is like beating your head against a stone wall. Don't look at his salary and say, "He should be able to do that." Don't look at his salary, look at him, and ask, "What can he give me that's world-class?"
That would be 3-point deep shooting. We will swing the rock off the double-team; we will get big bodies to quad-screen down eight sets per game. Allan, you're our guy. Not go-to guy. That's Spree, and one more we mention further down in the text here. You don't even have to read that far down, Allan. You're our Shooter. We're not asking you to do anything else ...
... except try to D up on the second flex-spot threat at 2 or 3. Spree will take the most viable threat. You try to D the next guy. Not all game. We've got to get something out of Shandon. If he doesn't hustle on D, he squats. All we ask, Allan, is when it counts, don't ... miss.
Now. Everybody else on the roster is totally up for grabs, except for Marcus Gumby ($6,250,000 for the next three years). The thing with Gumby is, he must play facing on O. He's not a low-post scorer -- and even if he was one, that's way too much nightly grinding on that paper-clip frame. We play him at 5; we mix and match against Shaq; based on the sitchies, we even give Camby time at 3. He never plays 4.
Clarence Weatherspoon is signed and we're stuck with him, maybe, although he's more dealable than Eisley or Anderson. Assuming we can't move him, then if we play him, we run some stuff for him right away. Don't get him stuck in a defensive or off-side offensive board role. He can score in the low-post, despite his lack of height, a la Corliss Williamson, Dantley, Aguirre ...
Still, if we can figure a way, 'Spoon-Gone.
Kurt Thomas. Big Time Gone.
Travis Knight. Gone.
Othella Harrington. Gone.
Felton Spencer. Gone.
Mark Jackson. Gone. Kind of.
Charlie Ward. Big Time Gone.
Checketts especially liked Van Gundy; he knew Van Gundy would never be a threat to his own power. Van would be too busy sucking up to Patrick Ewing. After Ewing was shot out, Van had no function left; he showed his colors by bailing soon as he didn't have a pat playoff hand. Larry Brown would have figured a way. Don Chaney also is a decent coach, and a good man, but the Knicks now need the new energy of Mark Jackson. Personally, I think he would be a brilliant hire, and to Hell with what George Karl thinks. You see where thinking got George, don't you?
Put a package together including Ward and maybe 'Spoon for Charlotte's Lee Nailon ($465,850), who can score but can't defend that well, or Ward and Thomas for Jamaal Magliore ($1,048,080), who can defend and rebound. You may have to eat dollars on the deal. Do it anyway. Do you want to stay alive? Then do it.
Either way, Charlie Ward is very tempting and can help the Hornets, and they (or somebody else, the Lakers maybe, for Stanislav Medvedenko, and/or rights to what becomes Luke Walton) can have Thomas, whose numbers are fool's gold. The Hornets are susceptible to running around like chicken with their heads cut off if Baron Davis isn't in there.
Baron plays hard, and he's going to have his chinks, dings, nicks because of the all-out nature of his game. He already has an injury history. Ward would be perfect as Baron's backup for Charlotte/New Orleans. Of course, we have our own designs on bringing Baron to New York in '03-'04, where he belongs. He's signed through next season. After that, get him.
The Hornets have got to move somebody, probably one of those long bodies, eventually. Silas will not want to part with Magliore, but burning contracts and free-agent periods have made people do strange things; wave some money under the noses of the Hornets owners and, hell, they might trade their mothers. Deal with them.
Also, failing that, deal with Cuban. He's a tinkerer. He can't help it. Even though he has a nice group, he has a sleeper who plays hard and will guard somebody in Greg Buckner. Juwan Howard makes sense after his contract expires at the end of '03 season; he'd be amenable to taking far less money to have a chance for revenge on all the people who said he was garbage just because he was overpaid. Juwan was not garbage. He was just overpaid and -- it wasn't so much that -- it was that being overpaid affected him.
Don't talk to me about money. Tell it to Steinbrenner. Knicks management is already paying the luxury tax. What they can't afford is the luxury of empty seats or sick patrons in MSG.
For Baron and Juwan, pay the tax. If not Juwan, Lamar Odom from the Clippers ($2,812,320), if he's not still smoking me out.
Now. We still need muscle. If the refs give him benefit of the doubt, as they will, as a Knick, Orlando's Don Reid ($1 million) has got upside as a rebounder/headknocker -- just the kind Spree says the Knicks refuse to bring in.
Ben Wallace shows what work can accomplish in the bloody abattoir known as the NBA playoff backboards. Reid would bloom in the 4 spot here, nothing to do but screen down, block shots, board hard. Could be had for Othella.
By '03-'04 season, you, Spike, Woody, Soon Yi, Matthew Modine, Mrs. Matthew Modine, Ed Bradley, Tom Brokaw, Chris Rock and Mark Jackson are picking 15 from this potential 19:
G - Latrell Sprewell
Direction (bigs or quicks) depends on if you get Yao Ming, the 7-6 center, or Jason Williams, the 6-2 point/2. (It's not a question of, if we get one. Call David Stern. Tell him about Luca, that bandleader, and Mr. Woltz.) We will get one of those picks.
Mr. Wolf/Wiley much prefers Frank Williams of Illinois!!!! But if you like Jason Williams, better, then ...
Now true, by 2003, this team is not going to be as long as you'd like. It will be guard-heavy; not as many 7-foot bangers as you'd like, but don't underestimate what you'd be able to do with Yao Ming, Gumby, Don Reid or Nailon/Magliore/Odom across the front. At the perimeter, you could play with anybody. You might even consider a Greg Buckner from the Dallas Cubans, or in the best case, Baron, as a match-up for Alley I., who ain't going away.
Assuming the Knicks are without Baron -- a safe assumption if the Hornets have any brains, or any braintrust. Outside of Paul Silas, we don't know as they do, and Silas doesn't have the power to sign anybody. He can't green-light the production.
Then this proposed Knicks team won't contend to dethrone Shaq/Kobe until LeBron has three years under his belt and/or Yao figures out his butt from a hole in the ground and/or Jason figures out he's not God because he was Chosen by Duke, but just another good one who must play with passion to separate himself from the NFL pack, like Baron does (love him -- take him over Jase right now, which is saying a mouthful).
This is a team that goes over .500 right away, even next year, halfway through the Reconstruction, and by 2003-'04 is threatening to win the East, if not It All, and things are as they should be again in Knickworld. After that, who knows?
Here's my invoice. Be sure to get the name right.
Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."