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Listening to Phil Jackson preach about the state of the Knicks on the eve of the opening of NBA training camps this week, you don’t know whether the new king of New York City hoops truly sees the glass as half-filled or the dire opposite where his long struggling new team is concerned.
“We believe we’re going to be a playoff team,” the Knicks newly anointed president of basketball operations told reporters this week, before just as forcefully interjecting “then we don’t know how far we’ll be able to go.”
Given how weak the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff tier has been in recent years, simply qualifying as an almost surefire first-round sacrificial lamb to the truly elite teams might not be saying much to many. Then again, when you’re the Knicks of recent vintage, anytime you can legitimately put the words playoffs and Knickerbockers in the same sentence you’re speaking volumes about the marked improvement that would represent over last year’s 37-45 debacle of a finish.
“This team does not got a personality,” Jackson added. “Over 35 percent of this team has changed, so we still have to kind of come together in a bonding way that creates trust, teamwork, identity, some things like that.”
With a roster that includes such characters and eccentrics as J.R. Smith, Samuel Dalembert and Iman Shumpert arriving at that point won’t come easy for this motley crew. But if anyone has shown a propensity for taking such varied elements and melding them into a cohesive nucleus (think Dennis Rodman in Chicago and Kobe and Shaq together in L.A.) it’s the 11-time NBA coaching champion Jackson.
And the Zen Master has wasted little time in stamping his imprint on the Knicks, re-signing Carmelo Anthony over the summer and replacing the overmatched Mike Woodson with Triangle Offense disciple Derek Fisher on the sidelines. In addition, Jackson dealt vets Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas for Dalembert and Jose Calderon, all in a desperate attempt to attain the ever-elusive variable of chemistry.
So desperate are the Knicks to turn things around, the rookie Fisher is turning to baseball jargon and Derek Jeter’s last game in Yankees pinstripes this week in hopes of lighting a fire under his men.
“From a basketball perspective for Carmelo, and I feel for a lot of players in this league, I think credibility goes a long way, I think respect goes a long way,” he told the New York Daily News. “We’ve watched Derek Jeter for the last 20 years. His nickname is respect. When he walks in the room there are certain things that come with that respect. I think for Carmelo and any player, there’s a respect and a credibility that comes with those that have done or accomplished successfully what he may want to accomplish.”
It all now starts anew for the Knicks and with Phil Jackson at the controls it’s fair to reason almost anything can be expected.
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