Leitch: Ten Signs It Might Be Safe to Believe in the Knicks Again

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Coach! Photo: Getty Images

The Knicks are a mere five games six days away from their season opener (at the Garden next Wednesday against the Miami Heat) — can you feel the excitement? Maybe? As much of a relief as Isiah Thomas being (kind of) fired was, coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t likely to bring a particularly joyous season, either. But baby steps are fine. The disastrous last five years will probably take another five years to recover from (at least). But hey: We’re optimists. Every season over these last few years, we've searched for reasons why the Knicks might rally. And despite the fact that most experts are predicting more pain, we’ve put together the following list: Ten Signs It Might Be Safe to Believe in the Knicks Again. They’re likely to disappoint, but what, are you gonna start rooting for the Nets?

1. They’re Playing an Entirely New Offense. D’Antoni’s Seven Seconds or Less credo perfectly fit the personnel in Phoenix, and even though it’s hardly ideal here, it will at least be enjoyable to watch. In the preseason loss to Boston on Tuesday night, D’Antoni started Stephon Marbury at small forward. It’s a terrible idea, but D’Antoni had to try it, because he has to try something. Get ready for point guard Zach Randolph.

2. The Fat Guy Is Getting Benched. Eddy Curry was supposed to be the franchise center that salvaged Isiah’s tenure, but, as usual, Isiah was years behind the times. The league no longer revolves around fat guys in the lane (Shaq, great as he is, has completely ruined the fun of those old Suns teams), and Curry would seem to have no place in D’Antoni’s rotation. Curry didn’t even play in Tuesday’s exhibition game. This is progress.

3. Zach Randolph Woke Up. Somehow — perhaps because no one wanted him — the Knicks were unable to deal the oafish “power” forward in the off-season. But this preseason, he actually appears to be hustling. Considering how little the Knicks expect from him, and the fact that he’ll no longer be paired with Curry (an arrangement that made both players worse), anything he brings in 2008–09 is found money.

4. They Have a Less Selfish Point Guard. The Knicks brought in Chris Duhon in the off-season because he likes to run and hates to shoot. This makes him the polar opposite of Stephon Marbury. (Though they seem to share an affinity for the nightlife.) Duhon will not wow anyone, but he will run the point guard like a normal human being, and he plays solid defense. Be prepared for many five-point, fourteen-assist games.

5. The Rook. The Knicks had their highest draft pick in 22 years (Kenny “Sky” Walker was it in 1986), Italian 20-year-old Danilo Gallinari. (Though his nickname — “The Rooster” — is much lamer than “Sky.”) He’s having back problems and won’t be up to full speed for a couple of months, but who was the last Knicks prospect worth watching and talking about? Maciej Lampe? Eric Chenowith?

6. Plenty of David Lee. The “fan favorite” — as much as any Knick can be a “fan favorite” — is receiving a vastly overdue promotion to the starting lineup this year. He’s as solid a rebounder as you’ll find in the Eastern Conference, which is good, because the Knicks will be putting up and missing lots of shots.

7. Quentin Richardson Might Remember He Walks Upright. Richardson — who once, if you can believe it, averaged nearly eighteen points a game — had one of his best seasons playing for D’Antoni in 2004–05. (He was so good that the Knicks grabbed him — then watched him atrophy.) Richardson can’t be nearly as bad a player as he was last year, and maybe being around D’Antoni will revive him. Maybe. Probably not, but maybe.

8. Star. Bury. Amazingly, stupendously, Stephon Marbury is still a New York Knick. The team tried everything short of moving the Garden to Staten Island without telling him to get rid of the guy, but, doggone it, he’s still here. So now what? Well, he won’t be in the starting lineup, and the minute he so much as sneezes, D’Antoni will deposit him next to Curry on the bench … but while it’s difficult to remember, there was a time when Marbury was considered a talented player. (He was on the 2004 Olympic team, for crying out loud.) He’s assuredly going to be more harm than help, but at least he'll be entertaining.

9. Following Them Won't Be So Painful. By the end of last season, Knicks beat writers were describing the job of covering the team as “hell on earth.” (In May, Knicks games were averaging about two paragraphs of coverage in the tabloids.) D’Antoni and Donnie Walsh are not as insane as Isiah, so everyone’s having more fun this year. And hey, fans, you might not even get thrown out of the Garden for holding up a sign that’s negative about the team. As we said: Baby steps.

10. Isiah Is Unlikely to Be Allowed in the Building. Isiah Thomas is still getting paid, but it's to stay far, far away. No matter what happens, this is the season’s most positive development. Even if the Knicks lose every game, this year is already a success.