Tonight, the New York Knicks begin their 65th season of life with Landry Fields and Timofey Mozgov in their starting lineup. Of all the possible lineup and roster permutations Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni might have imagined when they made their ill-fated trek to Akron in July, having those two as starters would have to be considered rather low in their imaginations. But here we are: The last three years of salary-slashing and payroll-reducing, which were all leading to this season, have given us, on the shiny opening night, Landry Fields and Timofey Mozgov in the starting lineup.
It shouldn’t be too alarming that they’re starting; both have had terrific preseasons. Mozgov may remain the starter all year, but Fields is just holding down the fort, allowing the Knicks to have Wilson Chandler (who’s a natural 4 but was the Knicks’ other option for the 2) come off the bench. Eventually, when he’s healthy (if that ever happens), Kelenna Azubuike will be the team’s shooting guard. That might not be until Christmas, if then.
The main thing Fields and Mozgov’s presence reveal is that, despite a European trip that was supposed to foster team bonding and an extended preseason of get-to-know-you, the Knicks are still a work in progress. Not just in a roster-construction sense — we’re not talking about Carmelo Anthony here — but in a “the twelve guys currently wearing uniforms” sense. The Knicks looked borderline lousy in the preseason, playing better defense than they’ve been given credit for but looking lost and confused on offense and apparently unable to grasp the fundamental concept of rebounding the ball when someone has missed a shot. Particularly worrisome has been the play of Danilo Gallinari, the team’s second-best player, who has sulked up and down the court like a guy who has a hand-built RSS feed informing him every time his name pops up in a trade rumor. The Knicks have fostered more optimism this past few months than a team that hasn’t won a playoff game in nearly a decade should, thanks in large part to Amar’e Stoudemire, but they are not coming into their opener with much steam. (An ankle injury to Anthony Randolph, who will miss a week and wasn’t exactly tearing it up anyway, isn’t much help.)
But right now, the Knicks are 0-0, facing a Raptors team tonight that even the most skeptical Knicks observers believe will be far worse than Mike D’Antoni’s charges. The Knicks have Stoudemire, their most talented player in a decade, and a rotation that will feature at least six guys who weren’t on the team last season. (When Randolph and Azubuike return, it’ll be eight.) It is much easier to be optimistic now than it will be for a few weeks. The Knicks have a tough starting schedule and will be learning what their personnel can do and what they can’t on the fly. It will be fun, eventually, even if it might not look fun tonight. What matters is that it is new, it is different, it is a sign of progress. For now, that will have to do. Tonight is a beginning. We might not know where we’re all headed, but we know that, no matter what, it can’t be worse than what we’ve been through.