Now that the Knicks (and Rangers) have gone into their offseason hibernation a little later than usual, the $750-million renovation of Madison Square Garden has begun in earnest.
(And $750M to remake a building — and not build a completely new one — is plenty earnest.)
By the time fans return to MSG at the start of the 2011-12 NBA season (if we get one), gone will be the narrow concourses, a visitor’s locker room so small that owners of even the most cramped studio apartments would sniff at the square footage and bathrooms so cozy that men stand uncomfortably hip-to-hip at the urinals.
(Also gone: cheap seats, which were never really cheap in the first place, but goodness …)
Some say changing MSG could strip the place of its character, but those not chained to sepia-toned nostalgia and haunted by Red Holzman’s ghost know the place, for the reasons listed above, needed to change.
What will mostly remain at MSG, however, is what you last saw of a team swept out of the postseason.
Hardcore Knicks fans may disagree with this and after 39 seasons since their last NBA title, may want more immediate changes and better results. But even bandwagon fans such as myself (though I have lived within three miles of Madison Square Garden for a third of my life), know that in the context of their recent sordid and sad history, the Knicks standing relatively pat should provide something the franchise hasn’t had in a while: stability.
Instead of overhauling the roster as they tried to do, it seemed, on the fly and every six months to please the coterie of frustrated fans, the Knicks will not tear down and renovate the roster this summer. They will tweak, they will seek out a living and breathing center who can defend and rebound for stretches at a time (no need to score, though) and a decent backup point guard to spell the 34-year-old Chauncey Billups.
One of the reasons the Knicks will only do a touch-up is that they don’t have the cap room for an overhaul. On Wednesday, the Knicks announced they would pick up Billups’, $14.2M option for 2011-12. While that seems to be a lot of dough for an aging point guard, the Knicks’ had no alternative. They had to retain Billups. The heady, steady Billups may not be the ideal for Mike D’Antoni’s breakneck offense, but the Knicks have had far worse options (cough, cough Duhon).
(All of which reminds me of a back-and-forth with Denver coach George Karl and Billups after the Nuggets stole him from the Pistons for a washed up Allen Iverson.)
“There are times I’d like Chauncey to play a little faster in the fourth quarter,” Karl said of his point guard, who was playing at an MVP level in the second half of the 2008-09 season.
When told of Karl’s wish, Chauncey smirked and said, “I bet he would.”
After all, coaches may control playing time, but players control the tempo. Whether D’Antoni will push the issue of pushing the ball with Billups remains to be seen. But Mike D. and Billups can make it work. Billups runs the pick-and-roll well, he makes good decisions with the ball and defenders can’t go under screens when he has the ball. D’Antoni, who rides his stars like horses who are put away wet, will need to manage Billups’ minutes and that’s why the Knicks need to find a backup who can hold his own for 20 minutes per.
Finding that guy is a job for this guy — Donnie Walsh. If Knicks are smart — and they haven’t been in the past — they will sign Walsh to a contract extension. He helped lure Amar’e Stoudemire, which in turn helped him to be able to trade for Carmelo Anthony and Billups.
It all could go wrong, though. These are the Knicks and James Dolan is still running the show. You know of Dolan (but who really knows him?). The one who let Isiah Thomas run roughshod over the franchise only to reportedly and repeatedly seek his counsel. At the press conference for the Anthony trade, Dolan tried to Obi-Wan his way through by telling the press, Isiah Thomas was not involved in this deal and he was not the basketball droid the media was looking for.
Of course, no one fell for it. This is why Walsh, according to reports, wants full autonomy. Can you blame him? The Knicks can only move forward if they remove the person from the process who has been holding them back. And if Dolan wants to bring Isiah back, here’s hoping the NBA does what it did the first time: send it into the fourth row. It’d be great if David Stern could step in and appoint someone who loved basketball and who understood what hoops means to the city to run the team in the “best interests of basketball” as Bud Selig did with the L.A. Dodgers.
(Yes, I just suggested David Stern act like Bud Selig, but considering what Donald Sterling — the Donald Trump of the NBA — has been able to get away with, don’t expect the NBA to do anything in New York.)
But more than anything, the Knicks organization outside of Walsh needs to realize it won’t be easy, especially here and especially against emerging teams such as the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat. Yet, as winners, they’ll never need to pay for a meal in the town again. Just ask Walt “Clyde” Frazier, who once said, “There’s nothing like winning in New York.”
(True. Few towns back in the ’70s would be able to foment Walt’s transformation into Clyde…)
Still, the Knicks are far from a championship team, and could be for a while. But for the first time in a long time, as the walls of their arena are torn down, the Knicks have at least tried to set the foundation for future success at MSG.
Now, it’s up to them to find all the pieces to make it fit.
* For the team, not for the building