It was probably more from force of habit than anything else. When you haven’t won a playoff game since 2000, haven’t had a winning season since 2001 and haven’t been to the playoffs since 2004, the reaction is understandable. This is a seriously stinky team, and there just isn’t any one player who’s going to change that overnight — at least not one available with the eighth pick in the 2009 draft.
The fans were also ticked that the player they wanted, guard Stephen Curry, was snatched away from them at No. 7 by the Warriors. They had booed lustily when commissioner David Stern announced that Curry would not fall into their laps. And now, with their hopes still set on a guard, team president Donnie Walsh had given them Hill.
Hill is a good player, maybe one who could develop into an elite player. He’s tall enough to play center, but, at around 230 pounds, not nearly bulky enough. He can run, he’s athletic, and he can create his own shots, attributes necessary to thrive in coach Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense.
But let’s face it: Hill does not turn the Knicks into playoff contenders, much less a team to be reckoned with next year. Curry might have been more of a help. At Davidson, he had been an incredible scoring machine, and his talents look as if they’re going to hold up in the NBA. But he doesn’t take them to the next level either.
LeBron James becomes a free agent after next season. So too, may some other Hall of Fame talents, including Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudamire, Yao Ming, Chris Paul and Josh Howard.
These are franchise-changing players. And the team that can collect not just one but two of them can go from the league’s dung heap to a championship literally overnight.
LeBron is obviously the pick of that free-agent litter. But think about adding him and somebody like Orlando center Dwight Howard. If the Knicks could pull that off, does anyone think that the eighth pick in 2009 is going to be the big difference-maker?
A bigger difference-maker might have been the player that draft-day rumors had the Knicks trying to get: Ricky Rubio. He’s the 18-year-old incredibly talented Spanish guard who led Team Espana to the finals of the Olympic tournament and pushed the American Redeem Team to the limit in the gold-medal game.
Rumors had the Knicks moving Hill and point guard Nate Robinson to the T-Wolves for Rubio. It didn’t come off on draft night, but it would have been a terrific move. Rubio has as much talent and as much upside as anyone in the draft. He was great as a 17-year-old Olympian. Give him four years to mature in the NBA and he could make everybody rethink what a point guard can be.
Instead, the Knicks moved shooting guard Quentin Richardson to Memphis for center Darko Milicic. This, too, is a move made with LeBron in mind. The Knicks’ weakest link is at center, where Eddie Curry proved mostly useless as a stationary object in a mobile offense. Milicic isn’t the most dominating center, and what he lacks in scoring touch he makes up for with mediocre rebounding. But he’s more mobile than Curry, and a year hence he might be a nice back-up for Dwight Howard, who would be an awfully good complement to LeBron James.
Hill would fit in with that team just fine. Believe me, Knick fans. And if the Knicks don’t get James, they will get someone pretty good. It could be Wade. It could be Paul. But it will be somebody good.
And that’s what this draft was about: Get the best available athlete to develop into a player next year; clear the salary decks; tell the fans things are getting better; and wait for 2010 and free-agent heaven.
PBT: Lance Stephenson led Indiana with 25 points in a win that eliminated his hometown team. Stephenson and the Pacers will face the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.
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