Preseason Game Thread: Knicks v. Celtics, Live Free or Die or Die Edition

Back to back preseason games?

The third in four nights?

In New Hampshire, of all places?

Alas, our favorite scrivener of that faraway mystic land, Brother Jimmy Cavanicus the Just will not be leaving his combination monastery/artisanal maple syrup manufacturing concern to attend in person, for reasons that to date he has only whispered to the birds, butterflies and grubworms that oddly appear in his footprints. Also, it seams that this torrid schedule of games-that-don’t-count has taken an equal toll on our weary, wanderlusting ‘Bockers. Messrs. Chandler, Anthony, Udrih, Felton and World Peace will be taking a brief sabbatical, perhaps to intermingle with the local gentry, attend a craft fair or two and possibly take in the autumnal foliage, which I hear is positively spectacular this time of the year.

But of course, our concern is for the right noble gentleman that shall be plying their trade. This is what makes preseason hoops actually fun, as opposed to making offerings to various deities that no one shreds a ligament or is ripped limb from limb by Woodson’s emerging full beard.

Given the maladies that have kept a chunk of the regular season rotation off the court, the Knicks are a tad thin at the moment. That means we’ll get to see some serious PT from the starters — Prigioni, Hardaway, Shumpert, Powell, and Bargnani as well as major backup minutes for Aldrich, CJ Leslie, Ike Diogu, Douglas Robers and, last but certainly not least…TOURE’ MURRY!

So, our big question for the evening: Who do y’all think will have a Copeland-esque, totally unexpected 35-point explosion to throttle the dastardly C’s? I think you can guess by the all-caps above who I’m pulling for.

Enjoy the game!

Raptors 100, Knicks 91

Welp, that was less fun. The Knicks’ preseason-long goals of an undefeated preseason were shattered like so many preseason plates, not unlike that episode during the final season of Three’s Company when Larry Dallas’ (née Dalliapoulos) Greek extended family dined to their Hellenic hearts’ content (as the Greeks are wont to do) in Jack Tripper’s newly-opened boîte, Jack’s bistro…

Threes Company – Larry’s Greek Family from Ari Kalos on Vimeo.

I assume Woodson’s pregame speeches are not entirely dissimilar to Mr. Firley’s. In any case, like the above clip, all seemed full of joyous men dancing with other men and homophobic/sexist jokes about fat chix, mang, and playing of the Bouzouki, Udrih attempting Ritter’s finest pratfalls, an Melo cooking up some savory soup, until the final minutes of the fourth, when a snaggle-toothed, Imam-bearded Reggie Evans impersonator (if Reggie Evans could hit from the top of the key) absolutely smashed every single dish he could get his mitts on in a giddily rapturous frenzy, sending the ‘Bockers to defeat and wholly decimating Jack’s profit margin. THANKS OBAMA!!!1!

Sounds exciting, don’t it? Well, in truth, it was a tepid, listless preseason game and not nearly as much ribald fun as the above might lead you to believe. In the name of full disclosure, I missed the first quarter because I switched to the metric clock this week. These ten-hour days are darned confusing (but the 100-hour week really lends itself to productivity). So, if there are any nuggets of wisdom that could be culled from the 22-all deadlock, please feel free to add them in the comments section. I can share.

Feel free to reboot your PreseasonWillNotOverreact App. Up and running now? Swell.

The Knicks put out some prettily effective offensive sets in the 2nd, much of which came via utilizing Carmelo in a variety of ways out of pick and rolls/pick and roll action. Whether he was the primary ball handler or the screener, they were able to locate him for uncontested looks or free up Chandler’s dives or wide open shooter on the weakside. Then again, ven when he was ISO’ing, say when confronting former friends-of-the-program Landry Fields (more on this in a tad) or Steve Novak (<3 u Steve), he was tossing peas into the Caspian Sea and grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat sittin’ in the lesser-known proverbial catbird seat. A side note: Melo does NOT like Landry Fields. Feel free to speculate as to why, but you could see Anthony take particular sadistic glee in making him look stupid. Alas, the ‘Bocker defense (for lack of a better term) was downright putrid, save for Prigioni’s pilfering; and that includes Iman Shumpert. Seriously though, you’d think some shrewd coach would say, “Watch out for the tanned Modigliani paintin on inbounds,” or something.

DeMar DeRozan was nigh-unguardable, and they continued to miss rotations, allow any guard faster than a rhino to beat them off the dribble and double team haphazardly. Though all of this flailing and overpursuing did lead to 23 Toronto turnovers, it also resulted in many an open cuts down the lane, wide open trey, and sloppy, reaching-to-grab-a-gent-for-no-particular-reason-type fouls galore (even if some of the calls were a tad questionable. We should probably all practice hollering, “DARE I SAY IT, BUT THESE REFEREES SUCKLE DONKEY TESTES.” It’s the preseason for all our Knick-ly sense of victimhood at the hands of/perpetual outrage towards the arbiters too, dontcha know.)

Down the stretch in the 3rd quarter, a defensive-minded unit featuring Shump n’ Metta put the clamps on the Dinosaurs, forcing turnovers and leading to fast break hoops galore. Would this were a regular season tilt, and they’d returned the starting five to the floor, they probably would’ve prevailed. But as ten-point 4th quarter bulge was in the process of being whittled away, Toure’ Murry made his NBA debut, banked home a nifty up and under lay in, followed hard upon with a steal on the baseline and feed to a streaking Timmy Jr. for the flush. All seemed right in the known universe until…until…IT arrived.

Quincy Acy, the Demi-god, the Devourer of Worlds, the Great Colossus just plain went HAM. Here are my notes, presented without edits. They really do convey the totality of what shall henceforth be known far and wide as The Quincy Acy Game:

Quicky acy dunk,

Quincy Acy long three

Quicky acy interior D

Quicky Acy block,

Quicny acy steal off an out of control Udrih.

Quicny ACYYYYYY HuSTle offensive rebound, gets fouled.

Quincy Acy destroys Beno driving to the hoop w/13 seconds left. Because he’s Quicny Acy, that’s why.

Plus, he really does look like a slightly sub-par clone of Reggie Evans. This tweet put it best, methinks.

And so they lost. Poop. A few more thoughts on some of tonight’s participants:

Andrea Bargnani: Evidently, our neighbors to the north—the nicest, politest people (‘cept for the ones playing hockey) in the world—just do not like the cut of Andrea’s jib, unleashing a Vertsbergerian torrent of boos whenever he touched the rock. I was stuck watching the feed from Toronto, and even the announcers wanted MOAR HATE, bemoaning the lack of blood-curdling screams and dolls in your likeness that were hung in effigy. So as my offering to the great God Objectivity, there were some good things from our Italo-Canadian import and some that are going to be season long nails on our collective chalkboard. Melo was heard in the funny papers exhorting Bargs to lay off his eerily effective pump fake, mainly because open shots don’t need to be crafted out of some slo-mo, Butoh Dance moves.

On more than one occasion, Andrea got the ball at the top of the key, caught it, then waited, the mondered, then pondered waiting, giving the defender time to get in his grill, before rotating the ball out/passing back to the wing/or attempting the aforementioned jukes n’ jives. I never thought I’d be saying this, but shoot it Bargs! Confidence breeds success! For all his gifts, he’s just not instinctive. The same problem is manifest on defense. Though it can look like he doesn’t give a crap, I just think his reaction time is a tick or two short. That said, he hit a couple of nice runners and put forth more effort on the glass, even if said effort seemed to be composed of running into the fray and sending both ‘mates and opponents sprawling.

Metta World Peace: As was the case on Wednesday, the day dedicated to Wigge, wife of Odin, Peace seems to think he’s got a Melo-ian green light, especially when pared with the ostensible 2nd unit. This, to date, has not proved to be a good thing. We finally got to see his scrambling, scrappy defense in the stretch at the end of the third, but even more so than Bargs, I would consider myself a happy, well-adjusted human being if he would dispense entirely with his bullheaded, lift-free forays to the rim and off-balance, “low-post” rainbow jumpers. Corner threes and wide open spot up J’s for you, Metta. C’est tout. Learn it. Live it.

Beno Udrih: Beno’s defense. It is…what’s the word I’m looking for…not good. He racked up four fouls in his first five minutes of action and generally plays like an over-caffeinated/sugared child, often tumbling to the floor at surprising and peculiar moments. It’s odd, because at other times, he can appear fairly crafty and heady, but then he just loses all sense of coordination, often all in the same play; like the moment in the 3rd when he beat his man off the dribble, tripped over an imaginary line, lost the ball, grabbed it again and somehow fed Bargs for an easy layup.

Josh Powell: Josh Powell likes to foul. I’m a poet, and I’m unaware of the fact that I’m composing poetry. He’s undersized, even for the PF slot, but he’s quite the whirling dervish of energy. Occasionaly, that’s a good thing, as when he saved Timmy from an evening of chums sending him links to the ESPN clip of Landry Fields (!) shredding his ankles (!!) with a crossover dribble (system error) with a nice recovery and block.

But mostly, all of his grabbing and flinging himself about just led to led to hacks.

Tim Hardaway Jr.: Another night of silky-smooth jumpers, but you can see that he has a bad tendency to not stay balanced and lean to the side on his jumpers off the dribble, which makes him less accurate. Boffo dunk, though, even if Tim the Elder wasn’t around to poke the gentleman sitting next to him in the ribs as to indicate, “That’s my son!”

And that’ll do it. There were some nice signs and some disturbing (Yes, preseason caveats, but worrying/fretting’s practically an Olympic sport ‘round these parts) trends: the still-atrocious point-guard defense, inability to avoid dumb fouls and the bizarro ‘strategy’ of seeming to encourage corner bombs being three big ones. On the plus side, they did do a much better job on the glass, actually netted a few fast break points, and the veterans all seem healthy and ready to roll. If tonight’s game gave you a case of the sadz, fear not. They’ll be playing in Lord Jimeson “Irish Jim” O’CavanFitz’s stomping grounds/the one place on earth Clyde Frazier has never trod with his alligator shoed-feet tomorrow night. And even if as rumored Felt and Melo are planning to skip the proceedings, our brave, noble cub reporter shall attend in person to give y’all the skinny and the inside dope.

Go Knicks!

Preseason Recap: Knicks 103, Celtics 102

Well that was nice.

Hey everybody! Basketball! Professional basketball! I don’t know about you, but after a summer of fretting over various transactions and weirdly timed front office dismissals, it sure was swell to have, you know, an actual game to watch.

And they won!

Here are your legally mandated preseason caveats. Yes, it was the preseason and there are a slew of new players still learning the offensive and defensive principles/sets/where they should keep their snacks/how many snacks should they eat/etc. It’s probably wise not to go overboard fretting about various veterans who played with, let’s say, less than the optimum effort. Similarly, young’ns peppering the stat line with gaudy digits aren’t guaranteed a pretty sculpture in Springfield, MA.

With that said, let’s talk about the game WHICH THEY WON. TAKE THAT, CELTICS.

A programming note: We won’t be doing the grades in the preseason, just because the generator blows a fuse and starts whirring and emitting smoke from its electro-ears and vomiting spaghetti with a intel core processor pesto trying to dig up photos of Ike Diogu or Chris Babb.

Overall, (again, preseason) they got off to a bit of a bumpy start, amassing ten turnovers in the first half while getting outworked on the boards by the glass-challenged Hub Men. They more or less righted the ship to start the third, holding on to the rock and realizing that aside from Jeff Green, they could pack the paint and force the C’s into long heave. (Though that annoying tendency to double non-threats leaving people wide open for corner threes seems to be in midseason form) Of course, the Celts had to make things “interesting” and yes, even though it’s preseason, watching the Bostonians whittle away at what seemed like an insurmountable advantage with a 33-11 (!) run at the end is a harrowing event. I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but recall Game Six and all the other times that Paul Pierce’s wry, sneering grin made me want to hurl heavy objects at the teevee machine). It was annoying to watch, but given the Chris Smith-Tim Jr.-CJ Leslie-Josh Powell-Ike Diogu unit that was tasked with shutting the door, doesn’t mean much.

Some individual notes:

Iman Shumpert: Remember the final game of last season? I know, the lasting memory is probably Lance Stephenson ripping through the defense like a rabid, feral hyena, Roy Hibbert’s devastating block right in Melo’s perpetually grinning mug, or a general sense of dismay that a (mostly) fun season was coming to a premature end. But of course, the game wouldn’t have been as close as it was without Iman’s magma-hot 3rd quarter. Well, it seems as if Iman locked himself and his game in a hermetically sealed hyperbaric chamber since that fateful May evening, because he picked up right where he left off.

And more impressive than the perfect 7-7 shooting night is the way in which he amassed his buckets. He was incredibly decisive, polished and confident. There were times last year that you could see Iman thinking out on the court. Considering he was coming back from a fairly brutal knee mangling, that’s to be expected. But tonight, he took and made more off the dribble shots than we saw in the entirety of his first two seasons. He’s always had a pretty looking shot, especially when spotting, up, but the way he crafted space for himself with a quick first step was really exciting to see.

In addition, he was ostensibly the floor general during the stretches when he shared the backcourt with Tim Hardaway Jr. and while he’s not a player you’d want manning the point for 30+ minutes a night, he made the good, simple pass time and time again and had a nifty feed to Cole Aldrich on a pick and roll.

Whether one chooses to ascribe this burst of offensive brilliance to Son of Wood’s dangling of JR’s candidacy for the starting two spot is a matter of personal preference. One tidbit from Media Day that I think went unmentioned. Shump was sharing the podium with Kenyon Martin and a wise wag from the Fourth Estate asked about “Their pride in defense” or something to that effect. We’ve heard Shump’s response:

“It’s not that I love defense. I say this over and over to everybody, Shumpert added. “I don’t love defense. I want to score so bad, that I’m willing to snatch the ball out of your hands. That’s what defense is about… The game of basketball is to score the ball and have more points than the other team at the end of the game. To do that, I need to snatch the ball from you as many times as I can to give my teammates more chances to score the ball. That’s what it comes down to.”

After that line, he stormed out of the room. Shump was pissed. That’s a good thing. Playing with anger, with a desire to prove something (as long as it doesn’t turn into out-of-control rage), is a good thing. I think (and I’m speculating here) Shump resents being pigeonholed as Tony Allen 2.0 and he’s showing it. Keep it up, Angry Shump.

UPDATE: I guess I was on to something.

Pablo Prigioni: Prigs did a dandy job of Pablo Prigioni-ing, sneaking about and deflecting an inbound attempt for a turnover, then positively hounding Avery Bradley up the floor and forcing him out of bounds. He seemed to get lost a bit on the offensive end, perhaps due to the fact that Bargs was the primary recipient of crosscourt passes out of pick and roll/curl action. But still, anyone who doesn’t love the fact that the Knicks managed to hoard enough pennies to retain his services doesn’t have an operant limbic system. And that tan! Be still my heart.

Tyson Chandler: I’m not sure if Tyson’s completely back up to speed yet, though he was eons better than the slinky-necked, hobbled shell we saw in the playoffs. He banked home a nice alley-oop feed from Felton. And that pick and pop jumper he unleashed was sure purty. I guess if you take 600 shots a day, it can improve one’s accuracy. To paraphrase Sailor Ripley, Why it’s taken until his 12th season to try to harness this skill remains God’s own private mystery.

Raymond Felton: Felton had a nifty game, looking slender and swift of foot. It’s odd, but even when he nails that little floater in the lane, it inevitably touches some part of the rim. I’m sure I’m forgetting numerous swished interior shots, but I just assume that he’s going to catch iron.

Andrea Bargnani: A bit of a mixed bag. There were a few Stoudemire-ean moments where he looked absolutely lost trying to figure out where to rotate and to whom he should rotate two in the ‘Bockers switch-happy scheme, losing Sullinger and Wallace repeatedly. Hopefully, his foibles can be partially ascribed to the fact that he’s still rounding into game shape after his bout with Pneumonia. But on the other end, he’s clearly a skilled player. I dug the fact that he primarily limited himself to wide open shots off ball movement or by findspace when Melo’s Melo-ing. That pump fake of his is downright effective, even if it’s so slow it looks like he operates it with a hand crank.

Carmelo Anthony: His jumper was dripping wet to start, punctuated by deft passes to Bargnani and other mates. He started to force it in the third and he let Wallace get position way too easily. Still, it was more or less vintage Melo.

Tim Hardaway Jr.: It’s still going to take awhile to warm up to Timmy—sins of the father and whatnot. But he’s got a sweet J and looks like he could be a plus one on one defender. He’s also so much more effective when he limits his game to spot up attempts or one dribble moves. We saw in the 4th (and during his brief stint in the Las Vegas Summer League) what happens when he’s forced to create for himself. But after he nailed the game winner, the cameras cut to Dad, sitting in attendance courtside. And well, take a look. That’s nice.

Okay, even a cold-hearted cynic like your humble correspondent can’t hate Timmy for that.

Cole Aldrich: He’s got some nice hands (even if he missed more than a few bunnies), hustles/bangs, takes up space and is active on defense but boy oh boy is he corn molasses-level slow. Get well soon, Jeremy Tyler

Beno Udrih: Proving that stereotypes do often exist for a reason, our European import flops like a champ. He’s possibly the diametric opposite of the gent he’s replacing, the current Brooklyn clipboard-holder, but that mid-range shot is very effective.

Metta World Peace: I dunno, dudes. Look, it’s going to be fun having him on the squad, but he’s got zero lift and those awkward low-post attempts aren’t going to fall at a 5-9 clip all year. I’m note-free as far as to how he looked as a defender, which could indicate that he did a solid, if unnoticeable job or that he failed to make an impact or that a shoddy note-taker. I’m hoping it was Option A.

CJ Leslie: Swell game saving block, CJ!

Chris Smith: Chris Smith is not an NBA player. I feel for the guy, what with the recent revelation that all the cries of nepotism only make him want to work harder, but he really shouldn’t make the roster. Sigh.

Toure’ Murry: No Toure’? FIRE WOODSON!

Unfortunately, I was stuck watching the Celtics feed, so I missed out on some vintage Clyde stream-of-consciousness musing about being a sailboat captain and not wanting to hear about pirates, followed hard upon by an invitation that was extended to Mike Breen to traverse the wide Sargasso Sea together.

I would like to state for the record that I would be a devoted fan of any and all Breen-Clyde deep sea fishing reality shows. It’d rate a close second to the greatest Angling program of all time, featuring the great actor/musician/devoted Knicker-backer, John Lurie, “Fishing with John.” The Tom Waits episode was definitely my fave.

But anyhoo, at one point PJ Carlesimo went on a dumb rant about not liking the effect that advanced stats have had on the game of basketball, featuring the derp-tastic straw man argument that those pencil-pushing, asthmatic nerrrrrrrrddddddds don’t actually watch the games. I would’ve transcribed it, but I was pounding nails into the floor with my forehead at the time.

And that’ll do it. We’ll have some more thoughts on the lineup choices and what it means going forward tomorrow, as well as an alliterative #HotSportsTake on Bargnani and a missive on fresh parchment, scrawled in pure virgin crow’s blood from Father Knickerblogger. But for now…

1-0. CHAMPIONS OF THE FIRST PRESEASON GAME 2013-14!!!!!!

BREAKING NEWS: Steve Mills in as GM/President, Glen Grunwald out.

This is weird.

But this is the Knicks, so of course, on a random, lovely autumn Thursday, we get this bit ‘o info over the Twitter-wire…

 

Which might mean absolutely nothing/a shakeup of titles or organizational structure. Or it might mean Dolan was really, RILLY peeved that Grunwald didn’t send Shumpert to Belize, via Saul Goodman’s vacuum cleaner repairman chum, Robert Forster.

Stay tuned. Gonna be a fun* afternoon!

UPDATE (12:01pm): More sources are now using the word “out” with regards to Grunwald.

UPDATE (12:16pm)

His eminence speaks (sort of):

And now we now (probably). Grunwald’s a Walsh-esque “advisor” and it was (probably) Dolan’s call. The Knicks!

Here’s the official release, printed on a parchment torn from the pages of the Necronomicon and written in virgin ram’s blood:

“I am pleased to be able to welcome Steve back to the Knicks,” owner James Dolan said. “He is a well-respected sports executive with a strong background in basketball, as well as a familiarity with NBA operations and our company. We look forward to his leadership and believe he is the right person to help us reach our ultimate goal of winning an NBA Championship.

“We are grateful for Glen’s many years of valuable service and pleased that he will remain with the organization.”

We’ll have some more, hopefully reasoned thoughts on all this later, perhaps as soon as we can wrench the bloody stumps that used to be our arms out of the garbage disposal, but for now, this is weird and disappointing and oh-so-very Knicks.

*Incredibly nerve-wracking

At VICE: JR Smith and America’s Out of Control Love Affair with Drug Tests

So remember last week when JR Smith got suspended five games for his fourth violation of the NBA’s Drug Policy? After a spririted debate in the comments section,  I wrote some things about it. Since it’s not so much about basketball as the multi-billion dollar industry that’s perpetuating Prohibition and superseding state laws, it’s here at VICE Magazine:

Take the case of Brandon Coats, a 33-year-old who used to work as a telephone operator for Dish Network in Colorado until he was fired for failing a drug test in 2010. This was a random test, just like the one that ensnared JR Smith—Dish didn’t consider him to be some kind of slack-jawed, drug-sucking fiend who needed to be monitored, he just got unlucky.What makes this particularly unjust is Coats has had a prescription for medicinal marijuana since 2009 to deal with the effects of a car crash that left him partly paralyzed. He sued to get his job back but lost, and the court of appeals in Colorado (where, as you’re probably aware, pot is legal) recently upheld the ruling, stating, “For an activity to be lawful in Colorado, it must be permitted by, and not contrary to, both state and federal law.

So when state law conflicts with rules set up by employers, business will trump government. Cool. Here’s how the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, an organization for manufacturing executives, explains the confusing legal conflict(s) thusly :

“The Colorado law—specifically Amendment 64 to Article 18 of the state constitution—prohibits employers from terminating employees for engaging in lawful activities (marijuana possession and use) off the employer’s premises during nonworking hours unless the employer’s decision relates to a bona fide occupational qualification, the employee’s specific duties, or the employer’s efforts to avoid a conflict of interest. However, the Colorado law expressly states that marijuana legalization does not affect the right of employers to maintain a drug-free workplace.” (Emphasis mine.)

The same rules generally apply in Washington, the other state to have fully legalized weed. In 2011, the state supreme court ruled against a woman working as a customer-service rep who was fired for failing a test even though she was taking medicinal marijuana to treat migraines, and even though she had told them she was taking marijuana.

You can read the whole thing here.

 

2013 Report Card: Kurt Thomas

Do you watch Mad Men? Yeah, there are vast gobs of great TV shows out there, and between, you know, working and living an actual life, I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t a line-and-spoiler-quoting fanboy.

For the uninitiated, the hero’s an advertising executive in the 1960’s named Don Draper that has crafted a Gatsby-esque false identity. Unfortunately, by the end of the first season, said deception is on the verge of being uncovered. In the last episode, in the midst of his panic and torment, he comes up with a campaign for Kodak’s newfangled slide projector. Renaming it, “The Carousel,” this is his tour-de-force pitch to the awed, enraptured Rochester execs:

My first job, I was in-house at a fur company, with this old-pro copywriter, a Greek named Teddy. Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is new. Creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion.

But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product. Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent. Sweetheart. (lights switch off) (changes slide) Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound”. (changes slide) It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. (changes slide) This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. (changes slide) It goes backwards, forwards, (changes slide) takes us to a place where we ache to go again. (changes slide) It’s not called the wheel. It’s called the carousel. (changes slide) It lets us travel the way a child travels. (changes slide) Round and around, and back home again. (changes slide) To a place where we know we are loved. (changes slide) (changes slide) (changes slide)

The brilliance of this monologue is that it absolutely nails the contradiction (or one of many contradictions) at the heart of the American experience/ethos. We’ve always been a nation that’s defined itself by what-is-to-come, whether it’s the frontier (both on the continent and in space), the next shiny technological gee-gaw or whizbanger or even the somewhat weary, creaking notion that by dint of copious amounts of pluck and elbow grease and bootstrap-pulling, any strapping young lad with the proper glint and twinkle in his eye can grow up to be President. The most American thing one can do is redefine one’s self, remake one’s self in by force of will and be a “Self-made man.” You know, The American Dream™ n’ stuff.

The paradox is that within this state of perpetual, constant forward motion/progress and our love of the new and the re-imagined, there exists a gnawing awareness in the back of our collective psyche, that amidst all this striving, everything is a priori imbued with a persistent nostalgic sense of loss or failure. Because if your goal is always somewhere off in the near-to-distant-future, whatever you possess or encounter in the here and now is going to feel tarnished somehow. It’s a pre-ordained, pre-nostalgizing of everyone and everything.

That’s what I think about when I think about Kurt Thomas’ in this, his final turn around the wheel of the carousel with the New York Knicks.

***

Back in July 2012, in the midst of what was (for some) a truly nightmarish couple of weeks, when the dream that was Linsanity imploded in such a sudden, jarring and dumbly ego-driven and utterly pointless manner, the word came down that Kurt Thomas, who hadn’t graced the JD and the Straight Shot-blaring corridors of Madison Square Garden since he was jettisoned in a deal with the Phoenix Suns for Quentin Richardson[1] and the rights to the 21st pick in the 2005 draft, Nate Robinson.

I’m sure the harried, toady-ish Knickerbocker brain-trust, working the phones like fiends in the ill-lit, windowless existentially doomed Knick cubicles weren’t thinking of the fan base’s collective agita/sense of  foreboding doom when they reacquired Ol’ Crazy Eyes in the Felton trade[2], but it certainly felt like a nostalgic bone was being tossed to the beaten, bedraggled, emotionally-scarred masses.

Prior to the start of the season, very few thought Kurt would be a key part of the rotation, just another member of the AARP mailing list that the Knicks had culled through to bolster a what looked like a wobbly, hastily-constructed roster, falling somewhere between Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby on the adorable-yet-grizzled scale.

Though he contributed in fits and spurts and even started (in name only) for a brief stretch in late November-early December as one of Woodson’s ill conceived four-minute heroes[3], for the most part, he was a forgotten man, as his injuries and Carmelo Anthony’s installation at power forward led to a slew of DNP-CD’s. There’s a Bill James line (I’m paraphrasing) about how ballplayers never really lose their skills via age—they’re just able to employ them with ever-decreasing frequency. E.g., Rod Carew could probably still whack a slider at the knees to the opposite field for a single, but it’s not something he can summon on a regular enough basis to hit .330.

That, sadly, was Kurt Thomas. He could still unleash all the crafty and at times ungentlemanly gifts he’d amassed over the years, but for shorter and shorter stretches. Even though his Per36 numbers are more or less indistinguishable from the rest of his career, sending him on to the court for anything over ten minutes in a close contest seemed unwise, regardless of the fact that his strengths – defending the post, erecting impenetrable picks and cleaning the glass – were exactly what the Knicks’ were desperate for from their front court for the huge chunks of the year.

It looked like 2012-13 would prove to be a sad coda to what had been a more-than-respectable career. But then, for one game, for one brief, glittering, improbable moment, he came roaring Lazarus-like back to life, and absolutely pulled the team’s foundering fat out of the fire.

At the end of a brutish five-game Western Conference swing in which they were pummeled into a fine paste,  their options at center whittled down to Kurt or possibly reactivating a heavily PED-fortified Herb Williams, their lead in the Atlantic hanging by a one-game thread, Carmelo Anthony unavailable with a dodgy knee after exiting Denver to a chorus of Schadenfreude-laced boos, three games, Amar’e’s knee in need of re-de-bridling, and Tyson Chandler’s neck resembling worn-out Slinky, things looked Cormac McCarthy’s The Road-level bleak.

So like a weary, rum-soaked gunslinger, Kurt strapped on his gun belt, dusted off his chaps and went to work v. Utah, even though the chatter throughout the day suggested he too was struggling with an injury of indeterminate nature[4], possibly a bone spur, Rickets, Scurvy, Shingles or some other old man’s disease.

***

He stared down the law firm of low-post beasts Jefferson, Millsap, Favors and Kanter, using every ounce of grit and guile that he could drag out of his rusty toolbox. Rumbling, nay dragging his carcass down the court, fixing his cock-eyed, imposing glare on any impetuous young Turk who dared to invade his turf and swatting away interior shots from ballers nearly half his age.

At one moment of pure folly in the fourth quarter, he received a pick and roll feed and, instead of settling for his trademark no-lift 15 foot jumper, he sashayed down the lane with the grace of a Nijinsky and dumped the biscuit in the basket. The Knicks won, of course, and improbably proceeded to rattle off an additional 12 straight to secure the Atlantic Division and head into the playoffs with their fickle chum, Morris “Mo” Centum, riding shotgun. After the game, his ‘mates slung terms like “warriors” and “guts” and “heroic.” Normally that just smacks of so much sports cliché bukkake/sloppy equating of sports with war, but for once, it was just the plain, honest truth.

As if it had come straight from a tossed draft of a hackneyed Hollywood script, a post-game MRI revealed that Thomas’ trip to the way-back machine was executed on a broken foot. He was out for the remainder of the season and, in all likelihood, ever. That was it. One last burst of glory, one final battle, only to be brought home on his shield and set upon the funeral pyre. 27 minutes (a season high) 6 points, 3 ‘bounds, 3 blocks and 2 assists. Nothing to write home about. But considering the acute agony that he must have experienced in amassing those totals, they’re positively Herculean.

But for all the joy that Kurt’s last, hobbled, wincing, oh-so-clutch battle brought, like Don Draper’s poetic sales pitch, you couldn’t help but feel the pain of nostalgia—a pain beyond empathy for a mangled hoof that seemed to reflect something that was already gone and yet still sitting right in front of you.

Like Draper’s carousel, we and Kurt took a trip back into the past, into memory. For brief moments, you could almost make out the ghostly specter of a young, cornrowed Thomas, wildly flinging his frame around under the hoop, trying to make his mark with the rough-and tumble Van Gundy Knicks, somewhere just off to the side of 40-year old Kurt. Losing his cool. Blowing a gasket. Striving. One of John Osborn’s Angry Young Men, threatening to beat the absolute living shit out of Stephon Marbury.

And like Draper, urt Thomas had reinvented his game. There’s that hoary joke about how, “Kurt Thomas once led the nation in scoring and rebounding! Oh really, what nation…Bratislava?” After shredding his knee during his sophomore season in Miami and slowly but surely devolved into a player with all the grace and athleticism of a ’74 Dodge Dart up on blocks in your alcoholic, deadbeat, unemployed neighbor’s unkempt backyard, through what must have been countless hours of determination and repetition, with a monk-like level of dedication, devotion and pure will that most folks can never hope to approach, he developed a dead-eye spot up jumper[5], compensated for a near-total lack of ups by mastering the lost arts of positioning and boxing out, and became invariably one of the highest IQ players on the multitude of teams that he toiled for. Even if he was never more than a solid pro, it’s a remarkable feat.

And now, after a meaningful and meaningless game in Salt Lake City, that was beautiful and yet tinged with an unshakeable sadness, for Kurt Thomas, it’s all over.

My Mom (age 75) says that she’s still shocked when she walks down the block and snatches a glimpse of her reflection in a storefront window. For a moment, she can’t help but thinking, “Who is that old lady?” In her mind’s eye she still feels and looks the same; that she’s still a young woman navigating the streets of New York City. I wonder if Kurt Thomas does exactly the same thing.

***

So if he is going to hang up his Nikes and not go gentle in to that good night, before we hurtle forward into the next season and the dramas and beautiful victories and crushing defeats that are sure to come, it’s fitting that we stop the great wheel of basketball history to say thanks, Kurt. Thanks for all of the wobble-eyed psychotic stares and the yeoman defensive efforts and the illegal picks that often left an impression of your hipbone in the midsection of many a ‘Bocker and non-‘Bocker alike and the mid-range and beyond heaves that found the bottom of the net and the slump-shouldered, suffering-of-the-world-bearing gait.

Thanks for all the memories, Kurt.

Grades (5 point scale):
Offense: 2
Defense: 3
Teamwork: 4
Rootability: 5
Performance/Expectations: 3 (2 for most of the season,  12,309 for the Utah game)
Final Grade: C-

 


 

[1] Q also rejoined the orange and blue this year. Maybe there is something prescient to the creepily zombified mantra, “Once a Knick, etc.” that’s stitched inside the collar.

[2] Speaking of reunions with former friends… Yes, Felton proved a more-than-capable replacement for Lin, and for far fewer ducats. But he (and Thomas) didn’t arrive at a factory irregular price tag: Jared Jeffries, Dan Gadzuric, the rights to Kostas Papanikolaou, Georgios Printezis and a future 2nd round pick, because the Knicks always have to give away picks in a deal, what with said picks cluttering up the previously mentioned dank office space, falling into the Xerox machine, getting all gunked up with toner and all. Considering the pure venom the Portandians felt for…Felt, how desperate they were to assure that they never darkened their rain-soaked doors; the Knicks gave up a lot. That’s how they rolls, yo.

[3] James White to the white courtesy phone. James White, pick up the white courtesy phone please.

[4] All Knick injuries are of an indeterminate nature. And are considered day-to-day.

[5] It seems a lifetime ago, but during the improbable run in ’99, the fanatics would audibly groan whenever Kurt threw the rock rimward. Like Oakley and Lee, over time, it became his chief offensive weapon.