|The status of Stephon Marbury is just one trouble spot for the struggling Knicks. (Seth wenig/Associated Press)|
For the best basketball this season on either side of the Hudson River, you might want to find a seat at Rucker Park.
Last year, for the first time since 1987, both the Knicks and Nets missed the playoffs. The Knicks, who won 23 games, have new management and a new coach, while the Nets, who won 34, have turned to a promising youth movement.
So while these two struggling franchises in the nation's top media market are moving in the right direction, it will take them some time, and they will be fighting with each other to stay out of the Atlantic Division basement.
"Certainly as it relates to New York, we've been struggling mightily and the league has been doing very well," said NBA commissioner David Stern. "As a team with a fair amount of talent improves, it will help the league.
"The Nets are interesting because they are in a process of getting younger because they're building a team for the future. They have made a decision to trade Richard Jefferson and Jason Kidd. They're retooling, and as a fan, it will be interesting to see if they can do it this year."
The Knicks fired coach/general manager Isiah Thomas, and hired longtime NBA executive Donnie Walsh and successful coach Mike D'Antoni to cure their woes. The drama, however, didn't leave town with Thomas.
Talented yet extremely troubled guard Stephon Marbury is still on the roster and is laughing at the idea of getting bought out of the final year of his contract, worth $23 million. Good luck trading "Starbury," who is scrimmaging with the second team now.
Center Eddy Curry has yet to practice because of a bacterial infection but could return to action tomorrow. Heralded rookie forward Danilo Gallinari has yet to practice because of a back injury. And forward Jared Jeffries will miss up to two months after fracturing his left fibula during last Thursday's practice.
Star Knicks guard Jamal Crawford described last season as "embarrassing." When asked what the lowest point was, he said, "There were so many lows. What was the highest point?"
Crawford could end up saying the same thing about this season. But with D'Antoni's up-tempo offense in place, he is highly optimistic.
"Why not shoot [for the playoffs]?" said Crawford. "The fans are tired of empty promises, but why not shoot for it?"
There is more reason for optimism on the other side of the Lincoln Tunnel. Yes, two stars, Kidd and Jefferson, are gone, and it will be interesting to see whether perennial All-Star Vince Carter is still around by season's end. And who knows when the team will finally move from the NBA's worst venue in the Izod Center to Brooklyn?
But the Nets have a long list of very talented young players: guard Devin Harris, forwards Yi Jianlian and ex-Boston College star Sean Williams, rookies Brook Lopez, Ryan Anderson, and Chris Douglas-Roberts, and ex-UConn center Josh Boone.
And in two years, with the young talent in bloom, Nets minority owner Jay-Z might be able to persuade his friend LeBron James to become a Net, too.
But while the Nets' future is bright, the immediate prognosis is poor, with daily growing pains. Coach Lawrence Frank says the only starters written in ink are Carter and Harris.
"It's all about the process and journey," said Frank. "How do you define success? I reference John Wooden. Success is defined by being as good as you can be. The wins can take care of itself."
There won't be many wins in Manhattan or the Meadowlands this season. The "Mecca of Basketball" this is not right now.
Boston will have to wait to watch stars come out
While there has been talk about the NBA All-Star Game coming to Boston, it wouldn't be for at least two years.
NBA commissioner David Stern said last week that a decision on the 2010 game is expected to be announced at the beginning of the upcoming season. While the Celtics have looked into the process of hosting an All-Star Game for the first time since 1964, a team source said no official application has been filed.
The 2009 All-Star Game is in Phoenix, and projected candidates for 2010 include Dallas, Toronto, Charlotte, and New York.
"There are several places that we're considering," said Stern. "We are aiming to have a decision shortly after the season starts."
Dallas seems to be the front-runner for 2010. There has been a proposal to have the game at the new Cowboys stadium in nearby Arlington, which would allow all the Mavericks season ticket-holders to be able to attend.
"Really don't have any idea what our chances are, or what happens [venue-wise] if we do get it in a few years," said Mavericks owner Mark Cuban via e-mail.
And what about the talk that the NBA could have an All-Star Game at an overseas location, such as London?
"Won't be overseas," said Stern. "We're focusing on overseas for exhibition games. We'll be in London, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, Beijing, and Guangdong for preseason games. But we are not planning any All-Star or regular-season games at the present time. It's more fun to talk about. There are no hard plans on anything like that."
Change in plans: Apparently, Nuggets coach George Karl is living up to his promise to be tougher on his underachieving team. NBA sources said Karl told Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony at the beginning of training camp that they would have to make a much stronger effort to get their teammates more involved offensively. Iverson averaged 26.4 points and 18.9 field goal attempts per game last season while Anthony averaged 22.5 points and 19.2 field goal attempts. In light of the team defense being ridiculed last season, Karl also worked on nothing but defense during the first four days of practice.
Price isn't right: One NBA general manager said the Nuggets were very interested in trading for Pacers guard Jamaal Tinsley but his hefty contract ultimately kept the deal from happening. Tinsley, who has been barred from Pacers training camp because of off-the-court issues, is making $6.75 million this season and has three years and $21.45 million left on his contract.
Talking the talk: An NBA source said the consensus among the league's referees is that the player and coach who use the most choice words during games are Boston's Kevin Garnett and Utah's Jerry Sloan. The source also said the referees take into account that it's just part of their intense makeup and they have learned not to take it personally.
Heat seeking: An NBA GM said the Heat are still interested in trading forward Shawn Marion for "a great piece that could improve their team," since they are probably not interested in giving him a lucrative long-term contract. For the time being, you can forget talk of Miami dealing Marion for Chicago's Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni. Gordon signed a one-year, $6.4 million qualifying offer with Chicago last week that will make him ineligible to be traded until Jan. 2, and he has a no-trade clause.
Ads add up: Garnett stars in an NBATV ad that will begin airing in about a week. Numerous clips of his interviews from last season are shown, and the spot ends with his interview after winning the NBA championship when he simply says: "What are you going to say now?" He also is in an Adidas website ad that features Tim Duncan, Chauncey Billups, Tracy McGrady, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Jordan Farmar, and Sebastian Telfair playing pickup basketball at UCLA. Garnett has a humorous exchange in which he debates whether he should call Howard by his nickname, "Superman."
Outside shot: The Suns and Nuggets will play the first outdoor NBA game of the modern era Saturday, a preseason contest at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, Calif., televised by TNT. The 16,000-seat stadium, which is used for pro tennis tournaments, is an NBA-style arena with no roof in the desert. According to weather.com, the projected temperature is 92 degrees.
The amount of times, since 1999, that the Celtics have had a winning preseason record (4-3 in 2007).
"You'll know when I'm gonna retire. There's going to be parties and gifts at the end of the games."
Shaquille O'Neal, to the Arizona Daily Star
Head of the class
Current Celtics who were top-10 draft picks:
Ray Allen (5th, 1996, by Minnesota)
Kevin Garnett (5th, 1995, by Minnesota)
Darius Miles (3d, 2000, by LA Clippers)
Patrick O'Bryant (9th, 2006, by Golden State)
Paul Pierce (10th, 1998, by Boston)
Marc J. Spears can be reached at email@example.com