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NBA: Knicks Improvement Bad News for Rockets

Wednesday, June 22nd, 1994. Olajuwon outworking Ewing on both ends of the floor. John Starks: 2/18 FG, 0-11 from deep. The smug look on Vernon Maxwell’s face after he buries a dagger 3-pointer with a minute to play. Sam Cassell’s martian skull structure. Nicolas Cage, er, Rudy Tomjonovich hoisting the trophy. Tears streaming down my six-year-old boy face. 83-75.

If you couldn’t guess, I am a Knicks fan. So, why am I here? To brag about the Knicks being relevant again? Well, yes, but also to explain why the Knicks’ resurrection is bad news for the Rockets.

At last year’s trade deadline, Knicks’ GM Donnie Walsh hooked up with Daryl Morey in a deal intended to get New York under the salary cap. The Knicks sent Jordan Hill, and Jared Jeffries  to Houston in exchange for Tracy McGrady’s corpse and the hefty expiring contract that came with it. Jeffries came attached to an absurdly bloated contract (Thanks, Isaiah,) and Morey, being as good as he is, was able to use this leverage to steal some draft picks from New York. Houston received the right to swap first-round picks with the Knicks in 2011, and the Rockets will also get New York’s 2012 first-round pick (top-5 protected.)

At the time, this appeared to be a steal of epic proportions for Houston. The Knicks were perennial losers; having not sniffed the playoffs since 2003 and recording lottery-eligible finishes every season since then. So Morey wagered on a hunch that New York wasn’t going to win the LeBron sweepstakes, the Knicks would continue their streak of ineptitude, and the Houston would then rob the sure-to-be-lottery-bound Knickerbockers of top picks in 2011 and 2012. Well, Morey guessed right about LeBron. So then, the Knicks are supposed to be bad, right?

Enter Amar’e Stoudemire.

After a slow start, the Knicks have won 13 of their last 15 games. On Wednesday night, New York outplayed the defending Eastern Conference Champs for 47 minutes on National TV. And, with Chicago’s Joakim Noah lost for 2-3 months, the Knicks have emerged as one of the top four of five teams in a top-heavy Eastern Conference.

Through the first 1/3 of this NBA season, no one player has been more valuable to his team than Amar’e Stoudemire. Setting the table for Stoudemire has been the Knicks other, albiet considerably more under the radar offseason acquisition: Ray Felton. The Felton-Stoudemire high-screen-and-roll has been unstoppable thus far. As a Knicks fan, watching Felton run the offense after watching Chris Duhon try to for two years is much like going from Skip Alston to Aaron Brooks…on steroids.

Back to what this means for you. As of today, the Knicks are 6 games over .500; Houston is 5 games under .500. The directions of each team COULD change, but with the recent news about Yao (Sorry. Seriously, I am,) and the fact that the Western Conference is top-to-bottom stronger than the East, there’s a very good chance the Rockets finish with a lesser record than New York this year. So, the whole right-to-swap-first-round-

picks-in-2011 thing may very well be for naught. We’ll see.

As for 2012, well, the Knicks aren’t planning on getting any worse. With Eddy Curry’s albatross of a contract coming off the books after this season, New York will have the cap space to add a max-contract guy and then some.

Enter Carmelo Anthony.

IF the Knicks do land a player like Melo, it’s hard to imagine them fairing any worse than to be somewhere in the NBA’s top-10 teams. And so while Houston will own New York’s 2012 first-round pick unconditionally, in all probability it will be somewhere in the mid-to-late 20s.

So now that I’ve crushed the dreams of Rockets fans hoping to build through the draft, and that I’ve done so in the same week that the Ming Dynasty is feared to be over, I kind of feel like a jerk.

Well, at least you’ll always have Wednesday, June 22nd, 1994.


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